I never really got into the recent wave of cinematic adaptations of popular teen influenced drama novelizations. I’ve only seen one Harry Potter film and that was Prisoner of Azkaban. It was good but it didn’t initially attract me to come back for more. And I would never touch Twilight with a twenty foot pole but The Hunger Games has quickly caught my attention. I didn’t bat an eye when the first film premiered last year and it took me nearly eighteen months to see it. With a little help from Netflix, I was surprised at its story telling, character development, and action. So I knew that I had to catch the sequel when it came out. I really liked the first film but the sequel is better in every way with a crisper feel and refused to follow a standard sequel formula. Unlike most star studded blockbusters it boasts a heavy political undertone that doesn’t feel forced or tired. It revels in its acts of revolution, defiance and disparities of class. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is one of the few distinct surprises that doesn’t feel like a carbon copy of what I’ve already seen or heard.
It’s rather refreshing to see a popular franchise based movie handle politics as who is associated to what party because in reality it is not like that at all. No matter how much the media tries to spin it like that it’s mainly who has money and power and who doesn’t. It paints that picture really nicely here with a land ravaged by war adhering to one unrivaled ruler. Ruling with a dictator grip, he controls the masses by placing them into separate districts and picking children to battle in annual games of death. In this day and age I loved that they showed what really separates us and as a people the downtrodden control how the powerful manage the country as a whole. With that power they rise up and determine how things will act out. It doesn’t hammer down the message of revolution and rich/poor because it doesn’t need too. This has happened many times before and continues to still happen today whether some people realize it or not. It handles the idea of symbolizing a revolution very well and how all it takes is a single spark. It’s rather frightening that our very own government along with many around the world follows this same decorum, than watch it themselves like it’s a fantasy. Political figures have been taken out for years and will continue to be in the future if the powers that be have it their way and the people figure out they have more power than they realize. I don’t wish to build this up as something bigger than it really is with sharp social commentary but it really spoke to me. I think it’s important that people young and old see something like this onscreen and have a healthy competent way of thinking. Just because it’s a blockbuster doesn’t mean it can’t have some intelligent thoughts about the world today. It may have stopped in many parts of the world doesn’t mean it can’t come back and become more prevalent.
I couldn’t get enough of the media’s representation and their white washing much like it is today. It makes all the more sense frighteningly and comedically that the most watched TV show is an American Idol type show hosted by its own cheesy, lap dog host. American Idol was once the most watched TV show in the country for years not too long ago so it makes sense that a desensitized dystopia would be enamored by it. The government controls the media so they decide what you think and feel. You watch the show so you can forget how much control they have over you and the wars that are killing and starving thousands. It’s heavy on image and light on everything else that comes even close to substance. The masses are immensely entertained by a couple transformed into celebrities in Katniss and Peeta. It’s all a sham that the public gorges on as they’re spoon fed mindless updates about them. But they only do this for survival as fighting the public eye is just as dangerous as fighting to the death in an arena. They make up lies to stay in the limelight and in the favor of the public. After a while you realize how stupid and petty it is to religiously follow celebrities as if they’re gods when so many put little effort into anything but themselves. I liked the juxtaposition of Katniss and Peeta forced into being a couple in the limelight for fear of death to celebrities making headlines or risk not being on a magazine cover, talk show or a single blurb. The way they did it felt fresh, showing what the power of celebrity can have on so many factors.
The costumes and make up also played a huge part in the distinct class separation. I loved the creativity used and the downright bizarre outfits and makeup. It gave a great feeling of the aristocracy in the 17th and 18th century in American and Europe. They look liked Halloween costumes but were a way of life and the style that you had to have if you were that class. It was more like a uniform than a way of expressing one self. The stark division between the two classes hit home like nothing else. The posh, colorful, extravagant hair, clothes and makeup went great against the drab, earth colored, dirty regular clothes. One of my favorite scenes happens at an upper class party where Katniss and Peeta attend. I don’t want to give it away but he is rightfully appalled how they live like it’s no big deal to them. It’s laughingly honest in today’s landscape.
The cast was great with all the original characters returning and new ones on board also. Jennifer Lawrence as expected was awesome. Love that more female characters are being represented as heroes. She’s strong, confident, emotional, caring and willing to do whatever it takes. It’s a role that was tailor made for her. She very well takes over the film and makes it her own. It’s been a while since there was another blockbuster that centered around a woman these days. I love Milla Johovich but the Resident Evil franchise is generally mindless fun. I think overtime Katniss Everdeen can be as iconic as Ripley or Sarah Connor. I like Josh Hutcherson but I haven’t seen much of his work. He was great in The Kids Are All Right, exuding a teenage defiance with dramatic flair. Josh was good here too as Peeta Mellark, making sure it’s not plainly focused on his costar. I liked his growth in the sequel as he becomes more hardened but also more sympathetic. You really feel for him as he is forced to be a boyfriend to the girl he’s loved for years. I was already a huge fan of Elizabeth Banks but now I am an even bigger fan. I adored her as Effie Trinket. I loved all the outfits and make up she wore as she changed them in nearly every scene. Her accent was really funny to listen to and sounded like a debutante. She was so much fun to see and Banks was perfect for her comic stylings and bizarre look. Her style and attitude was equally rivaled by the Ryan Seacrest like Caesar Flickman played by Stanley Tucci. He was downright hilarious with every overacted word. This looked like the most fun role as he was so over the top ridiculous, overly excited and over dramatic that you can’t help but laugh. Tucci played the perfect corporate shill orchestrating the sea of celebrity bullshit.
Woody Harrelson was cool as the boozy mentor Haymitch Abernathy who reluctantly trains Katniss and Peeta. He has great chemistry with both of them, showing a fatherly tough love approach. Having someone who hated the games goes perfect with two tributes who hate it as well as he shows them the ins and outs of survival in the arena and out. They make a great team as he finds new life in beating his alcoholism by helping the tributes take down the Capital. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is one of my all-time favorite actors and is always great in anything he does. He can play a great villain and he does awesome here as Plutarch Heavensbee. He’s so cold, calculating and unmoved that you can see in his eyes that he’ll do anything to win. He has a great intimidation factor that is underrated. He exudes such confidence in his evil actions that you can’t help but fear him. I only wish there was a little more of him. Catching Fire initially caught my attention because of Hoffman in the trailer. There are a few actors you can call on for an old, evil, dictator ruler and Donald Sutherland is truly tops when it comes to that department. He is a legend in every sense of the word and can do no wrong. He brings the perfect presence and gravitas to be evil President Snow. Sutherland brings that type of evil that you’re dying to see what he does next to break Katniss.
The story followed the basic set up from the previous movie with the slow burn before the main event. And it worked marvelously both times but worked better here as they had much more to work with in terms of theme and character. It was a nice natural progression of everything with all of it ramped up. The long running time didn’t feel like it since so much was going on and none of it felt unimportant. Every moment had a reason and left a residual impact. They played up the love triangle well and didn’t make it the main focus. It wasn’t forced down your throat as you’re trying to care which cute guy she chooses. She has bigger fish to fry and they make sure that’s what’s mainly on her mind. Katniss didn’t have a choice and was forced into a relationship she didn’t want only to survive, forgoing the relationship she initially wanted. I liked the added complexities it had and not a straight forward choose between two dumb hunky morons.
All the characters had great stuff to work with which isn’t too surprising since the screenwriting team has been nominated for Oscars numerous times and won for best screenplay. Simon Beaufoy was nominated for best screenplay for Full Monty and 127 Hours while winning for Slumdog Millionaire. Michael Arndt was nominated for best screenplay for Toy Story 3 and winning for best screenplay for Little Miss Sunshine. So it’s not that surprising that the writing was good and flowed very well. The script was lively, entertaining, funny and often sweet. It was very flexible with an eclectic cast, interesting setting and engaging characters. It’s your standard blockbuster action fare but it feels new with the subject matter and having it pertain to today’s landscape. The action was surprising and exciting. While it takes a little while to get there you don’t really mind when everything else is working so well. The buildup was so expertly well-handled that when it does come and the final countdown winds down, it has all the drama, energy, and excitement of a main event prize fight. I loved how all the intangibles were handled a lot like the previous film. Hoffman as Head Game maker throws everything but the kitchen sink at the tributes. It is very much like the men in A Cabin In The Woods. They introduced a lot of cool players and I wish they showed a bit more of them but Jena Malone as Johanna Mason was great. Loved seeing her unorthodox confidence and wild behavior in contrast to Katniss’s and Peeta’s more reserved selves. Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair was also entertaining with his chauvinist attitude and acceptance of being a killer.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was a surprisingly entertaining and creative thought provoking film for a blockbuster. I’m glad I gave it the chance and allowed it to change my ignorant built in perception of it. It says and shows a lot but is never tiring or boring. It has the perfect blend of action and revolutionary politics that won’t irk you. Not being a fan at all before has led me to enjoy it a lot more. I knew I would like it with the cast starring one of my favorite actresses Jennifer Lawrence. She very much makes it her movie, dominating it with her tough screen presence and badass attitude. The rest of the cast gladly challenges and takes the reigns when need be. Hunger Games: Catching Fire is one of my favorite movies of the year and most satisfying blockbuster only behind Man of Steel. When it abruptly ends on a cliffhanger, I couldn’t get enough and wanted more. I eagerly await for the sequels and the surprises that will come with it. I am all too glad I was able to catch the ride this time around. Four and a half arrows out of five.