As I’ve started many, many times before in past reviews – I do not bring baggage with me when I see a film based on a novel, comic book or video game that I like. If I want the book, I’ll read the damned book. I want the movie to work on its own without needing to have prior knowledge of the property as well as being the best movie that it can possibly be. Anyone that feels the need to constantly compare the original property to the film version should just stay home and shut up. But that’s just me.
So here we are with the sequel to The Hunger Games, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Yes, I have read the book and enjoyed it to an extent. I did feel it was the weakest book in the series because, to be completely honest, it’s simply a rehash of the first novel with some minor tweaks to the formula. Not surprisingly I feel the movie follows suit.
Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), victors of the 74th Hunger Games, are under the impression that they are out of harm’s way. That turns out to not be the case when tributes for the 75th Hunger Games, known as the Quarter Quell, will be drawn from past winners. As talk of a rebellion begins to spread throughout the Districts Katniss and Peeta must once again fight for their lives.
I will admit, new series director Francis Lawrence (Constantine, I Am Legend) does a much better job of bringing the world described by Susanne Collins to life than previous director Gary Ross. Gone is the annoying shaky/floaty cam nonsense and the shots now linger a little longer to allow the audience to soak in all the details. His sense of style is also a better fit, especially during the action scenes which are much more logically shot and edited so that they make sense.
Acting is quite stellar across the board. Of course Jennifer Lawrence is phenomenal as Katniss. She is turning into one of the premiere actors of her generation and she makes this character insanely likable even though she isn’t written that way. Josh Hutcherson is also great as Peeta, giving his character a slow burn romance angle that you can always see bubbling beneath the surface. As always Liam Hemsworth gets the short end of the stick yet again as Gale. His character is barely in the film, but he definitely makes his presence known. The same goes for Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks and especially Lenny Kravitz as Cinna. His big scene at the halfway point broke my heart as much as it did when I read it over a year ago.
The newcomers to the thespian fold are all extremely well cast. I especially liked Jenna Malone as the fiery Johanna and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Havensbee. Sam Clafin’s Finnick Odair didn’t quite work for me since I never bought into his shtick. It was nice to see some familiar faces in the tributes, such as Daniel Bernhardt (The Matrix Reloaded, Mortal Kombat: Conquest) and Alan Ritchson (Blue Mountain State).
The story is also paced more evenly thanks to screenwriters Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt. It never gets too boring during the dramatic moments and never goes over the top during the action beats. The problem isn’t with anything they did. They actually managed to stay extremely close to the book which will make the eyes of the fans roll back as they blow their collective loads. The problem is with the source material.
Like I said earlier, this flick (and the book before it) is a simple retread of the original and nothing more. Another movie, another Hunger Games and regardless of who is involved in it this time and the circumstances surrounding it the fact remains that it’s yet another Hunger Games. Been there, done that. Nothing new could have been thought up by Collins for her follow-up? I would have preferred to see the beginnings of the rebellion from the point of view of Katniss living her life of pseudo-luxury in District 12 while dealing with the repercussions of her big lie than another Hunger Games. But no, the story goes the easy route and repeats itself.
And to make matters worse the film is set up in a similar style to The Matrix Reloaded in that it’s set up as the middle film in a trilogy in the same way. Even the final shot is exactly the same. And the film just ends. We get a big revelation and BAM! End credits. Lame. I want some fucking closure, not another cliffhanger! It’s a practice that Hollywood has been employing for a number of years now to set up franchises, but we all know there is yet another book to be adapted so the need for a cliffhanger is completely unnecessary.
In the end I was as let down by this movie as I was the book. I’m not comparing, I’m just stating a fact. I’m not saying the movie is a disaster or anything. I’m just saying that it could have been much more than a rehash of itself, and that is more disappointing to me than any other aspect of the film. Not that any of those other aspects are actually complaint worthy. In fact this is a better made movie than the first by leaps and bounds. The story is just missing something...
3 out of 5