Mania Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire -

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  • Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Stanley Tucci and Donald Sutherland
  • Written by: Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt
  • Directed by: Francis Lawrence
  • Studio: Lionsgate
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Run Time: 146 minutes
  • Series:

Mania Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

"Gotta go: the baboons are cranky."

By Rob Vaux     November 23, 2013

Catching Fire
© Lionsgate/Robert Trate

 Once upon a time, sequels used to do little more than regurgitate whatever happened in the first film. That bar has been raised over the years and now people often reasonably expect Part Two to outpace Part One (thankyouverymuchChristopherNolan). The new Hunger Games movie somehow manages to do both at the same time. On the surface, it sticks closely to the pattern of the first picture, with another brutal gladiatorial match instigated at the behest of a dystopian future government. Only now it goes much further in connecting that future to our present. The results aptly demonstrate the difference between a serviceable motion picture and one that flirts with brilliance.

As with the original Hunger Games, Jennifer Lawrence acts as the straw that stirs the drink. I still believe she’s a tad overrated, but her Katniss Everdeen remains as strong and indomitable as ever. In a cinematic landscape where genuine female role models have all but vanished from the screen, it’s refreshing to see her hold us even more rapt than she did the first time around. The Hunger Games compliments her by refusing to treat her as a sex object, and indeed the first half of the movie has some bold things to say about how easily we can be manipulated by pleasurable media facades.

 After surviving the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss and her would-be lover Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are paraded around for the edification of the masses, as part of a concentrated effort by President Snow (Donald Sutherland) to keep a lid on a percolating rebellion. Instead, she seems to be fueling the unrest, partially by design but mostly because her innate decency prevents her from being the pawn they want her to be. Director Francis Lawrence takes us step by step through the bad guys’ calculated media manipulation… manipulation separated from our world’s only by the type of technology used. Catching Fire savagely critiques the cult of thin as well, and the way that the public can be so easily distracted by the triviality of spectacle and melodrama.

Add to that the growing political unrest, and suddenly you have a sci-fi epic worth paying attention to. Eager to nip Katniss’s symbolic potential in the bud, Snow arranges for a new round of Games, this one featuring survivors of the previous years. It basically serves as a victory lap for the first film, only now with the larger political picture in context as well as some new threats on the battlefield that make for some of the better action sequences this year. The new depth and complexity carries the real juice, however, for as the Games continue, we’re aware of the moves and countermoves that signal the higher stakes involved.

Because of that, this Hunger Games feels richer and more detailed than the first. It allows the central themes to flourish while keeping the soapy elements to a minimum, combined with sharp political commentary that has never felt more pertinent. It would have been easy to coast with this one. Everyone’s going to see it anyway, so why put in any extra effort? Thankfully, Lawrence and his cast (which includes the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Stanley Tucci, both brilliant) are keeping the long game in mind, and it won’t do to simply rest on their laurels. For the first time, I understand what has caught so many people’s attention with this series, and thanks to a masterfully placed cliffhanger ending, I’m already eager to see the new entry next year. It takes real filmmaking to pull that off. Real filmmaking and an understanding of why these books have sold as well as they do. Catching Fire plays the same old game, only with improved skill and a lot more excitement. We, the sometimes skeptical audience now reap the full rewards.


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akiraakobus 11/23/2013 4:01:37 AM

Meh, I personally thought the first film was really dull, its basically just twilight with a Gladatorial Game thrown in, as well as the typical leftwing political crap coming out of Hollywood for years (poor people are ultimately good, those darned people who are not poor the Upper Middle Class and the Wealthy are the ultimate evil, blah blah bullsh*t).  So yeah I will definitely give this movie a pass, I only saw the first once in theaters and that was enough for me, this overhyped series (like Twilight) can just hurry and end in my opinion. 

marcd30319 11/23/2013 5:14:24 AM

 Saw it. Loved it. Jennifer Lawrence for president. Hell, for empress.

flyinroo 11/23/2013 6:36:42 AM

 akiraakobus, I also am tired of the same old "rich people are evil" storys we get so much out of the ultra wealthy Hollywood. Thats the reason i wouln't go see  Elysium at the theaters and will wait for Netflix. 

But I felt that the Hunger Games was more than that. It didnt seem to me that it was necessarily the wealthy doing this, as it was that society had let itself be consumed by television, and how the government manipulates the population through the media. With the obsession our country has with reality shows and how the media is a one-sided political entity, these stories have a good deal of relevance.

I am looking forward to checking this out. I hope its as good as the first.

Wiseguy 11/23/2013 6:48:52 AM

I thought the first sucked so this'll have to wait til I can see it for free, if at all.

deadline estimates it'll do around 145mill. Great numbers but they were talking anywhere between IM3 and Avengers last couple of weeks. This is the only thing that had my interest

walldigital 11/23/2013 8:17:12 AM

Hunger Games = Twilight?    Seriously.  Did you see either of them?

blankczech 11/23/2013 8:37:55 AM

I'm old school...and while I may grow tired of silly movies about Zombies, Vampires and people with Super Powers, I'll never tire of "rich people are evil" films...

TheSilentKiller 11/23/2013 9:54:23 AM

 Wise guy, thems still great one weekend numbers

hfc7036 11/23/2013 10:18:33 AM

 I was pleasantly surprised by the first movie.  I may have to check this out.  The directors do a great job of presenting their own style in what could have easily turned into a Nicelodeon feature, directly for kids.  As it turns out, they found that delicate balance that is perfect for just about any age.  The line between good and evil in this movie is so clear that they may want to lay off of too much idle banter in that area.  I'm anxious to see what they do next.

doublec 11/23/2013 10:30:14 AM

 Sounds good. I work in retail so the next coupla weeks are gonna be a tad busy for me so hope I'll get to see it soon.
Sadly that great cliffhanger that Rob talks about leads to the third book, Mockingjay, which was widely considered to be significantly the worst book of the series. I actually like that they're gonna make two movies out of it cuz it needs quite bit of massaging and expansion. Hopefully they can improve on it. 

westend 11/23/2013 10:30:23 AM

 I read all the books and liked them very much. I enjoyed the first movie but I thought it was kind of slow and boring.  Catching Fire is much more enjoyable and faster paced. 92% fresh on RT backs that up.  I hate the lazy Twilight comparisons because The Hunger Games is so much better. I was skeptical when my gf kept pushing me to read them.  I"m not a prolific reader but I read the first two books withing 3 days. 

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