Katniss Everdeen enters the arena again in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the second movie in a series adapted from the trilogy by Suzanne Collins.
Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), most recent victors of the annual Hunger Games, are living the good life in their district’s comparatively cushy Victor’s Village and still pretending to be in love, a pose that helped them cheat death in the games. But, as President Snow (Donald Sutherland) explains during a menacing visit with Katniss, while the materialistic aristocracy of the Capitol believed in their made-for-TV love story, the people in the Districts did not. These people — the angry worker bees of this dystopia — see Katniss’ and Peeta’s love story as an act of defiance against the government. On their trip to the districts, they see signs of rebellion but they are told to keep up the pretenses or their families will get it.
New gamemaster Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) convinces Snow not to kill Katniss outright — not to make a martyr of her — but to let him set her up to show her true colors in the 75th annual Hunger Games when, as part of the Quarter Quell extra-special games that happen every 25 years, the victors of previous games are brought back and forced to compete again.
As the only living female victor from District 12, Katniss has no choice but to compete again. Peeta, however, has a 50 percent chance of not competing — after all, Haymatch (Woody Harrelson) is also a District 12 victor.
After I left Catching Fire, I started to consider all the elements of this movie that either don’t make sense (there is no way to talk about Snow and Plutarch without spoilers except to simply say “really?” and “no duh”), feel like filler (in a nearly two-and-a-half-hour movie, I was in the theater about an hour and 45 minutes before we got to the actual games) or just sort of don’t work (Lawrence has excellent buddy chemistry with Harrelson and mothery chemistry with any character that she’s charged with protecting but zero heat with Hutcherson or Liam Hemsworth, who plays total useless wet blanket Gale Hawthorne, the seeming Team Jacob of this love triangle).
After I left.
While watching Catching Fire, I bought it. I bought the mounting sense of dread, the fomenting of rebellion (which was mostly fomented off screen). I bought the soul-crushing might of the Capitol, even when displayed with iffy CGI buildings. I bought the fashion-as-politics costuming for Katniss — by fashion designer Lenny Kravitz, another of the actors she had better chemistry with than her wilted-lettuce love interests. I bought the fashion-as-politics costuming for everybody else, from Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), who looks like the result of a Hadron collider experiment involving the Project Runway workroom and a Sephora store, to the Deadwood extras (looking at you, Paula Malcomson) of District 12. I even bought — or could go along with — the Hunger Games and all the “uhm, what” things that happen there.
While there are probably an equal number of fun details about these movies as there are nits to pick, Lawrence is the rock this movie is built on. With a different actress (a Kristen Stewart, for example) this movie’s flaws would probably bother me while I was watching it and not just occur to me later. But Lawrence is a smart, engaging actress, one who seems, in all her roles, to put more into getting the person right than into being a movie star.
I have no particular pre-investment in these characters but I enjoyed this movie, probably for the same reason I enjoyed the first one, which is that Lawrence really sells what she’s doing and everything else is good enough. B
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language. Directed by Francis Lawrence with a screenplay by Simon Beaufoy and Michael deBruyn (based on the Suzanne Collins novel), The Hunger Games: Catching First is two hours and 26 minutes long and distributed by Lionsgate.
Appeared in the Nov. 28, 2013 issue of the Hippo