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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Genre Adventure
 
Review:

The Hunger Games underplayed its hand. While competent and carried by a strong performance from Jennifer Lawrence, Gary Ross seemed like the wrong director for the film. Getting the Seabiscuit and Pleasantville director on-board must have been a ploy to cushion the adult themes to appeal to a much broader audience. While marketed as a teen read, The Lord of the Flies meets Survivor series by Suzanne Collins is actually quite harrowing.

After Ross declined to return for the sequel, a number of high profile directors were considered before Francis Lawrence signed on. Water for Elephants, I Am Legend and Constantine are all special effects laden epics with a darker, edgier tone... the stuff that was lacking from The Hunger Games. So Lawrence's background made him an ideal replacement for Ross.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire has a grittier tone that helps to anchor the series going forward. The sequel follows a similar arc to the original, except there's more at stake for Katniss Everdeen, who has become a target for the Capitol ahead of the 75th Hunger Games. She's coming to terms with the facade of fame, pandering to political agendas and sacrificing her self in a bid to free Panem from the clutches of President Snow and his cohorts. Together with Peeta Mellark, a multi-district tour to inspire hope in the people, ignites a growing spirit of rebellion instead.

Jennifer Lawrence is still very much the star of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. The sequel has greater emotional depth, giving Lawrence a chance to deliver a full range performance. She's effortlessly beautiful, natural and capable, channeling the spirited determination of Katniss without losing her vulnerable side. Her inner turmoil, hidden agenda and far-reaching responsibilities make her a fascinating character to journey with.

She's supported by Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth, with roles from The Hunger Games reprised by Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz and Donald Sutherland as President Snow. Welcome additions to the cast include Patrick St. Esprit as Commander Thread and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee. Each actor seems to have more screen time and delivers a more definite, self-assured and sincere performance, adding to the ensemble's collective quality and efforts.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire has a more mature tone, which has been achieved by adding gravity and a sense of consequence to the adventure. The sequel is probably just as violent as The Hunger Games, but there's more at stake with ever-widening conspiracies at play. At 146 minutes, it's an engrossing and entertaining spectacle... one that echoes the original film with a marked maturity and a greater sense of self awareness.

The locomotive momentum and mercurial series of epic environments keep us transfixed and engaged in the story. Untamed forests, empire architecture, futuristic training facilities and lush jungle terrains present the characters with a new set of challenges and perils. While much of the story echoes from The Hunger Games, everything just seems more rooted.

The film's bigger budget enhances the production values and instills a greater confidence among the cast and crew. One of the drawbacks of an interim sequel is that it ends without reaching a satisfactory resolution. This ellipsis style ending is only disappointing because the story seems to be building up for a grand finale, which is subverted, in keeping with the books.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is an improvement on the first film. While there's a "seen-this-all-before" feel to the story, the fresh tone, more confident cast and smarter production values give the sequel a more definitive austere. It's entertaining, spectacular, engaging and seems to build on the flaws of the original to deliver a richer, more grounded take on The Hunger Games series.

The bottom line: Engrossing

 

 

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