Good news for people who haven’t had enough of people killing each other as reality television entertainment: there’s a new Hunger Games movie out this week.
The sequel to the wildly popular 2012 original, “Catching Fire,” is again based closely on Suzanne Collins’ sequel of the same name, and takes viewers on a somewhat darker journey through Panem than last time.
Taking place a few months after “The Hunger Games” left off, “Catching Fire” finds Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) struggling to find normalcy after co-winning the fight-to-the-death reality game. Her sort-of boyfriend, Gale (Liam Hemsworth), is struggling with the affection she showed her co-winner, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), during the games as part of their survival strategy, and Peeta is struggling to come to terms with the fact that Katniss’ affections was just part of a strategy.
These conflicts become more pronounced as Katniss and Peeta embark for a highly publicized winners tour of the nation.
On the tour, their lives become even more complicated as they discover that rebellion is brewing in all 12 districts, spurred by their defiance of the Capitol during the Hunger Games. In an effort to mollify the masses and discredit Katniss, who has become the rebellion’s unwilling symbol, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and new head gamekeeper Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) plot to throw a twist in the next Hunger Games by making the selection of new tributes come only out of the pool of past winners.
Katniss and Peeta once again find themselves facing certain death in the ring, and not even Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) or Effie (Elizabeth Banks) can help them now. There they find new allies and enemies, including Finnick (Sam Claflin), Mags (Lynn Cohen), Johanna (Jena Malone), Beetee (Jeffrey Wright) and Wiress (Amanda Plummer), as well as clues that the rebellion may be even more advanced than previously thought.
Once again, the transition from page to screen is one of the more faithful, no doubt in large part to Suzanne Collins’ involvement in both (though, again, there are a few minor derivations, but it shouldn’t be too distracting to even the most devoted readers of the trilogy). The bleak districts, the vast capitol and the lush arena were amazingly close to how I imagined them when reading the book, as was the first one. A change of directors, from Gary Ross to Francis Lawrence, is evident in the lack of Ross’ quick, gritty, life-like cuts, but Lawrence’s style fits better with the tone of the second movie.
And once again, the acting is superb across the board. Some of the subject material is outrageous, but the characters are somehow still rooted just enough in reality for them to not come across as caricatures—aside from the purple hair, Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci, spectacular as always) could be on in real life. Jennifer Lawrence and Hutcherson maintain their characterizations, but with just a little more weight to reflect the increasingly dire situation.
Basically, if you liked the last one, you’ll probably like this one, too.
As with the books, this movie ends with an immediate drive towards the final installment. Unlike the books, though, what was “Mockingjay” is being split into two parts, the first of which will be released next September, followed by the actual finale in November 2015. I’m not sure I see room in that book for two movies, but this second installment in the saga is a big vote of confidence.
Time: 146 minutes