Francis Lawrence’s
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

"Hunger Games: Catching Fire"
Based on Suzanne Collins' novel, Catching Fire,
Directed by Francis Lawrence, screenplay by Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt,
Starring Jennifer Lawrence , Josh HutchersonLiam HemsworthWoody HarrelsonElizabeth BanksLenny KravitzStanley TucciDonald Sutherland,

Before I Start...

  • There are a couple of spoilers in this review...I've been told to inform you of that.   I breakdown the first 15 mins of the film for you to set the stage.
  • I haven't read the books.

 

THE FILM:

Watching the film open, there was a potent air of despair that was immediately tangible. The film begins and lets you know where the world stands after the first, or 74th, Hunger Games ended last time.
People are standing up for themselves, united in hope, the oppressed are fighting their oppressors in Katniss Everdeen's (Jennifer Lawrence) name.
She is visited by President Snow (Donald Sutherland, rock solid) and told directly that unless she wants to see everything and everyone she loves burnt to ashes...she will need to play ball with the government,
keep up her fake love affair with Peeta  (Josh Hutcherson) and be convincing during the upcoming "Victors Tour" where she and Peeta will travel to all 12 districts to send best wishes for each district's fallen Hunger Games
contestants and show that they, the champions...the survivors really...are happy and content in their new prosperous lives.

She agrees. But when the tour begins, they are faced with the painful task of seeing and addressing the families of the fallen contestants first-hand.  She can't simply read from a script written for her by  Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks - so good man), she has to
speak from her heart to them.  Unbeknownst to her and Peeta, it is her speaking from her heart that civilians love about her. She and Peeta represent the common man and woman and they have instilled a new sense of hope for the long
suffering inhabitants of the districts. Once a people oppressed...now a growing resistance. Hope is taking root in people everywhere in each of the districts. They want to stand up and fight. Katniss does her best to stay quiet...but she is mortified to see these same people being
executed for voicing support, signaling an allegiance to her when she speaks by raising three fingers in the air. When she first sees a man do this after she addresses the family of one of her friends that had died in the games, this man is
pulled from the crowd, beaten and shot dead.
This ignites a fire in Katniss, and that's all I'll say.

Now there are amazing actors in this film...Donald Sutherland is one of the finest actors ever, as is Phillip Seymour Hoffman and the very versatile Jeffrey Wright. Then there is Amanda Plummer, it's good to see her back on the screen. No one
brings what she does to a role...that neurotic energy, purely original.
Then there is Jennifer Lawrence and she is excellent.
But Jena Malone man...this film is hers every second she is on the screen.
Jena Malone is on point.

This film has a bigger budget than the first film, and you can see it on the screen. The scale of this film is a bit more epic, and yet its still emotionally potent...which is due in large part to the performance Lawrence delivers as the film rests
largely on her shoulders. What I really like about her is that she puts everything she has into each scene, giving whatever emotion the scene calls for superbly, and that can't be easy to do man.

I can say when the 180 minute movie finished, I had no idea I had been watching it for that long.

This film is technically the 2nd act in a trilogy...and its a dark and pivotal second act at that.  "The Empire Strikes Back" set the bar for me as to what the second act of a 3 act film series should be.

This film reminded me of "The Empire Strikes Back" in that way, which is a compliment I simply never pay any film.

Empire dared to end the way a good 2nd act should end, with a cliffhanger.

A cliffhanger that dares you to get angry at it. That leaves you feeling unsettled. That makes you want more instantly.

Leaving a film on that note is risky, you may piss off the audience. But, as a storytelling technique...it's an effective tool.
Most importantly, if the film works...which this one does...the sudden final shot won't anger you as much as it will make you want to return to the theater as soon as possible to see the next film.
That is how "Catching Fire" ends. And I loved it. It pissed me off. It made me want more.

The director of the first "Hunger Games" was Gary Ross, and that film is different than this one in a few ways.

I saw the first film, I enjoyed it...and I knew more would follow as there were more stores out there. I remember reading that Lionsgate wanted to put out the sequel, "Catching Fire" in time for Thanksgiving, 2013....which it did.
They wanted to start shooting as soon as Jennifer Lawrence was available as she was shooting Brian Singer's "X-Men: Days Of Future Past". Ross was not comfortable with the script as it was, he wanted to tighten it up. Bottom line,
he didn't want to rush the second one and said he would need more time to polish the script (he had co-written the screenplay to the first "Hunger Games" with the books author Suzanne Collins). This would have delayed the films
release till the summer of 2014 at least...maybe until Thanksgiving 2014.

This led to Ross leaving the project and Francis Lawrence coming on board to direct.

Now as soon as I heard those things I felt like this film was destined to be a complete mess.

Hearing that the studio wanted to rush the project, that they were against pushing the release date for the film due party because Jennifer Lawrence was getting pretty
booked up at that point with work and she was becoming a huge star (this was right before she won the Academy Award for her work in "Silver Linings Playbook" mind you) and they wanted to capitalize on the success of the first film
and her...well this didn't sound promising for the next film. quite the opposite.
I was likening it to the "Twilight" film series.
The first film in that series was directed by Catherine Hardwick ("Thirteen", 2003). She brought to it a singular vision, she selected the actors, she gave the film a great look...an aesthetic...which became the visual base for the rest of the films in the series. It had a genuine coolness to it, if you will. The action was integral to the storytelling and the characters...as fantastic as they were...were attractive and relatable for the audiences.

Now, once Hardwick was removed, the films became more products then films...they became mechanic, fake looking, cookie cutter entries in the series. One film was indistinguishable from the next by the time it ended.

In short, once the original director was replaced...the freshness of her vision, the spark and core essence that made the first film work...was extracted.

I worried this series would suffer the same fate as "The Twilight Series" once the franchise lost Gary Ross. I have an immense respect for Gary Ross ever since first seeing his visionary film "Pleasantville" in 1998.
(Watch for a very young Paul Walker here at 0:48...Rest In Peace Paul)

But the new director, Francis Lawrence, had given us the stellar "I Am Legend" so....maybe he could pull this off?

Well...he pulled it off.

The next act, the 3rd and final act, will be divided into 2 parts:

  • "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1" November 21, 2014
  • "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2" November 20, 2015

Both will be directed by Francis Lawrence which, I can now say confidently, is great.

I'm probably going to go to Wikipedia and spoil the remaining story lines for myself today as I like seeing my Christmas presents early.

But in closing, this film is solid. It surprised me. It proved me wrong, and it is in my opinion better than the first film.

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