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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Directing: B
Acting: B
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+
Special Effects: B

Is Catching Fire a retread of the original Hunger Games? Honestly . . . kind of. In the end, it's another movie about a televised "game" in which the players all kill each other, which wasn't a particularly original idea in the first place. It's slightly less creepy this time, though: the Hunger Games being played now are all previous Hunger Games winner. Ooh, a twist! This changes things pretty drastically: instead of all the players being kids, the age range is widely varied.

This is thanks to President Snow (Donald Sutherland) taking the advice of the new "Gamemaker" (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in an apparently plan to discredit Katniss Everdeen in the eyes of an increasingly hopeful public. Katniss is played competently, as ever, by Jennifer Lawrence, in the role that made her a superstar. It's almost too bad, because she is a powerful actor who has proved her acting chops are really above the likes of movies like these. But, there's still a paycheck to be had, right? And this is a movie with plenty of high caliber actors in fundamentally undemanding roles, from Sutherland to Hoffman to Woody Harrelson (returning as "mentor" Haymitch Abernathy), Stanley Tucci (returning as flamboyant games host Caesar Flickerman), and even chameleon Jeffrey Wright (as former games winner Beetee).

That said, there is no denying the solid entertainment that is The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, or how well cast it is. None of the parts are particularly demanding, but Jennifer Lawrence carries the film with seemingly little effort; you can't help but root for her, even as the story takes predictable turns: is she really as indifferent to Peeta (an equally competent Josh Hutcherson) as she lets on? Is the Gamemaker really the conniving villain he wants President Snow to see him as? The answers to these questions are telegraphed to the audience long before it becomes clear to other characters.

Catching Fire isn't perfect -- to about the same degree as its predecessor. But the actors are committed to the point that you care about the characters, in spite of it all. I gave myself over to this story easily. This movie is nearly two and a half hours long, and it flies: it's impossible to get bored, there is so much packed in. Even if you haven't read the novel on which it is based, you can tell there's a lot that had to be condensed from the original story. It doesn't feel rushed, though; it never feels as though anything particularly important is missing.

In the beginning, we see Katniss and Peeta acting for the cameras as they go on their "Victory Tour." They discover they have inspired some defiance among the public, something Snow's government is compelled to quash with violent swiftness. Before long, Katniss is reading from the scripts handed to her at each stop in all the districts, with the hope that she will spare any further deaths. She resists being the leader the public has made her out to be, but she can't fight what is obvious to everyone else is her destiny.

Enter the so-called "Quarter Quell," something that apparently occurs every 25 years: a very different Hunger Games intended to underscore the risks the Districts pose with any kind of resistance. This being the 75th Hunger Games, it is now the third Quarter Quell. Not only are all the players previous winners -- itself a first -- but they are adding lots of other threats in the Arena.

And so, just as in the first movie, there are scenes with players training, and then they are put in the Arena, and deaths abound. At least this time some of them are older. One of them is particularly old: an elderly woman who volunteered to take the place of a much younger girl from her District. We all know this means she's marked for death, however it might happen. Evidently we couldn't have another really young girl die, so this time around we switch to an old lady. It's a little less tragic when she's already lived most of her life.

The difference this time is that all of the players are understandably pissed, rather than just scared. To a degree, they are united in their defiance against the system. This really is the key element that makes Catching Fire interesting in a way different from the previous Hunger Games: what's at stake has changed. This time, Katniss -- and, to a large degree, Peeta -- are an unexpected beacon of hope -- the very beacon that President Snow is trying to eliminate. Alliances are made, and the twists in the story, while expected generally speaking, take unexpected forms. This is what keeps the viewers on their toes, and what pulls them along.

As in the previous film, the special effects are not as good as they could have been. Still, Hunger Games director Gary Ross bowed out of directing this sequel because he felt the production schedule did not allow for enough time; Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) stepped in and proved the sequel could be made just as well as the first one. Neither of these movies are anything anyone is going to remember vividly decades from now, but as far as blockbuster adaptations of popular young adult novels go, you could scarcely ask for anything better.

Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson read from the script they were given in THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE.</a>

Overall: B+
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