After almost a year and a half of crying myself to sleep, Jennifer Lawrence still hasn’t responded to the marriage proposal I broadcast into the digital universe via my review of the first Hunger Games movie back in March of 2012.
I’ve come to terms with it though as I’m fairly confident that she also has no flipping clue who I am, let alone heard of the goofy blog that is Geek Outlaw. Luckily, I’m a professional – in a talentless amateur kind of way – so I ‘m not going to let it affect my ability to perform a review on the second movie installment of The Hunger Games series, Catching Fire.
With that petty rant behind me, it’s time to move on to the meat and potatoes of this post, the review itself. I was fortunate to see the movie opening weekend with none other than the infamous Hot Nerd Girl while we covered the 2013 Long Beach Comic & Horror Con. I use the word fortunate because the 300 mile gap between our places of residence prevents us from lending eggs to each other or seeing movies together on a frequent basis.
For those who have been following me from the bitter beginning, I’m truly sorry. Apologies aside, you may remember The Hunger Games being my first ever in-theater review, during which I spent an inordinate amount of divulging more plot details than your typical current day 30 second trailer. Much has changed since then and no longer do I spend more than a few sentences on story summaries, especially when it comes to a property like The Hunger Games where the only people who haven’t read the books either can’t receive delivery to their home from Amazon, or have devoted their life to the religious cult of burying one’s head in the sand.
That as it may, you can also rest assured there will also be no spoilers… no earth shattering ones anyway. It’s another 180 I’ve done since my first few reviews as my goal is to now try and omit information that could possibly ruin the movie going experience for those three readers who follow me. Granted, I love a great review like the next geek, but some give too much away before the movie, especially when all some people want to know is whether a movie is worth their time and half their weekly earnings to venture out to the theater on their own.
To be as brief as humanly possible, Catching Fire picks up right where The Hunger Games left off. District 12 victors of the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Malark (Josh Hutcherson) are finding their new post-games life not as cushy as past victors have had it. Mind you, it’s a direct result of Katniss’ evoking the brave berry loophole, which she used to do what has never been done before; allow two players to survive the games. That, and be the first Panem girl to date a guy shorter than herself.
The defiant act is the beginning of an uprising, a shard of hope to the suppressed districts that there may be a way to break away from The Capital’s unruly hand. All of this in turn puts the dynamic-two-o on President Snow’s (Donald Sutherland) naughty list going into the holiday season. The Capitol’s bad Santa is none too happy that Ms. Everdeen is a beacon of courage for others to revolt against the current balance of power. The traditional Victor’s Tour for the District 12 champs quickly turns into a series of pit-stops amongst that only empower the downtrodden districts to voice their displeasure even further.
To keep things in check, Snow rigs the 75th Hunger Games (aka the Quarter Quell) to bring Katniss back for another go at the crown of killing. In an attempt to make sure all is done right, Mr. President conspires with new Gameskeeper Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to send a message that there is a price to pay for flipping the bird to The Capital. Not only does the event offer the hope of extinguishing the flame of hoe Katniss represents, but even her success would come at the expense of killing all of the favorite victors of the past, which he figures will scar the young rebels PR image. It’s the equivalent of hitting two Mockingjays with one stone.
If you want a more visual recap…
As per my review of the first film, I briefly hit on some of the political underpinnings that are present through the story despite the direct denial of author Suzanne Collins. Those themes still run full force during Catching Fire, if not even more so. They aren’t party line issues as much as they are socioeconomic and government oppression matters. (Yes, Geek Outlaw knows how to look up big words on the internet too.) In one sense, the Hunger Games touches on the age-old concept of the haves vs. the have-nots, however the franchise also argues that the problem has been created by an oppressive dictatorship-like government where the laws of the land are seemingly made by very few people, if not just one. No matter where your personal political opinion may lie, it’s rather clear there are some connections that could be made to current affairs worldwide.
Those with memories like steel traps will recall that I my original thoughts of the first installment was a book and movie hybrid review due to my completing Collin’s first Hunger Games novel as the opening credits for the movie began to roll. For Catching Fire, this was the first time there was a significant gap – let’s call it seven months – between the the time I read the last page of the second book and sat down for this film’s release.
To the dismay of some, I won’t be providing that same type of comparison as I did before, and thankfully it has nothing to do with my abysmal memory… this time. No, the lack of pitting the two formats against each other rests solely on the fact that Catching Fire may very well be the most accurate screen adaption from a novel I’ve ever seen… yes, ever. If I haven’t already said so, this is coming from someone who enjoyed reading the sequel even more than the original.
In fact, I felt the translation from paper to reel was so good, I found myself hard pressed to discern many major differences between the two at all. I put an emphasis on major, as there were some slight tweaks made to the origin material. Still, I felt they were actually changes made to make the movie work better and they didn’t take away from the paper-based subject matter.
One of those elements involves the what-should-we-call-it relationship of Katniss and Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth). Based on my recollection, the two modelesque District 12’ers weren’t so hot and heavy in the second novel. However, I think having more physical spark on display between them for the film was a net positive in the sense it ups the ante on the whole love triangle, which (like it or not) is a major conflict for Katniss throughout the series. In other words, it helps bring to life the things going on in Catnip’s head that you read on the pages, but might have a harder time conveying on screen.
While we’re on the topic relationships, one of the things – and it’s a biggie – that I feel Catching Fire handles better than the first flick, is the growing bond between Peeta and Katniss. Unlike the prior film, there is now a better sense of chemistry between the two. I felt as if they truly did care about each other this outing, particularly during a scene Peeta has stopped breathing and another tender moment on the beach. (NOTE: It’s amazing how romantic beaches can be, even when trapped in an arena with obstacles and other young adults trying to kill you.
It’s something I can’t stress enough, but no matter the genre, it’s the characters and their relationships with each other that truly bring a story full circle. In spite of the fact I would have preferred to see a little bit more of the victors relationship evolving, Hutchinson and Lawrence to a great job in capturing some great moments that tell the audience all it’s needs to know about their feelings for each other.
In my own humble opinion, Jennifer Lawrence delivered an even better performance as the “Girl on Fire” in Catching Fire and I’m not saying that to kiss her butt… not to say that I wouldn’t. On a relatively more serious but related note, much of my respect for Ms. Lawrence may have as much to do with her off-camera personality as with her acting abilities. As many have witnessed at interviews and awards shows, Lawrence is a straight-shooter. While you get the sense others in the industry use their acting to try and pull this off, her honest up-front approach is genuine. It’s apparent in the way she gaffs, bumbles and cusses like the rest of us, but it’s the goofy and self-mocking way that she reacts to those moments that define her as an unpretentious every day person. It caught my attention even more so at this years Catching Fire panel the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con, and in general find it a breath of fresh air in a world of celebrities who are often filled with a lot of hot air. Getting back on point, I bring this up because there are some entertaining moments, specifically on stage with Cesar, that you see that real down-to-earth side of Lawrence poke through onscreen. Maybe it’s just me, but I would love to see a Lawrence in a role that lets her act a little more like herself, if that even makes sense.
Nevertheless, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact everyone gave very strong performances, including Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), who despite her louder than a wood-chipper wardrobe, provide some Kleenex invoking moments. Hell, even in her limited role as the fiery District 7 vixen Johanna Mason, Jena Malone had some surprisingly powerful moments throughout the film. The elevator scene was not one of them, although it was powerful in an alternate way. Continuing to provide humor and poignancy is the spirit loving victor and mentor, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), albeit in an appropriately smaller role than the first story.
Last but not least, there’s the ending. My complaint with the first Hunger Games was the fact the final minutes seemed rushed and way too much was crammed into a 90 second window. I stated another few minutes would have solved the problem and more than welcome. Apparently some like-minded producer heeded my advice, extended the run-time of the film five minutes and devoted a proper amount of time to give the final scenes the impact needed moving into the last parts of the series.
Color me surprised that I just learned they are giving Mockingjay the ol’ two movies for the price of one book send-off. I’ve yet to read the third of Sue’s page-turning franchise, but I’m already wondering if it’s necessary based on the length of the book itself. I was willing to give Harry Potter a hall pass on this due to the pure length of the last book, but the jury is still hung on this one. (Unfortunately, it’s a jury that nature will never let me be a part of.)
I’m going to try and de-spoilerize this as much as possible, but the shift in emotion portrayed in just a set of eyes during the final seconds of the film were down right spine-tingling. All I have to say is, it’s on like District Kong!
At the end of the day, Jennifer Lawrence may not read my blog, but it may very well be that the producers and screenplay writers do. I say that in good faith as my main grievances with the original Hunger Games film were based on things that were either changed or left out of the book and I felt like all of those issues were addressed more than adequately in one way or another as outlined above.
As Katniss gives hope to a downtrodden society, the cast and crew have given me – if I may borrow this little known line – “a new hope” that the final film entries for Mocking Jay will match, if not surpass, the excellent conversion of Catching Fire.
Above all, it has rekindled hope within me that Ms. Lawrence will one day come across my proposal and respond in kind. If you do reply Jennifer, no need to rush and trip over yourself (or dress) doing so, the odds will be ever in your favor that I’ll still be single by the time you eventually read this.