Katniss Everdeen and company are back with THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE. With this second installment in the YA franchise, now helmed by Frances Lawrence and written by Simon Beaufoy and Michael deBruyn, we catch up with the 74th Hunger Games victors, Katniss and Peeta on their return home to District 12. Panem is an even darker and more oppressive country than before the Games. The ever malevolent President Snow is less than pleased with the victorious tie between Katniss and Peeta thanks to their last minute suicide pact, an act which is now fueling uprising and rebellion among the Districts.
Sensing dissension, Snow orders Katniss and Peeta to appear on a victory tour, to convince the populous of their undying love for each other and squelch thoughts of revolt, lest all those they love will die. But the victory tour falls flat and rather than quiet revolt, fuels it with Katniss being viewed as the symbolic Mockingjay. For Snow, that means only thing. Eliminate the problem completely but without making her a martyr. And thus, the Quarter Quell Games pitting prior victors against each other are to be held.
Delicious performances again come from Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks (who soars with texture and emotion beyond Effie Trinket's out-of-this world wardrobe and make-up), Woody Harrelson and, of course, Donald Sutherland. Harrelson also delivers some surprises with his performance and within his character of Haymitch Abernathy. Jennifer Lawrence secures her place as a star, with a deeper emotionally visceral performance. Disappointing is Liam Hemsworth who returns as Gale and again, falls emotionally flat while Josh Hutcherson's Peeta is an ambivalent mess. Standout is Philip Seymour Hoffman who brings a mysterious and welcoming ambiguity to new gamekeeper Plutarch Heavensbee. Also new to the franchise is Jena Malone who as Johanna Mason is dynamic exuberance while Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plummer and Sam Claflin consistently add dimension and depth to the proceedings.
Bigger, darker and more allegorical than ever, with CATCHING FIRE, Frances Lawrence excels with visual splendor and the creation of the island where the Quarter Quell Games are held. Working like a clock with new hells inflicted upon the contestants on each hour mark (among them, man-eating monkeys, tidal waves, poison gas, lightening strikes) each is fully sensorially realized, making the viewing experience tangible and to a large degree, subconsciously tactile. Capitalizing on themes of the stakes being higher for survival and alliance, thanks to intense hand held camera lensing and intimate close-ups, visuals and story conceptuals solidify the mantra, "Remember who the real enemy is."
Bring on MOCKINGJAY!
Directed by Frances Lawrence
Written by Simon Beaufoy and Michael deBruyn based on the novel by Suzanne Collins
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Jena Malone, Sam Claflin, Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plummer, Philip Seymour Hoffman