Friday, November 22, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

My review of the first Hunger Games movie looks reasonably positive, but it ended up number 20 of 28 on my list for 2012. The two main problems with it were the obnoxious overuse of shakycam and a certain lack of punch. It was certainly violent, brutal, and depressing, but I wanted it to be more violent, more brutal, like the book was.

Catching Fire is everything I wanted it to be. Mercifully, the new director only uses shakycam for scenes with frenetic motion, not for stationary dialogue. And, with the work of setting up the world and the characters out of the way, the second movie can spend all of its time dwelling on how awful awful the world is, and how desperate and unhappy the characters are. This is a good thing. It does mean that if you didn't see the first movie, you're likely to be completely lost, so go see it first.

This movie, as with the first one, rides on the performances of its two main actors. Josh Hutcherson is good as Peeta - not brilliant, but it's not a part that lends itself to brilliance. Peeta is important, but the books are first person, and he is not the viewpoint character. That is Katniss, and Jennifer Lawrence is perfect. She was good in the first movie and is better in the second. This is not at all an easy character, either. Peeta is pretty straightforward, without much in the way of complexity. Katniss is cold, stubborn, distrustful, strong and yet fragile, terrified and trying not to show it, and is still magnetically likable. That is a remarkable achievement. Also, do yourself a favor and watch or read some of Lawrence's interviews. She plays the press game like no one else.

The rest of the cast is mostly the same, with a couple notable additions. For the returners, the most notable are Donald Sutherland, who turned in a magisterially understated performance as President Snow; Elizabeth Banks, whose Effie Trinket was just obnoxious in the first movie but in the second becomes an interesting character; and Lenny Kravitz, whose capable acting was a huge surprise the first time around and who continues to impress. The important newcomers are Sam Claflin's Finnick, Jena Malone's Johanna, and Philip Seymour Hoffman's Plutarch Heavensbee. The former two are capable and entertaining, but the latter is superb as the new Games master.

I won't say anything about the plot except to say that it stays true to the book as far as I remember. You are fairly likely to leave the theater cursing Lionsgate for their decision to split the final book, Mockingjay, into two parts, which means we will have to wait until 2015 to see the end.

1. Gravity
2. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
3. Much Ado About Nothing
4. Now You See Me
5. The World's End
6. Ender's Game
7. Despicable Me 2
8. Star Trek: Into Darkness
9. Thor: The Dark World
10. Oblivion
11. Pacific Rim
12. Rush
13. Iron Man 3
14. Kick Ass 2
15. Man of Steel
16. Jack the Giant Slayer
17. Beautiful Creatures
18. The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones
19. The Family
20. RIPD
21. Oz the Great and Powerful
22. Epic
23. G.I. Joe: Retaliation
24. The Wolverine
25. Elysium
26. Monsters University
27. Hansel and Gretel, Witch Hunters
28. The Grandmaster
29. Machete Kills
30. The Great Gatsby
31. The Lone Ranger
32. This is the End

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