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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    ‘Catching Fire’ fails to thrill like original

    Lionsgate
    Lionsgate

    The opening shot of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is of Katniss Everdeen in a cold, sparse forest, looking ahead at her target, some wild game that will provide a meal. Like our huntress, the film is looking ahead, to bigger and better things, losing sight of the task at hand.

    Though Katniss and company are back in the increasingly volatile world of Panem, rife with death and hope, this sequel does nothing to further, or detract from, the groundwork of the original. Despite its flaws, “Catching Fire” is a worthwhile installment of a series that has assumed the financial and critical crown of “Harry Potter” for the young-adult-novel-turned-movie-franchise throne.

    Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) are back at home in the impoverished, coal-mining District 12. They haven’t fully enjoyed the spoils of being champs of the 74th Hunger Games (the events of the first film), or the artificial romance they created in order to survive the previous games.

    Peeta wants something real while Katniss loves hometown sweetheart Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth). Katniss and Peeta will have to learn to deal, though, as they embark on a victory tour to the other districts. The graces of the Capitol are praised, as well as the tyrannical government that lords over the 12 slums-for-Districts. It’s pretty disturbing, and the movie shows Panem in all its moral perverseness.

    The embers of rebellion are beginning to glow as Katniss tours. The denizens of the district raise three-fingered salutes in solidarity, and faceless soldiers, whose armor finds a happy medium between Master Chief from “Halo” and Stormtroopers, beat them down.

    President Snow (Donald Sutherland), observing from his ivory tower of power, plots to extinguish the growing resistance with his toothy sneer. He schemes with Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) — whose calm and assuring confidence lends the role a gravitas that not many other actors could provide — the new head gamemaker, and they decide to use a very special 75th Hunger Games, with new rules, to assassinate hope. Katniss and Peeta find themselves suiting up once more, where they must kill their peers to stay alive.

    Lawrence must once again be the all-around anchor of these films, and she does so fairly convincingly. Her Katniss is a tenacious, skilled hunter who must battle with PTSD-like symptoms after the horrors of the first games.

    I’d offer a three-fingered salute to her, as well as all creatively involved, in making such a strong heroine. As we’ve seen since the first film, this is not a young woman who is crippled in the absence of a boyfriend (what’s up, “Twilight”?) but really doesn’t have much time for love, even though it’s nice from time to time.

    However, this feels like a movie of two halves. Everything leading up to the 75th Hunger Games — the victory tour, the training, the rumbling of rebellion, the behind-the-scenes look at the Capitol with Snow and Plutarch — are the first half of a whole. We mostly slog through this to reach the much-awaited main attraction, the game itself. Between a forest filled with poisonous fog and aggressive apes and a beach with its own set of hazards, the games’ sequence is harrowing and darker in both mood and content than most large set pieces of adventure films.

    In fact, the title of the movie is a great summation of this film’s place in the pantheon of the “Hunger Games” series, as well as the film itself. The first movie thrilled audiences — even those unfamiliar with the books — with its bleak, industrial, stylish and outlandish Panem.

    Autocratic oppression mixed with high fashion, and the gladiator games of ancient Rome, with bows and arrows and swords, had a futuristic spin. All that, which dazzled audiences, is back in the second installment.

    But nothing really is bigger or better. The ending, with an abruptness that is rather shocking, tells us the end is nigh, that “Mockingjay,” is going to be in two parts.

    Although the series’ second installment indeed leaves its audience “catching” fire, it fails to engulf.

    Grade: B-

    Follow Alex Guyton @TDWildcatFilm

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