Movie Review: 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' (2013)

Picking up where “The Hunger Games” left off, the highly anticipated sequel “Catching Fire” finds Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) trying to come to grips with the events from the first film as they set off on a promotional tour for the evil Capital.

Cue the teenage angst tenfold as Peeta pines away for the emotionally reclusive Katniss, who is busy navigating the political waters and unwanted attention that has come from winning the games. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is on to the twosome and their fake relationship with one another. So now Peeta and Katniss must convince the world of their sincerely, undying affection for each other.

That is the set-up and the execution is as decent as one could expect, given what is on the page. Director Francis Lawrence adequately brings the variously diverse worlds to life. It is not his fault that previous director Gary Ross, had set the stage for one of the most ridiculous post-dystopian societies in the history of film.

The Capital is an area filled with cartoon buffoonery. It is a virtual clown show, where everyone is dressed up as the circus performers from your worst nightmares.

It remains unclear, how someone is supposed to lose themselves in such absurdity. How a dress manages to set on fire without, at least singeing, the girl wearing it, remains yet another triumphant head-scratcher. Finding something tangible to hold onto, is just as impossible in “Catching Fire” as it was with its predecessor. 

The story moves along with the pace of grave self-importance, taking its time to carefully examine every wistful glare or longing, gooey-filled glance. By the time the film reaches its third quarter, practically nothing has really taken place.

Some could assume there would have been some room for character development however, after 2 hours nothing new comes to mind of any greater insight. The film relies on the audience to simply root for Katniss and Peeta because they have been billed the heroes.

As the audience is shown the brutal conditions of the people living throughout the district landscapes, one can’t help wonder how exactly any work gets done, when the Capital spends all of the citizen’s days, beating and killing them.

How could this possibly be an effective way to run the foundation that creates the gaudy Capital? Especially when it is clear no commerce or work is being done in the glamour-verse unless, you count applying make-up. The whole idea of a brutality this cruel being done when the Capital has no means to support itself without them, is illogical.

When it comes to the performances, Jennifer Lawrence has strong moments however; the script does her no favors. As Katniss makes her way through the press tour, she makes no attempts to hide her disinterest, something no one else seems to pick up on. The largest stumble comes in the complete lack of convincing chemistry between Lawrence and Hutcherson.

How anyone is actually convinced of their relationship in the movie; is hard to believe without discrediting the intelligence of the depicted populace. Who would possibly see it as anything, other than a front, when Katniss is visibly choking back her disgust and repulsion, at the slightest affection from Peeta? The performances, in this regard, are running amuck with contradiction.

As was evident in the first movie, Josh Hutcherson is miscast as Peeta, his characterization ranging from obsessive stalker to depressed sociopath. Woody Harrelson, a marvelous actor, is also an ill-fit for his role as Haymitch, the kid’s coach, who doesn’t really teach them anything.

Elizabeth Banks does manage to seize emotional ground as Effie. A performance that would be better categorized as a vocal turn, given all of her physically emotive work is undermined by the massive Ringling Bros. get-up, she has to adorn. 

Jena Malone (Johanna) carves out an impressive performance with her short-lived screen time and Sam Claflin is likable as the cocky Finnick. The genuine stunners in the performance realm are Donald Sutherland and Philip Seymour Hoffman (Plutarch Heavensbee), each of whom are cast to perfection. They both bring an ample amount of gravitas to the campy world surrounding them.

The exciting promise of a strong female lead being given a chance to shine, front and center, is hampered by a ham-fisted script that is too busy telling  us how great Katniss is, instead, of showing  us. Until, these two visions can come eye to eye; the franchise will be a bland interpretation of what could have been. Rating: 6.5/10