Movie Reviews

‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’: Teen drama burns bright

By Zaki JufriMovies - 21 November 2013 10:56 AM

‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’: Teen drama burns bright

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Rating: 4.5 / 5

When the film adaption of Suzanne Collins’ ‘The Hunger Games’  opened in 2012, no one expected the movie to be a runaway success, especially with themes such as poverty, inequality and death-as-sport as its main thrust.

Not since the ‘Harry Potter’ series or, dare we say, ‘Twilight’, has there been another budding young adult book-series-turned-movie franchise that is starting to captivate an audience this way.

‘The Hunger Games’ took home US$686 million (S$855 million) worldwide alongside critical acclaim. And director Francis Lawrence gamely picked up the gauntlet and confidently continued where Gary Ross left off in his 2012 film.

‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ is the second adaptation of Collins’ bestselling trilogy, and it beats every movie from its genre with a cheeky right hook, knocking out even the shine of the first movie.

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Best Actress Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence is the beating heart of the film

While the first adaptation was sturdy and well-paced, it seemed to lack the emotional punch that was evident in its source material.

‘Catching Fire’, which is starkly darker in tone, licks that void and gently simmers in emotional intensity, bringing things to a boil after about 80-minutes, when the games get going to deliver that one-two punch.

It is a gamble that pays off because the first movie has done all the heavy lifting, introducing the futuristic dystopia of Panem and its inhabitants. Director Lawrence now narrows his gaze on continuing the story of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence).

KEEPING UP APPEARANCES

Picking up about a year after the events of the last film, Katniss and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), having won the 74th Hunger Games, are set to tour the 12 districts as part of their “Victory Tour”, even though the trip involves rubbing their win in the noses of the fallen contestants’ family and friends.

The snarling President Snow (Donald Sutherland) pays a personal visit to Katniss, reminding her that her for-show romance with Peeta is the only thing keeping the two of them alive, and that she had better step up their fake affection while in public.

What is really keeping him up at night is that Katniss has somehow managed to spark ideas of rebellion against Snow and the Capitol. Even as the two young champions stick to their official script, Katniss’ very presence becomes a symbol for revolt.

Snow and new games planner Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) hatch a plan to keep everyone in line by throwing Katniss back into the ring for the 75th Hunger Games.

Jennifer Lawrence turns in an emphatically solid performance as the reluctant teenage warrior. It was only early this year that the 23-year-old won a Best Actress Oscar and she clearly did not disappoint.

FASCINATING FEMALE PROTAGONIST

Two movies in, it is clear that Katniss Everdeen, the beating heart of the entire franchise, is becoming one of the most interesting female protagonists we’ve ever seen on film.

Lawrence seems to understand what is at stake here and fully embodies the character’s tortured inner self with the same steely fortitude that captured moviegoers’ attention in ‘Winter’s Bone’ (2010).

We are curious to see how her character will evolve in the two-part finale of ‘The Hunger Games’ series, ‘Mockingjay’, set to be released in 2014 and 2015.

The movie also stands out in how it steers away from the typical doe-eyed romance plot that is a mainstay in most teen-oriented movies. The script fleshes out Katniss’ relationship with Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta, moving it forward in the most logical way in tandem with Katniss’ state of mental health.

Returning as part of the teen warriors’ entourage are games tactician and perpetual drunk Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), media advisor Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) and fashion designer Cinna (Lenny Kravitz). Stanley Tucci reprises his role as the flamboyant TV host Caesar Flickerman.

It is encouraging to find a movie aimed at a younger audience that is so compelling and captivating. Whether it’s for a shot of adrenaline, romance or even its food-for-thought socio-political commentary, ‘Catching Fire’ is a sure-fire hit.

Its secret weapon, the amazing Jennifer Lawrence, kept us on the edge of our seats from the first scene to the gripping cliffhanger, making us beg for more.

‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ opens in cinemas 21 November 2013