Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson
Directed by: Francis Lawrence (“Water for Elephants”)
Written by: Simon Beaufoy (“127 Hours”) and Michael Arndt (“Little Miss Sunshine”)
Unless you’re an unbiased fan of the wildly popular adult-book series “The Hunger Games” written by Suzanne Collins, the sequel to the record-breaking 2012 original film won’t hold much emotional weight. Without a deeper investment in these characters, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” much like the latest “Thor” sequel, was only made for its most hardcore followers.
Exploring much loftier ideas than the first film, “Catching Fire” does give Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook”) a good enough reason to reprise a role she was born to play. Lawrence, whose beauty never overshadows Katniss Everdeen’s heroic nature, once again stands apart from the movie script’s unoriginal ideas. The dystopian themes featured in this series might seem new to somebody who has never picked up a science fiction book written in at least the last century, but, unfortunately, “Catching Fire” doesn’t seem all that interested in breaking any new ground.
On what is called a “Victor’s Tour” (think of a TV reality-show tour for “American Idol” contestants), Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), are traveling from district to district being touted as the winners of the 74th annual Hunger Games. Unhappy with the way those games unfolded (the duo is pronounced co-champions only after they threatened to kill themselves with poison berries), President Snow (Donald Sutherland) sees their win as a threat to the way his government functions. If someone like Katniss can break the rules, what’s to stop others from revolting against the system?
Putting an end to Katniss’ revolutionary way of thinking couldn’t come at a better time with the 75th annual Hunger Games (The Quarter Quell) about to begin. Established as an All-Star type of reality show, past winners of the Games, including Katniss and Peeta, are forced back into a new arena where they must once again fight to survive against other competitors. This time the to-the-death battle is headed by a new Head Gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), who shares in President Snow’s thoughts that Katniss is a menace to the status quo.
Much like the first movie, “Catching Fire” takes quite a while to get to the action most mainstream moviegoers not familiar with the books might be most interested in. For a second movie in a franchise like this, there still seems to be a lot of set-up left to do before the last two films are shot back to back in the next couple of years. Unfortunately, much of that set-up is filled with lazy dialogue and plenty of underwritten secondary character that don’t matter much in the big picture. It’s surprising since the screenplay is penned by Oscar winners Simon Beaufoy (“127 Hours”) and Michael Arndt (“Little Miss Sunshine”).
At this point, all that really matters is Katniss. A strong female character like her is rare in movies these days, and Lawrence does an impressive job at portraying her as someone we can all root for. In an age where the Disney princess culture reigns supreme among audiences, it’s nice to see that there’s a fictional character out there that girls (at least tweens) can stand behind. Sure, Katniss might get someone’s attention by shooting an arrow through their chest, but is that kind of PG-13 rated violence really any worse than Cinderella or Snow White or Sleeping Beauty or the Little Mermaid finding happiness only after they hook up with their Prince Charming? Just as long as Katniss stays a lot manlier than Peeta (and that damn Gale Hawthorne doesn’t get much screen time), a lot can be said about how “Catching Fire” and the rest of this series can pave the way for more of these roles to find a permanent place in Hollywood.