Hunger Games: Catching Fire—Dramatic and Exciting

the_hunger_games_catching_fire_posterThere is never a dull moment in “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” the eagerly-awaited second installment of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy, likely to satisfy the huge number of fans of the books as well as of the first chapter, made in 2012.

Doing justice to its source material, “Catching Fire,” just like Collins’ second book, is full of drama, action, suspense—-and a new set of compelling characters, played by skillful actors.

Jennifer Lawrence, one of the youngest Best Actress Oscar winners (“Silver Linings “Playbook”), returns as the heroic warrior-rebel Katniss Everdeen, surrounded by some new faces, played by the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, and Sam Claflin. It’s hard to imagine the central part played by any other actress than Lawrence, who at young age of 23, with two Oscar nominations to her credit, is one of the most versatile and exciting actress working in American cinema now.

Defying trends of franchises, as a second segment, “Catching Fire” is darker, more dramatic, and more eventful than the first, but it could also be enjoyed as a stand-alone as well.

the_hunger_games_catching_fire_2Lionsgate has decided to open the film in The U.K. a week before its release in the U.S. (November 22). The first film grossed $152.5 million in its opening weekend (occupying the third place on the all-time list), and I predict that, with strong critical support, “Catching Fire” would surpass that figure.

The trilogy of book has sold over 50 million copies in print in the U.S. alone. Moreover, this film’s more polished production values justify the budget of $130, which is almost twice as big as that of the first one ($78 million). Overseas, the first film generated about 40 percent of its $691 million global gross, a figure likely to increase with the second installment. All three books are still very much in demand

Following “Twilight” and “Harry Potter,” As already been announced, the last book, “Mockingjay,” will be divided into two films, also to be directed by Francis Lawrence, the first of which to be released in November 2014.

the_hunger_games_catching_fire_6The original director, Gary Ross, has been replaced by Francis Lawrence (no relation to Jennifer), but the film shows no signs of chaos or haste. The script by Simon Beaufoy and Michael deBruyn reflects with remarkable accuracy the book’s thematic concerns and complex relationships among its characters, and though respectful, the helming is impressively noticeable, resulting in a shapely narrative and engaging movie.

The tale begins when Katniss Everdeen returns home safely after winning the 74th Annual Hunger Games along with fellow tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Winning determines that leave their family and close friends and embark on a “Victors’ Tour” of the districts.

Along the way Katniss senses that a rebellion is simmering, but the Capitol is still in control as President Snow(Donald Sutherland) prepares the 75th Annual Hunger Games (The Quarter Quell), a competition that promises to change Panem forever. The very special Quarter Quell anniversary edition forces together the most famous past Victors, including Katniss, who never imagined she would head back into the arena.

the_hunger_games_catching_fire_3Back at home in District 12, Katniss needs to deal with former beau Gale (Liam Hemsworth) now that she is romantically involved with her Hunger Games co-winner Peeta. President Snow insists that Katniss maintains the fictional love story and also satisfy his own suspicions of her loyalty to him and the Capitol.

The tale explores effectively the issues of loyalty and betrayal, conflict, rebellion, and subversion. The Victors’ Tour through Panem’s districts reveals that public unrest could break out into revolution against Snow.

Many of the Victors are old friends and national heroes. This means that Katniss will be pitted against either Peeta or their old mentor, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson). “Last year was child’s play,” the cynical and manipulative Haymitch warns his proteges, who need to sort out their feelings about one another, not to mention the deep concern with sheer survival.

The first hour is good at exposition and build-up of tension, allowing viewers to reacquaint themselves with the characters, both the familiar ones from the first film, and some new, exciting ones. Elizabeth Banks reappears as the style maven and den mother Effie Trinket, Lenny Kravitz as Katniss’ designer Cinna, and Stanley Tucci as the purple-eye-browed and ivory-toothed TV host Caesar Flickerman.

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays with grand panache a new character, Plutarch Heavensbee, the chief game-maker assigned with overseeing the anticipated but fearful event, due to the status of the former winners are and their reluctance to participate again by force.

It’s worth waiting for the climax, which is well staged by the director, who never forgets who the audiences care about the most—Katniss.   In crucial moments, with the cameras staying close to her, Katniss reveals a mixture of emotions based on the game-changing revelations.

Like the cast, behind the scenes crew consists of old and new members. Production designer Philip Messina and composer James Newton Howard repeat their work, while costume designer Trish Summerville and cinematographer Jo Willems represent new additions.

Longer review will be published today.