By Karina “Cinerina” Montgomery
Personal Rating: Matinee Plus Snacks
We were privileged to attend a double feature of Hunger Games and Catching Fire for the second installment of this trilogy. I entered with a recent reread of Suzanne Collins’ dystopian novels under my belt and fairly high expectations after the vivid reminder of what a smart adaptation the first film was. I cried more in the first, but sweated more in the second. None of us was disappointed.
The primary narrative challenge of these stories is keeping us firmly centered in the experience for Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), but also giving the audience clarity on things that she knows and remembers but doesn’t talk about. Whether that’s explaining what a tracker jacker is or detailing the war that led to this world of Panem, the film adaptations have a lot of modifications to make to a harrowing personal experience with broader implications. The Oscar-winning screenwriters Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt (both new to the franchise and both with impressive filmographies) take over the franchise with aplomb.
They keep the characters we love intact but expand their range from the original. Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks have more to do, which is never a bad filmmaking decision, and Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth get to expand their emotional palette. I was very happy with the emotional scope of the first movie but really appreciated the additional range everyone got here.
Casting of the new characters was spot-on – new entrants Sam Claflin (Finnick), Jeffrey Wright (Beetee), Amanda Plummer (Wiress), Jena Malone (Joanna), and Philip Seymour Hoffman (my original favorite for Haymitch but now playing Plutarch Heavensbee) were all perfect for their parts. Hoffman plays the new Gamemaker differently than I had imagined him (and fans, we don’t get to see his fancy watch) but in the course of the film he was portrayed exactly right.
A friend won’t see these movies because they are too stressful. I, a glutton for dystopic and end-of-days narratives, scoffed politely – and 36 hours later I was literally at the edge of my seat, perspiring through my sweater even in the chilled theatre. The Arena before was filled with bloodthirsty but mostly evenly-matched kids. This time, it’s furious, multi-generational victors (Spoiler? Really? Go read them and come back.), so the Arena itself becomes the attacker. The complicated nature of this Arena was handled very well and visually fabulous. Even knowing how it all plays out, my heart was in my throat.
Director Francis Lawrence brings a new (less shaky) cinematographer and about eight zillion dollars’ worth of extra effects and background wardrobe/makeup to this installment, and an intense focus on the emotional toll the Hunger Games take on society. And no one even says “fascism” once!
If you are already following the franchise, you’ll see it anyway, but rest assured that the Collins’ work is still in good hands. If you’re still undecided, the action and spectacle in this one might be just the ticket to get you hooked. You don’t have to have read the books to enjoy these films, but more material was cut from Catching Fire that might make certain things feel random or glossed over. Fans will nod wisely at the red dotting President Snow’s lips, or fill their hearts when the morphling watches the sun set, or feel the chill at glimpses of the new Avoxes. It’s good, go see it.
I feel I should explain my rating system. I rate movies in the language that studios understand: money. If a movie delivers what it promises, then it should be rewarded accordingly. If a movie wastes your time, it should not get as much of your money. “Good” is a concept that extends beyond the arthouse. But I don’t need to tell you nerds that.