I’m glad I saw the first “Hunger Games” movie because I’m not sure if I would have a clue as to what was going on if I didn’t have that background. I may have been taken in by the beautiful art direction, or Jennifer Lawrence’s intense performance, but I don’t think I would have been able to connect all the dots. Plot points become more obvious in the second hour, but for non-Hungerites it might be confusing.
If you haven’t seen the first movie, or read one of the 26 million copies of the book that are currently in print, here’s a glossary of terms to get you up to speed.
Katniss Everdeen: Sixteen year-old protagonist and citizen of District 12, a poor mining area in the dystopian nation of Panem.
Peeta Mellark: A baker’s son, who, according to Wikipedia has “extensive strength and cake decorating skills that contributed to the art of camouflage.”
Both are “tributes” chosen from the young people of District 12 and forced to participate in an annual Hunger Games, The Hunger Games, an annual televised event in which one teenaged boy and girl from each districts surrounding the Capitol are chosen by lottery to fight to the death until only one remains.
There’s more, but you’ll figure it out.
In the new film combatants and sweethearts Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) have returned from the 74th Annual Hunger Games victorious to become the toast of the nation. While on a Victory Tour to Panem’s various downtrodden districts, revolution is in the air. They see Katniss as a symbol of freedom, which, of course, doesn’t sit well with President Snow (Donald Sutherland), the country’s autocratic leader. To quell the revolution he and his head gamesmaker (Philip Seymour Hoffman) devise the trickiest Hunger Games yet, the Quarter Quell that will pit former winners against one another in the battle to the death. If Snow gets his way Katniss will be killed and the revolution squashed.
“Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is a better movie than the first installment.
Set decorated and costumed (as played by Elizabeth Banks, District 12 minder Effie Trinket has the most elaborate futurist art deco costumes since “Metropolis”) to within an inch of its life, but has nonetheless has a gritty edge. It doesn’t feel like a budget big franchise movie and that’s a good thing,
Visually as well as thematically it has more edge than any of the recent Marvel movies. And it skirts around the thing that upset many people about the first movie—the idea of kids killing kids—by setting the action between former victors ranging in age from 20s to 70s.
It creates a world with it’s own rules, style and customs and does so convincingly. In part it’s comprised of things we’ve seen before in everything from the human sacrifices of Greek Mythology to reality television to stories of government corruption on the news, but author Suzanne Collins and director Francis “I Am legend” Lawrence tie it together to create something new.
In many ways it breaks the mold of what we expect from a young adult a blockbuster. The focus is on the characters and the underpinning of romance that snakes throughout the story. The action sequences are few and far between and it takes almost an hour before any of Katniss’s trademark bow-and-arrow dexterity comes into play. (Silly complaint: the number of arrows in her quiver changes from shot to shot! Just when you think she’s out, arrows magically appear.)
Sure there’s poison fog, angry animals and vicious victors but it’s about survival and relationships not the wholesale slaughter of the characters. It’s grim, shot in hues of grey with a perpetually overcast sky, which lends it a classic feel, more like 1970s sci fi than the brightly couloured eye catchers Hollywood makes these days.
“Hunger Games: Catching Fire” has a who’s who of a cast—Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Jena Malone, Brit heartthrob Sam Claflin and Amanda Plummer—who all perform well, lending some gravitas to the story, but it is carried by Lawrence whose vision for Katniss is as straight as an arrow.