Film review: The Hunger Games Catching Fire

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Jennifer Lawrence returns to the arena for another go at the Hunger Games in the nail biting sequel Catching Fire. Image: Lionsgate Jennifer Lawrence returns to the arena for another go at the Hunger Games in the nail biting sequel Catching Fire. Image: Lionsgate

A quick rack of the brain and I come to this conclusion: I cannot remember a major, big budget action film that is at once so emotionally draining, deeply dramatic, and incredibly bleak. Thought the death of Rue was difficult in The Hunger Games? Just wait to see what happens when Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) travel to Rue’s home, District 11, on their victory tour.

The revolutionary flags are flying in this second chapter of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. Picking up roughly a year after the conclusion of the first movie, we first see Katniss, looking like Hawkeye from The Last of the Mohicans, surveying the horizon. She’s startled by Gale (Liam Hemsworth), one-third of the weakish love triangle established in The Hunger Games.

From there, she goes to her new home, the location she’s earned as a result of winning the Hunger Games. The entrance to the grounds looks like a cemetery, which can’t be coincidence.

It’s at home that she’s met by President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who informs Katniss that if she wants to live, she’d better prove to him that the romance between she and Peeta is the real deal. He’s had her tailed and knows her heart lies with Gale.

Peeta and Katniss don’t like each other much, but play up the romance on their victory tour to stay alive. Worse yet, there’s a new games master, Plutarch Heavensbee (a bored-seeming Philip Seymour Hoffman; maybe he can’t believe his character’s name), who informs Katniss that the next Hunger Games will be cuh-razy.

See, the 75th Hunger Games are approaching, and every 25 years there’s a wrinkle: It’s a Quarter Quell, and all the contestants are former winners. And because Katniss is the only female winner from District 12, she’s automatically entered. Peeta and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) are the male winners, and Haymitch’s name is drawn. Peeta, good guy that he is, volunteers in Haymitch’s place.

The remaining minutes of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire—and there are plenty of remaining minutes—have to do with Katniss and Peeta staying alive while making uneasy alliances. There’s Johanna Mason (a terrific Jena Malone) and Finnick (Sam Claflin), for starters, and they have plans of their own. There’s also Beetee (Jeffrey Wright) and Wiress (Amanda Plummer), welcome additions to an above average cast.

Lawrence doesn’t have much to do other than react. But when your family is threatened by Snow—Sutherland revels in his icy menace—and the man you love and the man you’re supposed to love are closer to death’s door each time you pass within earshot, maybe you’d look pained, too.

Per the machinations of the plot, Katniss is mostly a pawn in this movie, and the ending isn’t much of an ending. But The Hunger Games: Catching Fire looks great, it’s a joy to see Wright and Plummer in a major American movie, and—no joke—this flick is a nail biter, even in the quiet moments. Can’t wait for Mockingjay.

The Hunger Games:Catching Fire / PG-13, 146 minutes/ Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX

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