The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (****1/2)
Snow is a bastard
Katniss is a bit broken
Run from the monkeys!
POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD. I loved The Hunger Games. So much so that when I reviewed it last March, I gave it five out of five stars. My ratings scale is bit of a fluid thing, it seems, and I'm pretty sure that were I to see it for the first time today, I wouldn't give it the full score. That said, the score is a good indication of my feelings toward the franchise, and the sequel, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, doesn't in any way diminish those feelings. In fact, even though you might not be able to tell from the rating above, I actually liked it better than the first movie!
Catching Fire picks up a few months after Katniss and Peeta "win" the 74th Annual Hunger Games. Their lives have gotten somewhat back to normal, but the time of the Victory Tour—a trip with stops in each district that culminates in celebrations in the Capitol—is drawing near. Unbeknownst to her, in some Districts, Katniss' move with the berries was seen as a form of rebellion, and the people are pushing back against the Capitol's oppression. President Snow sees the people of Panem treating Katniss like a figurehead of the rebellion, and he hatches a plot to destroy her before she gets too much power—a plot that involves sending her back into the arena.
The characters and the actors in Catching Fire have only gotten better from the first movie, particularly Josh Hutcherson's Peeta. He's less of a lame duck in this movie, and actually stands up for himself a little more. Jennifer Lawrence was again awesome as Katniss, even a Katniss who's a bit more fragile and a lot more effected by PTSD. Stanley Tucci's Caesar Flickerman is pure brilliance; I really can't imagine anyone else playing the role. Donald Sutherland is so creepy as President Snow; every time he comes on screen, I can smell blood and roses. The new characters of Finnick, Johanna and the other prior victors were great, too. (I wish we could have spent more time with them!) And Lenny Kravitz's Cinna ... oh, Cinna.
It's obvious that Lionsgate spent a lot more money on Catching Fire, too. The special effects and sets were all superb. The Quarter Quell arena, and the "events" within, were super well done. (I still hold to my belief that The Hunger Games franchise one of most well done series of book-to-film adaptations ever.) I do wish we could have seen more of the action, however, and a little less of the lead up to it. (What can I say? I'm an action girl at heart.) And some of the scenes were a tad over-acted (i.e., the whole washing the fog poison off in the stream, Katniss' face at the very end of the movie ...)
Regardless, if you're a Hunger Games fan, or enjoyed the first movie even a little, I think you'll really enjoy this film, too.