Friday, November 21, 2014

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Written at the time of the film's release...

Feeding the Beast
To Kill a Mocking-jay

I mocked The Hunger Games rather mercilessly when it came out (as if it would prevent a single sou from entering its coffers) , because even though it was a hot publishing phenom' and a breathlessly anticipated movie, the original concept was a bit derivative without being very divergent (yeah, that's a snark for a future film there).  So now, the second of The Hunger Games films (of four total) Catching Fire has come out (with a new director, Francis Lawrence, of Water for Elephants and I Am Legend as a bit of an improvement over Gary Ross, even with Steve Soderbergh assisting) and this one's a better film.  For one thing. "this time it's political," and the easy targets of reality TV and the excesses of the rich (with an eye towards the Roman Empire and its parallels of bread and circuses) are a bit less strident, although they haven't disappeared. They're just presented a little better this time. And the politico's of the Capitol are being a bit more cagey than they were previously.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) now finds herself the most watched human in Panem. Her victory in the 74th Hunger Games along with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) has earned her and her family a cushy residence in Victor's Village and the vulture-like scrutiny of Panem's leader, President Snow (Donald Sutherland, as creepily confident as if he were selling you orange juice).  He sees the way that Katniss has reached out to Panem's people and now she's the centerpiece of a swelling revolutionary movement.  A personal presidential visit amounts to a threat that she'd better be convincing in her devotion to the State.  "I'll convince them." assures Katniss.  "No." replies Snow slowly. "Convince me."

And with that, the stakes are raised. A "Victory Tour" is planned for the remaining districts (the ones that haven't been nuked), but at each appearance of Katniss and Peeta something happens that brings out the riot policeAt the suggestion of the Capitol's new gamesmaster (check out this name) Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman, keeping a straight face), who comes up with a plan to put more pressure on Katniss and speeding the inevitable moment when the public turns against her. Then, with the next Hunger Games competition occurring (the 75th), it is decided that, rather than having a "Reaping" lottery among the populace, the competition will be between past Victors, considered by the State now to be potential inspirations and inciters to riot.
So now, the Games are between past champions (including Jeffrey Wright, Jena Malone, and Amanda Plummer), some of whom are just as determined to win, while others are angry at being targeted again, but there will be only one survivor. 
It's a better film with more tricks up its sleeve, and the media manipulation is played by all sides—it may be an illusion but Stanley Tucci's teeth actually look whiter this time—with a terrific set-up for the next films that comes out of left field...if you haven't read the books.  It's an entertaining change-up from the situations of the original, and promises to be even more intersting next time out.

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