Nov. 22--"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" doesn't stand up on its own, but it does its job.
It's based on the second in Suzanne Collins' trilogy of "Hunger Games" books (the third will be broken into -- sigh -- two movies). And "Catching Fire" serves as a bridge from the first film to the third. There's a dramatic ending (especially dramatic, I'd think, for those who haven't read the books; I have), but it's more of the cliff-hanger variety. Overall, the film doesn't feel whole.
You absolutely have to see the first film in order to follow what's going on here. And if you did see the first film, but it was a while ago, I suggest you go back to it so you can fully enjoy this one.
The sequel continues the story of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who lives among the oppressed in a totalitarian state lorded over by President Snow (a perfectly sinister Donald Sutherland). Televised games are held in which two young representatives from each of 12 districts are chosen for a battle to the death called the Hunger Games. Think of TV's "Dancing With the Stars" meets "Survivor" meets "Lord of the Flies" meets "Gladiator." Sort of.
The first film involves Katniss, brave and skilled with a bow and arrow (from hunting illegally), volunteering to take her younger sister's spot as one of District 12's "tributes." She's joined by the other representative, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), a baker's son with a crush on Katniss.
In "Catching Fire" -- spoiler alert on how the first one ends -- Katniss and Peeta (reminds me of Bette Davis: "Peeta, Peeta, Peeta") deal with the consequences of their controversial dual victory in the 74th annual games. Ruthless President Snow, concerned that national hero Katniss' rebellious ways could inspire, well, rebellion, wants the duo either to play ball (spouting the party line to the masses) or to die.
And what more likely way to kill them off than to have them compete in the 75th Hunger Games, featuring former victorious tributes from the past (like one of those all-star "Survivor" seasons)?
The second film brings back many of the supporting players from the first film: Woody Harrelson, as Katniss and Peeta's drunken Hunger Games mentor; an unrecognizable Elizabeth Banks, as their heavily made up escort/chaperone; Lenny Kravitz, as their Hunger Games costume designer; Liam Hemsworth, as Katniss' best friend/boyfriend back home; and Stanley Tucci, who is great as the smarmy, blue-haired Hunger Games TV show host.
They're joined by newcomers Philip Seymour Hoffman, as the new overseer of the Hunger Games, and Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright and Amanda Plummer, as three of the competitors. But Harrelson, Banks and Tucci still provide the most entertaining of the supporting characters. And Katniss -- played with emotion and restraint by Lawrence -- still provides the heart of the film as the realistically vulnerable, courageous heroine.
Meanwhile, the sequel pushes her story along, while elaborating on the themes of oppression and rebellion, and the heavy costs of both.
I'm eager to see what comes next -- though I hate having to wait a year for the next film and another year for the finale.
Tim Miller's reviews can be found at www.capecodonline.com/miller. To follow him on Twitter, go to @TimMillerCritic.
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