Hunger Games: Catching Fire

This time, as well as being bigger, grander, and more expensive than the original Hunger Games, the sequel is also darker and more depressing. I guess it's a bit like the Harry Potter franchise in that respect -- as the kids grow up, the situations get more grown-up, in the worst sense. But anyway, it must be a lot easier to get all the actors back when the first movie was wildly successful, and that seems to have been the case here, since everyone who didn't die is back.

Even the ones who did die aren't forgotten, since Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence, X-Men: First Class) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson, Red Dawn) both still have PTSD from the previous movie. It isn't nearly as bad as in The Purge, of course, but it's still a case of a society going to great lengths to scar its citizens psychologically in strange ways. This time there's great expense, too, as the arena for the Games features holograms and force fields, among other things.

Since Donald Sutherland (The Eagle) is still evil, and now also frustrated by the popularity of Katniss and her "love story", it's no surprise that the Games are also more evil, though. This time the gimmick as that of the "Quarter Quell", which seems to mean that they're afraid that people might be getting used to the horror of seeing teenagers kill each other, so they need to make it more awful. They do so by breaking the promise to the survivors, that they would be left alone (except for the awful publicity tours, I suppose) and drawing the next batch of Tributes from the ranks of past winners.

I hadn't quite realized that Haymitch (Woody Harrelson, Now You See Me) was supposed to have been a past victor from District 12, but he was. Now I understand the drinking a lot more. Anyway, many of the past and present Tributes aren't happy at being dragged back in, especially Johanna (Jena Malone, Sucker Punch) of District 9, who actually gets herself bleeped during her stage appearance with Stanley Tucci. Finnick of District 4 (Sam Claflin, Snow White and the Huntsman) is, in Haymitch's words, a peacock who seems to soak up the attention. But there's definitely some defiance around the edges, making poor Snow still more unhappy.

He gets unhappier still by the end, which I don't think really counts as a spoiler, but I do feel like I'd better stop here so as not to ruin any surprises. One very good thing about the setup dramatically speaking is that it allowed for a wider age range of characters, from Katniss and Peeta at one end, through Amanda Plummer and Jeffrey Wright as Wiress and Beetee (Nuts and Volts, as Johanna calls them), all the way to 80-year-old Lynn Cohen as Mags. And it was an entertaining ride, though I can't say how close it is to the book. You'll have to consult a real reviewer for that.

So this one ties with its predecessor and four and a quarter out of five... which is probably a first for any sequel, now that I think about it, but they did a good job at keeping things familiar but also fresh. Effie (Elizabeth Banks) even gets to show some emotions that aren't gushing enthusiasm or vexed frustration with the attitudes of her charges. She still has terrible taste in clothes, though. That, I fear, will never change.

Katniss and Peeta on fire for their grand entrance. Well, some like it hot.


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