Louisville's favorite actress, Jennifer Lawrence, is an incredibly busy lady, ever since wowing everybody with her Oscar-nominated performance in 2010 in the excellent Winter's Bone. She has appeared in at least three films every year since (for last year, if you haven't seen Silver Lining's Playbook, correct that mistake immediately, but feel free to forget you ever heard of House at the End of the Street). Of course, the big one last year was The Hunger Games, highly anticipated and based off the young adult novel by Suzanne Collins.
The Hunger Games ended up being surprisingly good; expectations were low based on other recent teenage-novels-turned-film, but The Hunger Games seemed to have something to say. Not merely an action movie, it was smart, well-written, well-directed, and seemed to give an intriguing commentary on our culture of media and celebrity fascination. (See my full review here.)
This past weekend, the sequel was released, with a new director (Francis Lawrence, I Am Legend), new writers (Simon Beaufoy, 127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire; Michael Arndt, Little Miss Sunshine), and a gathering of new cast members to round out the supporting players, including the always-great Philip Seymour Hoffman.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire picks up where the first left off, with Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) preparing for a tour of the twelve districts of the nation of Panem after their stunning dual-win of the last Hunger Games (a battle royale-type competition in which two individuals from each district are compelled to fight to the death; a means of keeping the nation in line to prevent another rebellion like the one that happened 74 years ago). However, Katniss is a problem to the government: she (along with Peeta) won the previous Games through an act of rebellion, and President Snow (Donald Sutherland) feels she is a threat who may inspire yet another uprising. He compels her to cooperate with the government under threat of the destruction of her home, but the ideologies are too great, and it seems rebellion is brewing.
I feel I have a certain advantage in that I haven't read the books upon which these films are based, thus we will be judging the movie based on its own merits rather than its effectiveness as an adaptation, and I am pleased to report that Catching Fire is just as excellent as the first. The film faces a certain challenge – to focus heavily on the next year's Hunger Games would be redundant, but the story of the new film also needs to capture that tension and excitement. This is where the first film triumphed, by spending the first half setting up an intriguing dystopian future, placing the real source of the conflict not in the violent Games but in this wretched society. Thus, when the conflict of the second film is mostly socio-political, we still feel that tension.