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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

| November 21, 2013 | 0 Comments

“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” does something unheard of for a science fiction thriller – it makes a remarkable comeback in its second half after a disastrously dull first act.  That’s unusual when you consider that most event pictures of this scale – and of this genre – open well and then go on automatic pilot in the last half hour.  Would it be against the movie critic’s code to suggest that you show up an hour late?  In this case, you might be doing yourself a favor.

The first hour of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is – to put it mildly – a struggle to sit through. It consists of a long, boring series of scenes designed to catch us up to speed on what has happened since last year’s “Hunger Games” while setting up hints for the second sequel due out next year.  We learn what has become of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, again) that bow-and-arrow totin’ philly who was the winner of last year’s savage Hunger Games – which she managed to win without killing anyone (funny how that worked out).  Some time has passed and she is now a major celebrity, touring the oppressed districts with Peeta (Liam Hemsworth), her fellow survivor with whom she is encouraged – in the interest of good P.R. – to pretend to have a romantic relationship.

Katniss has also become something of a problem for the government.  Her victory at The Hunger Games has made her a beacon of hope for the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.  When any one of the huddled takes a rebellious breath, the men in white armor are quick to make them an example.  Those orders come from the big old meanies running the government who devise a strategy to get rid of Katniss by setting up yet another Hunger Games, this one an all-star match featuring survivors from the past.

Up until now, the movie has been a drag.  It slogs along at a snail’s pace and pauses for long drawn-out scenes in which the characters explain the plot to each other in drab, colorless dialogue that is only interrupted when one of the government drones dispatches some poor soul for stepping out of line.  Director Francis Lawrence directs these scenes as if he was asleep. He shoots everything tight so there is little grandeur to this world and he seems to be working from a color palate of grey and greyer.

After an hour or so, finally, the Hunger Games begin and the movie wakes up.  The players are cast into the jungle where they must deal with baboons, poison gas, lightening, and tidal waves while the players are forced into their own cruel mind game of “who do you trust?”  The fact that the players are all former winners give the plot a better sense of drama, unlike the last Hunger Games in which we were distracted by the agonizing question of how a small 12 year-old girl is expected to do battle with a large 18 year-old boy.  Here, the players are all skilled survivors, each has an individual personality and that makes the drama work. The less said about these scenes, the better.

Somewhere in this morass of high and low is Jennifer Lawrence, whose career has taken a major up-turn since starring in the last “Hunger Games.”  Now she has an Oscar and the freedom to choose whatever film she likes.  She is one of the best and most natural actors of her generation so when you see her in Cleopatra make-up and synthetic flames, she looks uncomfortable.  She doesn’t need make-up or special effects.  Her natural talent is all she needs.  She seems uncomfortable here, stuck in a role that won’t allow her to display her best natural gifts.  It is almost as if the material was holding her back.  Katniss may be a perfect emblem of the current vogue for girl power, but somehow the movie keeps her at bay.  She’s not a killer despite her victory in the games.  You keep waiting for that turn, when the savage will emerge.

So, how to recommend “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire?”  It is one half of a good movie featuring a leading lady who seems uncomfortable with the role she’s been given.  There is enough in this movie that make it worth a trip the theater, but it might not be unkind to suggest that you show up a little late and avoid that snoozer of a first half.  Seriously, you won’t have missed a thing.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.