Thursday, December 5, 2013

'Catching Fire' Review

After caving in and going to see the first "Hunger Games" before I had finished the book, I was determined not to make the same mistake with the second entry in the series, "Catching Fire" and finished it in time to get about three quarters through the latest ten pound juggernaut by Stephen King. Not only did I like it as much as the first book, I liked it better. The political intrigue, interpersonal conflicts, and crazy, out of left field ending left me rabid to read 'Mockingjay' as soon possible, a craving that I have unfortunately had stave off since 'El Cheapo' here does not want to pay a premium for the hardback. Needless to say, I was very excited to see the film which looked to be a pretty direct translation of its literary counterpart.
The story picks up close to a year after the ominous ending of the last movie when, in a final play of desperation, Katniss and Peeta perpetrated a percieved act of defiance against The Capitol by coming within a hair's breadth of committing suicide via poison berries before the gamemakers altered the rules to allow for two victors. As the film opens we see that the fruits of victory have come with a hefty cost as Katniss and Peeta have become reluctant celebrity puppets for The Capitol and are forced to attend an ostentatious victory tour through all of Panem's oppressed districts. Reluctantly, they are turned into government mouth pieces espousing the greatness of The Capitol all the while pieces of their souls are slowly being chipped away with every lie they have to say in order to preserve their own skin and that of their loved ones.
But their compliance does not suceed in appeasing The Capitol's callous, vindictive Head of State, President Snow, who, in a ruthless attempt to ensure Katniss's death, (the only female victor to ever come from district 12) as well as dismantle what he views as the potentially destructive sphere of influence that has grown within the ranks of vicotorious tributes, adds a cruel twist to the rules of the latest Games declaring all of the competitors will be reaped from a lottery of their district's former male and victors.
Forced back into the searing pressure cooker of the Roman-esque Capitol and its arduous pre-games preparation, the tension builds as Katniss, Peeta, and the rest of the competitors, some of whom haved thrived from the notoriety of being crowned as victors, others of which are mired in substance abuse and mental instability due to the survivor's guilt and post traumatic stress they have to cope with everyday, face off on a sweltering, trecherous tropical themed arena.
While I was pretty impressed at how seamless the book to movie translation was for "Catching Fire" I did miss the omission of the part of the book in which Katniss has a chance encounter with some people who claim to come from a place that ends up playing heavily into the end of the story. With this bit of intrigue building entirely left out, the big reveal at the end of the film comes off as a little bit flat. I also wished that the relationship between Katniss and Johanna Mason, another former victor had been portrayed as a bit more adversarial and contentious like it was in the novel.
One area in which I thought "Catching Fire" really excels was in its truly villainous portrayel of The Capitol and the heinous lengths it sill go to to ensure keeping control over the 12 districts, sanctioning its ironically titled "peacekeepers" to act like gestapo going in and doing whatever they want in the name of the powers that be with no regard for personal property or well being. Donald Sutherland gives a particularly great performance in this movie as President Snow who, while projecting a steeley, guarded demeanor in the first film, truly demonstrates this time around that he will happily kill as many people as it takes and not loose an ounce of sleep if it means ensuring the continued wellfare of The Capitol. A key scene near the beginning of the film between him and Katniss is adapted perfectly from the source material and sets up the ominous tone of events to come.
Jennifer Laurence once again does a fine job as Katniss Everdeen who is caught in the tidal wave of events around her and is more concerned with protecting protecting Peeta and those she cares about back home rather than embodying the symbol of hope other people have come to view her as.
In conclusion, I thought that "Catching Fire" was a very well done sequel, that, in the vain of "The Empire Strikes Back" gave us a closer look at the enemy and built up our emotional investment in the characters.