Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
[Grade: B-] Catching Fire is a huge improvement over its predecessor in nearly every way.
City Paper grade: B-
What a difference a director makes. When we last caught up with Katniss Everdeen, she was reluctantly killing kids in Seabiscuit director Gary Ross’ aesthetically ugly, sloppily staged, cheapo adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ YA mega-seller. One year and a few hundred million dollars later, the series has fallen into the hands of filmmaker Francis Lawrence (of I Am Legend and the underrated Constantine). Lawrence has an eye for striking visuals, but has never found a script to match his talent. He doesn’t find one here either, but Catching Fire is still a huge improvement over its predecessor in nearly every way. Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss is back, shouldering the burden of martyrdom in a dystopian future where the rich enlist the poor to kill each other in televised spectacles. Donald Sutherland and Philip Seymour Hoffman go to town with the moustache-twirling villainy, attempting to quell rebellion by pitting dear Katniss in another tournament against her fellow survivors. Pulpy melodrama continues apace, but this time with lush, burnished images and a budget to match the ambition. Woody Harrelson returns as the cheerfully blotto mentor, supervising Katniss’ phony love story that conned a blighted nation, while the rest of the supporting roles are filled out with delightfully hambone turns from Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plummer and an all-grown-up Jena Malone. It’s quite engrossing until the movie abruptly stops mid-scene, teasing another sequel coming soon to a theater near you. Sigh, the perils of franchise maintenance.