Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) **1/2

Talk about a sophomore slump! As cracking as the first Hunger Games movie ("The Hunger Games" 2012) was, that's how much the sequel falls flat.

In the first film, we met Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), who volunteered to take her sister's place in the brutal Hunger Games, an annual gladiatorial fight-to-the death for teens. The Games force all twelve districts in the fictional nation of Panem to send two of their children to fight every year. Since the winner is almost always one of the highly-trained warrior jocks from the rich districts around the Capitol, the Games serve as a way for the Capitol to express its domination over the poorer districts.

Spoiler alert here: Katniss and her fellow District 12 contestant Peeta wound up winning that first game. “Catching Fire” picks up after their victory, which was supposed to mean a nice pension and a life of peace and quiet. Their unexpected victory, however, got the outer districts riled up. In order to put down the civil disorder, President Snow declares a special Games, featuring past winners from every district. His plan is to make sure that Katniss dies in some ignominious way that will defuse her value as a symbol for the resistance. Katniss and Peeta return to the Game, but find some unexpected allies.

This sequel really isn't all that bad. The main problem is that dragging the stars back into the arena for another Games feels like such a typical sequel move. I could feel myself identifying with the contestants way too much as they expressed their anger at having to play the Games a second time. Everything feels less fresh in this sequel, as if the actors were phoning it in. The battles are less interesting and feel obligatory. Ultimately, however, there is more or less a payoff, and you get the feeling that “Catching Fire” was just something you have to suffer through to set the stage for what will hopefully be a much better final two films in the series. “Mockingjay – Part 1” is in theaters now, and while I haven't seen it yet, I am hoping it fulfills the promise of the first movie.

2.5 stars out of 5

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