First of all, Jennifer Lawrence is that good.
But even more than her undeniable star appeal, the story was simple: Two lottery picks from each downtrodden district battle to the death for the delight of the elites and their totalitarian governmental control.
It was Logan’s Run meets The Running Man.
This time around, in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the “game” is not only more complicated, the relationships and motivations of the central characters are a mish mosh of romantic inclinations and tepid allegiances.
President Snow (Donald Sutherland) rigs the Hunger Games through executive order so that the lottery consists only of each district’s winners, thereby insuring that the proverbial thorn in his side, media darling and the people’s choice Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) will have to once again enter the blood sport – and he can finally be rid of her!
The film does maintain a thought-provoking and healthy examination of our society’s craving for insincere celebrities and our complacent acceptance of duplicitous politicians.
I predicted that the sequel would be in trouble if they did not find an equally competent director once they could not reach a financial agreement with the underrated Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit). And I’m not sure they found the right guy.
Francis Lawrence (only good film to date, I Am Legend) did not have the same tight grip on the material. Ross managed to create a believably bleak world for Suzanne Collins‘ (series novelist) gloomy material to come to life. The perfect contrast between the flashy ostentatious colors of the haves against the steely blue-gray pallet of the have-nots.
Director Lawrence orchestrates the pageantry sequences well enough, giving the story a Roman Empire quality that works; but the nitty gritty of the story is a mess. Midway through the film we lose sight of not only what’s at stake, but who is meaningful enough to care about.
Again, I kind of saw this coming.
What I would not have predicted, however, is that Jennifer Lawrence’s heroine would become a weaker character. It seems as though her triumph in the original Games made her less courageous and more prone to exasperated melt downs and horrified shrieks.
And what’s with this Peeta character? I wonder if Josh Hutcherson knew when he snagged this role of a lifetime that he was going to end up the perpetual damsel in distress. His emasculation in this film gets so bad that the inexplicable Granny contestant (Mags) throws herself on a sword to save his wimpy butt. Ouch.
Wait. I’m starting to think maybe I didn’t care for this film all that much. I’m really going to decide I hated it once my credit card statement shows up and I remember I paid $19.50 per ticket (four!) for the luxury of watching it on IMAX.