With an aim as true as Katniss Everdeen’s, the plucky young archer who serves as its heroine, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is a spectacular sequel that will leave viewers hungry for more. Fortunately, this is merely the second of a four-part series. “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” and “Part 2” are slated for release in 2014 and 2015, and I for one can’t wait.
Set in a bleak future when kids fight to the death in an annual televised event, “Catching Fire” arguably bests the original “Hunger Games” movie. Based on the middle book in Suzanne Collins’ wildly popular trilogy, the sequel offers some exciting new additions to the cast as well as a deeper exploration of the author’s political themes.
Blamed for a public relations disaster embarrassing the ruling elite and instilling hope in the masses, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) receives orders directly from President Snow (Donald Sutherland) to help restore order or face all-out war. What follows is an elaborately planned and extremely public courtship that could rival the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, as Katniss tries to convince people she’s really in love with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), a fellow competitor (or “tribute”) from her district. As their mentor, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), puts it, “Your job is to be a distraction so people forget what the real problems are.”
The series has reportedly inspired a high level of interest in archery among girls. In addition to giving them a heroine to emulate (unlike Bella in the “Twilight” series, Katniss can take care of herself just fine, thank you), “The Hunger Games” also gives viewers something to think about. Collins wants us to consider the cultural impact of Reality TV, as well as the rising income gap. For me, the most powerful aspect of this series is the way the elite treat the games like a piece of entertainment or sporting event, and how the author contrasts that with the grim realities faced by the tributes.
After Katniss and Peeta learn they’ll have to compete in the 75th Hunger Games because of a rule change, “Catching Fire” takes on a nightmarish quality similar to when Katniss’ sister was chosen to compete in the first movie. Director Francis Lawrence (“I Am Legend”) does a remarkable job of sustaining a kind of this-can’t-be-happening feeling, all the way up to a jaw-dropping shot in which the camera circles around Katniss and we realize with a shock that she’s entered the arena and the games are underway. A richly imagined hour of cinema featuring poisonous fog, “jabber jays” and a tree that’s periodically struck by lightning, the arena scenes are the most beautiful and suspenseful of the series so far.
Page 2 of 2 - Jennifer Lawrence is once again fantastic as Katniss, making the character’s political awakening powerful and believable. She shares the screen with some amazing new cast members. Jena Malone is so sexy and sassy she’ll make viewers blush, while Jeffrey Wright and Amanda Plummer are both riveting as two eccentrics who help Katniss in the arena. Best of all is Philip Seymour Hoffman as the new gamekeeper, about whom the less is said the better. Let the games begin again.
“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” will be playing this weekend at the Augusta Historic Theatre, 523 State Street. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are $6.