Despite my well-documented love of Jennifer Lawrence, I vowed to do my best to judiciously review the second installment of The Hunger Games Trilogy. Thankfully, I don't need to put my crush aside and tear this film a new one. The combination of Suzanne Collins' brilliant dystopian novels and the shockingly accomplished adaptation of said novels into film has thus far proven to be not only financially but artistically successful. Improving upon it's already strong first showing, while also remaining surprisingly true to it's source material, it seems the series is in extremely capable hands moving forward.
Catching Fire picks up in the winter after the events of the first film. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) now live in mansions with their families, and are about to embark on a victory tour across all of the Districts. Peeta has discovered that his romance with Katniss was nothing more than a manipulation to save their skins, and their resulting icy relationship presents a problem. President Snow (Donald Sutherland), in a terrifying surprise appearance in Katniss' living room, makes it clear that they must continue to pretend to be madly in love or they will die. If people realize that they are not star crossed lovers, but rebels who outsmarted the Capitol, they and their loved-ones will undoubtedly be killed.
But, you know, no pressure...
Despite the best efforts of Katniss, Peeta, and their mentors Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Effie (Elizabeth Banks), they are unable to put on a good enough show. Protests and rebellions rage across the districts, and Katniss becomes their unwilling poster girl; The Mockingjay. President Snow wants the victors eliminated, the rebellion quashed, and his new gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has the perfect plan. With the 75th anniversary of the games upon them, Heavensbee advises the President that the best way to ensure peace is to kill as many former victors as possible. The next Hunger Games will select tributes only from those who have previously won the games.
Although it likely sounds confusing to a person who hasn't read the books, the general theme of the film should still evoke strong feelings in anyone. People all around the world are standing up against massive regimes, powerful and dangerous dictators, and death itself for one thing: freedom. This is what makes these stories so powerful. While the setting may be one of fantasy, action, and adventure, it is at it's core a tale of the lengths to which one man will go to maintain power, and the lengths that the oppressed will go to be free of his oppression.
What is clearer than anything is that the choice to select direct Francis Lawrence (Water For Elephants, I Am Legend) was incredibly smart. He not only has experience with VFX heavy, emotionally powerful action films, but he also has the chops to draw out amazing dramatic performances in the more nuanced moments of the film. Perhaps a more important choice was the one to use 2 Oscar Winning Screenwriters to adapt this incredible, plot heavy book into a functional and effective script. Simon Beaufoy won his Oscar for the adapted screenplay for Slumdog Millionaire, one of my all-time favourite films. Michael Arndt won his Oscar for Little Miss Sunshine, but also wrote Toy Story 3 and Brave. At the very least, he knows how to write about insane group dynamics and chicks with bows and arrows...
While I still feel a little anxious about how they will begin to tackle Mockingjay, which is itself the most difficult of the books to get through, Catching Fire put many of my fears at ease. It improves upon weaknesses, is fearless in it's delivery, and gives due respect to it's source material. What else can we really ask of a blockbuster series?
I think I've managed to keep my girl-crush in check, but I would like to end on this: Jennifer Lawrence is the type of woman that girls should look up to, and that other women should want to be like. She's smart, talented, funny, humble, fearless, assertive, and beautiful. She doesn't make things about her looks, her weight, her fitness regimen, her sex life, or her outfit. She doesn't play the "starlet" game. This is who I hope my future daughters will idolize.