Earlier this month we saw the passing of reins in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Alan Taylor took over from Kenneth Branagh to deliver us Thor: The Dark World, a sequel that surpassed the original. Now, another series has gone the same route with Catching Fire — the second part of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games franchise — as Francis Lawrence takes over directing duties from the pedestrian Gary Ross. This also brings to mind the time Alfonso Cuarón picked up some major slack from Chris Columbus with Harry Potter. Sometimes it works — as in these cases — but sometimes things just keep getting worse (I’m looking at you Twilight). In the case of Catching Fire, here’s a part two that makes the first film look like child’s play.
In Catching Fire, we catch up with Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) returning home to District 12, along with fellow victor Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). She is visited by President Snow (Donald Sutherland) who is not convinced of the love between the two Hunger Games winners. Snow is worried about a rebellion in the Districts and threatens Katniss to take away everything she loves — her mother (Paula Malcomson) and sister Prim (Willow Shields) — unless she can calm the districts during the Victory Tour. Upon the announcement of the 75th Hunger Games, it is declared that to celebrate the Quarter Quell (an event taking place every 25 years), the past victors will be reaped to compete against each other in a greatest hits-style battle royale. Snow replaces past head game maker Seneca Crane with the scheming Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who plans on introducing some new wrinkles to the games the winners think they know so well.
Francis Lawrence has finally delivered the movie the first film tried so hard to be. I have only read the first book and was not able to get into Catching Fire because it was so tedious and repetitive. Thankfully, Francis Lawrence and his Oscar-winning screenwriters — Simon Beufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) and Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine) — keep the film moving at a breakneck pace. At least until they finally get to the games.
My friend joined me for the press screening and has read all three of the Suzanne Collins books. Heading in he was worried that this installment would be DOA as he feels it’s the “worst” of the books. Ironically, this may wind up being the best installment overall. Showing such a huge advancement for the series, I can only hope that Mockingjay (the two-part finale) can prove itself, seeing how yet another writer (Danny Strong) has been brought in. Until then, may the odds be ever in their favor, as Catching Fire really sets the stage for what could wind up being a brilliant franchise.
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