Saturday, June 15, 2024

Review: “Hunger Games: Catching Fire” Is an “Empire Strikes Back” for 2013


Here comes “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.” It clocks in at two and a half hours, covers everything you could imagine, and is so well liked it has a 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s ten notches higher than the original “Hunger Games.” Amazing. What’s it like? It’s like “The Empire Strikes Back” for 2013. For the middle chapter of a trilogy, “Catching Fire” has tons of actions, lots of narrative, and ends with a… question mark.

As the three 13 year old girls who were in our party said last night at the screening: “That’s where it stopped???” They loved it.

Truth be told, “Catching Fire” is very entertaining. It’s a great big B movie in the B for Best sense way. It’s got breathless action and rarely stops. But it also has a lot of heart, character, and development.

It’s also incredibly well cast. There’s the main trio: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and Liam Hemsworth. (Not Chris, the one from “Rush” and “Thor”– just FYI.) They’ve met new pals in the form of Sam Claflin and Jena Malone. Then there’s the holdovers from the first movie, all of whom are a delight to see: Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Lenny Kravitz.

But then there’s a bunch of new faces: Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plummer, Lynn Cohen, Toby Jones and the amazing Philip Seymour Hoffman. That’s right–the two actors who’ve recently played Truman Capote are in this movie. And these five I’ve just mentioned are like a murder’s row of actors’ actors. The deck is stacked.

There’s a story since Katniss (Lawrence) and Peta (Hutcherson) won the Hunger Games. They are a miserable homecoming queen and king. Katniss can’t stand the hypocrisy of parading around like Miss America. She’s really in love with Gale (Hemsworth), who’s not in this movie a lot but used wisely in quality doses.

Is the movie all about Katniss? Kinda. Even though the script is great and really fleshes out something for everyone, this is Katniss’s story. And Jennifer Lawrence continues to be a luminous, intelligent presence. She literally glows, and seems able to do anything. I sure hope she gets to play Wonder Woman one day. She is really the movie actress of her generation. Even with all this talent around her, Lawrence carries the movie. The two and a half hours go by quickly mainly because of her.

One warning: get into the movie theater early. “Catching Fire” simply starts, with no opening title roll or any credits of any kind. It also starts in mid-conversation from the first film. There’s no pretense that this is a standalone feature. It just picks up and moves forward quickly from chapter one, which you should go back and watch right now if you need a catch up. But if you’re a certain age, you already know the story.

PS There’s a special effect toward the end of the film at which I — the great cynic– actually said out loud, “That was pretty cool.” You’ll see. Worth the whole deal.


Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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