After the huge success of the first The Hunger Games movie, finally we get this sequel and await not one but two more movies, the franchise therefore proudly following in the footsteps of The Twilight Saga and the Harry Potter franchise by ending in a two-parter.
Catching Fire follows the story pretty much where we left it except, this time, victor Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) have become the people's rebellious inspiration and good old evil Donald Sutherland isn't happy. The latter wants to avoid a revolution at all costs so he changes the rules of "The Games" a little and Katniss gets selected once again. This makes for an interesting subplot but also for a very familiar movie. Save for what drives the characters, the political stuff that happens off-camera and the end reveal, this is basically the first film all over again. Beat by beat, we find exactly the same structure developing as we spend some time in the poor districts, a couple of short scenes with Liam Hemsworth's pretty boy factory worker, a LOT of time looking at silly costumes, we get the obligatory pre-Games training scenes and, finally, the Games themselves. Yes, we're introduced to some new characters including Jeffrey Wright's brainy fellow Beetee, seemingly reprising his role from The Lady In The Water, his companion played by Amanda Plummer and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), The Games' new organiser and winner of the prize for Silliest Movie Name 2013. The cast is mostly solid, especially the older members of the group like Woody Harrelson, Sutherland, Hoffman, Wright, Tucci and co. but, strangely, the likes of Lawrence and Hutcherson seem to lose the plot a little bit. The former either over-emoting her butt off or giving us her usual two faces, emo sad and fakey smiley, while the latter doesn't really give us any reason to like his character or understand him, something which we sorely need seeing as he's literally all Katniss thinks about in this movie. This is not all the actors' fault, of course, but their uneven performances along with the formulaic writing ends up building an overall alienating sequel on an emotional level and even as pure mindless entertainment.
That Catching Fire is two and a half hours long is absurd. By the end, you'll feel like very little's been achieved and like this whole thing could have easily been told in an hour and forty minutes, two hours at the most. The build-up to The Games is even longer this time around and by the time they start it's unlikely you'll really even care anymore. The film seems to think that it's not The Games themselves which tell an interesting story but what happens behind the scenes. That may be true but that doesn't exactly make for a fun movie worthy of such an epic running time, especially when so much of it feels familiar. Good ideas are touched upon but most of them come during The Games, the whole point about reality TV and the media honestly feeling tired and more than understood by now. The film doesn't exactly add much to its original point about that dystopian world and its satire of cheesy television, it just retells it. Brazil didn't need four movies to make its rather clear point, neither did The Truman Show (both far better movies, by the way). In order to survive as a worthy franchise, The Hunger Games would need to either offer more than just a single contrast between two sides of the same coin or take things up a notch by killing some key characters, reinventing the games altogether or just doing something daring and completely unexpected. Now, having not read the books, I can only speculate but I have a feeling that the third part of this story won't require five hours to be told and probably won't be all that Earth-shatteringly different. Call it a hunch. As it stands, I found myself fatigued by the film's message and its unconvincing concept, no matter how good some of the moments within The Games were, and looking at my watch a hell of a lot.
While no fan of The Hunger Games, I enjoyed the first movie and felt it was a nice surprise after that whole overrated Harry Potter/Twilight hype: it was a good, entertaining movie with some good ideas and a cleverly put-together concept. Catching Fire, sadly, fails to keep its characters likeable, its plot compelling and its gimmick unique.
Barring a handful of decent moments, this is a surprisingly dull disappointment.
We'll see what Mockingjay will bring...
I volunteer as tr... director!