Director: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright and Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Review Written By: Michael Dalton (Prime Minister)
The first half of Catching Fire reminded me just how much, and why, I like this series. The opening movements of this film are dark and thoughtful, with it consisting of numerous discussions regarding ideas such as revolution, exploitation and media manipulation. For a big-budget Hollywood franchise mainly marketed towards a teen and pre-teen audience Catching Fire is quite brave in how much time it dedicates to the darker and denser elements of its narrative. Old men are killed, people are whipped and the action is driven by emotion, performances and dialogue as opposed to fight scenes and love triangles (More on those later…) There is something quite joyful about scenes of Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Donald Sutherland plotting and Stanley Tucci groveling. Scenes which serve to remind how these films have a tremendous cast, with these actors able to sell and substantiate this material. Jennifer Lawrence gives better performances in these movies than in the one for which she received an Oscar nomination and win. Whilst the supporting cast is full of some of the very best actors working today, all stealing the scenes they’re in and adding legitimacy to this film and franchise. With Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Jeffrey Wright joining the likes of Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci and Donald Sutherland, this film has one of the best ensembles of the year.
Moving away from the acting, Francis Lawrence has stepped in to replace Gary Ross in the director’s chair. Lawrence does a much more controlled and subdued job, wisely electing not to follow the shaky-cam aesthetic that Ross established in the predecessor. However in a sense, Ross’ vision, whilst frustrating for many, is perhaps preferable to the franchise anonymity of Lawrence’s work here. Whilst he must be commended for pulling off such a production and getting such great performances out of his cast, no real risks are taken and there is no real identity to this film’s visuals. In regards to the technical elements these films try very hard in the art direction and costume design departments, with the costumes being just as garish as before.
Sadly, as soon as the characters enter the arena, Catching Fire completely loses me and becomes a bore and a chore to sit through. Whilst the first half of the film was expanding and exploring the story’s universe, the second half felt like a giant step back and a disruption. Despite it being filled with life threatening action, it all felt very stale, repetitive and dull. The film went from being dark and thoughtful to dull and tedious. It is when the film should be at its most exciting, that it is at its most boring. What didn't feel like covering old ground in the book, did in the film. It is also worth noting that in both halves, when the film addresses the love triangle aspect of its narrative it starts to freefall in regards to quality. The love triangle aspect is not as pronounced or as central here as it is in the Twilight series and is very much secondary to the revolutionary side of the story. Therefore when it does show its head it feels rather forced, undeveloped and is very poorly done. This is in some part due to the poor performances of Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson, who do not seem capable of delivering this material in a believable or subtle manner. Though perhaps their acting deficiencies are unfairly highlighted and merely reflective of the strength of their co-star, Jennifer Lawrence.
Overall Catching Fire is an overly long film that loses its interest and excitement in a repetitive second half. Whilst the film contains great performances and some admirably dark scenes and ideas, these are contained within a much more thoughtful and exploratory first-half, which puts story and character first, action second. However the film ends on an exciting, obligatory Empire Strikes Back-esque note, suggesting that the next two films will stay out of the arena, and in the big, wide, world where this franchise has shown itself to be more comfortable and interesting.
Movie Parliament Rating: FRINGE PARTY
By Movie Parliament Prime Minister,
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