The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is an outstanding example of big-budget Hollywood filmmaking. It offers an engaging story, an outstanding cast, and production design that's second to none.
The story picks up from the first Hunger Games movie, opening with a beautiful shot of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) silhoutted against a sunrise, quiver on ther back and bow in her hand as she scans a nearby riverbank for game. Struggling with PTSD and trying to get back to normal, our heroine is in no condition to enter the whirl of celebrity life as a Hunger Games survivor. Enter it she must, however, and she soon finds herself the nexus of a nascent revolution.
This is just the first act, but it does an outstanding job of reorienting the audience to its world, laying down the story's themes, and setting up the larger conflicts playing behind the scenes of the smaller scale, yet no-less important, conflicts awaiting our heroine as she's thrust back into the world of the games and forced to compete again. In effect, it shifts the focus of the franchise from “Teenager sticks it to the The Man” to “Scrappy rebel comes to grips with her new status as a leader.” It's wonderful, and wonderfully realized. And we haven't even met most of the supporting cast.
Speaking of which, look at that cast: Amanda Plummer (who Can Do No Wrong), Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci (CDNW), Jeffrey Wright (CDNW), Philip Seymour Hoffman, Toby Jones, and Woody Harrelson, just to name a few. Folks, these are the big guns: the top-shelf talent a studio is willing to pay for when it knows it has an almost certain hit. They do not disappoint, and neither does Lawrence (CDNW), once again proving that she's as capable of carrying a major studio sci-fi action franchise as she is anchoring a moving and horrifying modern noir (That last sentence brought to by Winter'sBone, which you should see right away.). That said, I'd like to take a moment to single out the always wonderful Stanley Tucci (What? You haven't seen Big Night? What's wrong with you?). Here, he plays a television personality who's all spray-on tan, ultra-white teeth, silly hair, and bull$#!^. Watch him closely, however. Beneath the veneer, his character is a consummate professional who happens to be extraordinarily good at his job. It's a layered, subtle performance for a character who could easily be nothing but a two-dimensional placeholder. That's what the best can bring.
But wait – there's more. This film's costume, makeup, and set design, as well as its computer-generated animation, is seamless, beautiful, and brilliantly realized. It delivers the spectacle one expects of a major blockbuster combined with the care and artistry required to deliver a convincing, organic, yet slightly alien world. This picture is nothing short of marvelous, and marvelous to behold.
In my review of TheHunger Games, I wrote that I looked forward to the further adventures of Katniss Everdeen. Catching Fire did not let me down. Bring on more sequels!