HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (M)
Directed by Francis Lawrence.
I'm starting to like the Hunger Games.
I always say it's a sign of a bad reviewer, when they begin to let what they personally "like" affect their reviews. I'm happy that I can give a positive review to a film that wild horses couldn't drag me to again, as long as that film does what it sets out to do, and I can detect a tiny bit of flair and passion in the making.
But there's something about this Hunger Games trilogy I am really starting to like. And I worry that it may be unduly affecting my reviews. I like, for instance, that the film revolves around the young heroine, Katniss Everdeen. I especially like that Katniss is independent, strong-willed, and immensely tough-minded. And that, although the plot does push her into a tiresome which-boy-will-she-choose scenario, that part of the story is minor compared to the more urgent women's business of starting a revolution and saving society.
I also appreciate the amount of well thought-through satire and social commentary these films (and books, surely) contain. The points made about the role of the media in distracting us from the actual events of the day, about political power as a form of populist theatre, about nostalgia as the constant underpinning of totalitarianism: all of this has been said before, but never so cogently and well in a franchise aimed squarely at teenagers.
And I especially like that someone behind these films has actually made a decision to make them as good as they can be.
There is craft in the screenplays (even if Catching Fire is clearly cut down from an even longer film than its 146 minute running time), and some fantastic artistry and flair in the design. The frocks and props are wonderful, but the wizardry that has gone into the digital backdrops and landscapes is simply stunning.
And consider the cast: I've been raving about Jennifer Lawrence since Winter's Bone, and she is consistently excellent. But around her are Stanley Tucci, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Donald Sutherland. These films would still have been a smash hit with unknowns in the support roles. But the producers got the chequebook out, and bought themselves the perfect cast, and I like the fact that they cared enough to spend the money.
Listen. After the cynical, flatulent, morass that was the Twilight franchise, maybe I'm being too soft on The Hunger Games just out of relief. But I don't think so. I think these are damn fine films. And judging by Catching Fire, they are just getting better.