Steamboat Springs In the world of young-adult literature, some books only get less dynamic as they go. Though some series disappoint even when expectations are at their lowest — Did someone say the finale of “Twilight?” — at least there’s one series that keeps “Catching Fire” after an auspicious introduction.
If you go
“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” rated PG-13
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars
Running time: 146 minutes
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth and Woody Harrelson
Now playing at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas and Craig’s West Theatre.
Following their victory in the 74th Hunger Games, teenagers Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark (Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson) hoped their lives might get back to normal upon returning to District 12 of Panem.
No such luck.
Besides the obligation of touring the other districts of the country as the “winners” and forever being associated with the brutal spectacle that still gives them nightmares, their actions in the Hunger Games competition have garnered some unwanted attention. When the head honcho of the Capitol himself, President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland), takes the time to threaten her and all her loved ones, Katniss knows she has little choice but to stay in line by feigning a romance with Peeta and hiding her feelings for her friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth).
No matter what she does, there’s an uprising in the making in Panem whether she wants to be the face of it or not. But a potential rebellion is the least of her worries with the announcement of a special rule for the upcoming 75th Hunger Games — one that includes only those who have competed in the past.
With an Oscar on her mantle, Lawrence’s real-life win of the most prestigious prize around has to be a lot easier than it is for Katniss, who thinks her only real achievements are being the last one standing after a battle to the death and having the blood of 20-some kids on her hands. The actress still dominates the role of The Girl on Fire, a worthy heroine whose brief act of defiance against a wildly unjust system has ignited something huge, even if she is filled with doubt and guilt about how many people are losing their lives thanks to her.
As her fellow co-victor, Hutcherson’s Peeta looks wounded in more ways than one as the guy who survived a deathly encounter only to learn the girl he loves doesn’t reciprocate. Still, maybe getting back into the arena for the Quarter Quell — the special version of the games that occurs every 25 years — will spark something real between them.
Nothing brings a fake couple closer together than being thrown into combat with experienced killers.
While these two have their own little drama to work out, the world is heating up around them, a fact not lost on their mentor, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), Katniss’ personal designer, Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), or even bubble-headed, poodle-haired model for all hideous Capitol fashions and makeup, Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks).
The plethora of tributes who are pulled back into the games includes psychotic murderers and those too mentally damaged to function, but competitors like Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin), Beetee Latier (Jeffrey Wright) and Johanna Mason (Jena Malone) know what’s what and could be either great allies or deadly enemies.
On the other side of it, Sutherland’s methodology as Snow is one of careful calculation as someone who rarely needs to raise his voice to make you know there’s bile bubbling beneath the surface, constantly scheming with new Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) on how to manipulate the public’s perception of Katniss so that people will be cheering her death.
After all, why send in the troops when reality TV can do the job?
Some have decried the “Hunger Games” books as being too obtuse in the portrayal of a dystopian society, and admittedly much of author Suzanne Collins’ dialogue — and by extension, that of the films — is uninspired for those who like a little panache in their young adult fiction. Then again, these kinds of movies aren’t for people who like a lot of talking, so bring on the moderate violence and awkward love triangle!
A skilled cast doesn’t always translate to an amazing film of this sort, and many of the best talents are shunted to the side, but what makes this second installment work as well as the first is the pure bearing. Everything feels like it truly matters — the reality of the poorest districts of Panem is strongly felt, the absurdities of the Capitol show the disparity between high society and the poverty-stricken and the long-term effects of living under tyranny and pitted against fellow citizens are hard to mistake.
It may be as subtle as an arrow, trident or spear to the face, yet “Catching Fire” is both entertaining and meaningful. We’ll see if the third entry in the trilogy, “Mockingjay” — needlessly split in two — will keep up the same quality, but for now, the flame is burning strong.
Andy Bockelman can be reached at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.