See what I did there? I made a joke about the shaky cam used in the first Hunger Games movie in comparison to its usage in this film. A cheap shot, I know. However, STEADY can also be a word attributed to several things about The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and the franchise in general.
My biggest takeaway from the first Hunger Games was that everything up to the games was surprisingly new and interesting. But when the games started, the film became a missed opportunity. Whether that be from the…(ahem)…nauseating shaky cam…or the violence getting scaled back for the rating…or the rushed narrative. The film only scratched the surface of what it meant to kill someone innocent, someone you know, or someone you love in order to survive. A subject I don’t think we’ll ever properly explore in a film from this series. The sequel Catching Fire left me feeling the same way I felt after watching the 2003 film The Matrix Reloaded. It was a sequel that gave me more of what I loved in the first film, less of what I didn’t, threw in a direction altering twist, and ended so abruptly that I was sickenly desperate for more. Unlike The Matrix films, The Hunger Games franchise has always had an established blueprint. It also has expectations nowhere near as unachievable as the ones the Wachowskis were faced with. So, my hopes for this franchise’s conclusion don’t feel as futile.
I’m typically skeptical of any Young Adult novel film adaptation. Mainly, because their stories are usually formulaic, shallow, and just not made for me. From Twilight, to The Mortal Instruments, to the upcoming Divergent, to even Harry Potter. The subject matter of those films never struck me as having anything deep about them. The Hunger Games, on the other hand, is a Y.A. idea that actually has interesting material. War, oppression, rebellion, gladiatorial combat, political appeasement of the masses, questions on morality, self sacrifice. I could go on. Material like this is probably why the films have attracted arguably the best ensemble cast of any Y.A. adaptation. And why its main character is played by inarguably the best actor.
I hate Jennifer Lawrence. No, not in the way you think. I hate her for the fact that she is such a rare, real, STEADY, good actor, that she can convince me of literally anything. I try and stay objective when I see her work, but I’m captivated by her characters the instant she starts doing her thing. Every time there is a moment in Catching Fire where I’m sure the material will be too ridiculous or ponderous for me to stand, Lawrence comes in and totally blows me away with her honesty. There is a scene where she is speaking about the fallen tribute Rue, and god help me, I found my eyes welling up with tears. It is a scene meant to tug at your heartstrings with all the subtlety of a semi-truck. And yet, I was astonished at how perfectly personal Lawrence plays it. Katniss’ grief for Rue was played out mostly in silence in the first film. Here, you finally get to listen to her describe her sadness and guilt and rage for what happened to Rue in one brief speech. And Lawrence delivers it with not one false beat. There are several instances like that in the film where I should groan and roll my eyes. But the performances of Lawrence and Sutherland and Harrelson and Hoffman and even Hutcherson and Hemsworth are strong enough to sell this world.
I understand that previous director Gary Ross was using shaky cam in an attempt to hide the bloodshed and capture the primal nature of the games. However, there is a distinct difference between being visceral and being incomprehensible. Francis Lawrence has a much STEADIER(It’s almost too easy) hand when it comes to the camera. I don’t just mean the action scenes, though, they are much better. I mean with everything. He just seems to have a better grasp on when to hold on an emotional beat, pull back on an enormous set piece, and shake up the visuals during a pulse pounding fight scene. At least, in a way that I’m used to. I think Ross, who has done some great work on his earlier films, just had a style that was too distracting for this content.
The one flaw that really gets in the way of Catching Fire’s potential is probably the most integral reason for its drawing power. And that is the film’s love triangle. No, I’m not some cynical douche that detests any time a film is inundated with mushy teen romance. I’m a cynical douche that detests being browbeaten over the head by plot threads, whatever they may be. I appreciate nuance, timeliness, and skillful integration. The love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale still lacks these things and acts as an obstacle to the story. Katniss switches back and forth between her love interests to an almost comical extent in this film. I seriously began to lose track from scene to scene as to where her love currently lied. The much richer lead up to the games and increased political intrigue gives the story some really strong momentum. Momentum that is stopped dead whenever the characters are forced to deal with their romantic issues. I know me complaining about how unnecessarily domineering the love triangle plotline is in The Hunger Games is the equivalent of me complaining about how unnecessarily domineering the huge red spoiler is on a sports car. I know why it’s there and I know it appeases the teenage girl demographic. Yet, it could be scaled back significantly and the ride would be all the better for it.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a strong sequel for any franchise, and continues to easily be one of the more interesting Young Adult novel film adaptations going today. I hear they are going all Hobbit with the next book by splitting it in two. Let us hope they can remain on their STEADY pace upward. Grab your bow…and your pin…and your superconductive metal coil…watch it…tick tock…then tell me I’m wrong.