movies: Hunger Games se­quel ups spills and thrills ...

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - PLAYCONTENTS -

ANY­ONE who felt that the work­man­like adap­ta­tion of the first Hunger Games missed the bull’s-eye, take heart. Catch­ing Fire is the new The Em­pire Strikes Back, a smash­ing sci-fi se­quel that takes its block­buster fran­chise into deeper, smarter, more dra­mat­i­cally en­gag­ing ter­ri­tory. New di­rec­tor Fran­cis Lawrence has a solid grasp of sci­ence fic­tion (as demon­strated in Con­stan­tine and I Am Leg­end) and ro­mance ( Wa­ter for Ele­phants). The con­flicts are clear, the char­ac­ters fully fleshed, the lethal ad­ven­ture ur­gent and the ten­der in­ter­ludes poignant. Suzanne Collins’ best­sellers, set in a fas­cist North Amer­ica af­ter a civil war and the ex­tinc­tion of the mid­dle class, are a po­tent so­cio-po­lit­i­cal al­le­gory. In dystopian Panem (Latin for bread, a nod to the Ro­man Em­pire’s pol­icy of dis­tract­ing cit­i­zens with food and cir­cuses) young war­riors must kill each other to sur­vive. The bat­tles are pack­aged as glad­i­a­to­rial re­al­ity shows de­signed to keep the pop­u­lace dis­en­gaged and sub­mis­sive. The spec­ta­cle is un­de­ni­ably im­pres­sive. An at­tack against play­ers on a trop­i­cal is­land by a troop of fe­ro­cious man­drills tops any­thing I’ve seen this year for sheer get-me-out-of-here chills. Jen­nifer Lawrence plays Kat­niss Everdeen, a stoic ru­ral teenager who en­tered the Games in the first film to save her younger sis­ter from cer­tain death in com­bat. The role show­cases Lawrence’s uncanny abil­ity to make a tiny, ap­pre­hen­sive fur­row of the brow speak vol­umes, and to tackle big­ger-than-life scenes with­out go­ing over the top. Hav­ing sur­vived the first round of re­al­ity-TV car­nage, Kat­niss is a na­tional celebrity. Her pub­lic life is scripted as a ro­man­tic fan­tasy and played out for count­less TV view­ers. Kat­niss, a coal miner’s daugh­ter, hates the pre­tense. Fear­ing she could be­come the fig­ure­head for an up­ris­ing, Pres­i­dent Snow (evil Don­ald Suther­land) or­ders his games de­signer to cre­ate a com­pe­ti­tion to elim­i­nate her and ruin her heroic rep­u­ta­tion in the process. Plutarch Heav­ens­bee (in­scrutable, cal­cu­lat­ing Philip Sey­mour Hoff­man) pro­poses an All-Stars Game fea­tur­ing the sur­vivors of ear­lier com­bats which re­veals un­ex­pected al­liances and hid­den agen­das. Di­rec­tor Lawrence leav­ens this fun­da­men­tally se­ri­ous movie with bleak, caus­tic satire.

– COLIN COVERT

Wil­low Shields and Jen­nifer Lawrence play sis­ters

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