Jennifer Lawrence is the best thing to happen to movies since Denzel Washington. The girl is pure movie star: appealing, accessible, sexy, smart, and an incredibly talented actress. She is the whole show in “Catching Fire,” the incredibly popular sequel to the just as popular “Hunger Games.” The commitment the 23 year-old Oscar winner gives to the role of our heroine Katniss Everdeen sells what could have otherwise come off as a cheesy dystopian extravaganza where everyone runs around for an hour in spandex.
The story picks off where we left things. Having outsmarted the Capitol and President Snow (Donald Sutherland having a grand time), Katniss and her “boyfriend” Peeta now live in Victory Village, a place where all past Hunger Games winners enjoy a lifestyle that would look middle class to us but is luxurious compared to life in the 12 Districts oppressed by Snow’s central government.
Katniss and Peeta’s outsmarting of that government has had an unintended consequence. The great unwashed now see Katniss as a symbol of rebellion and the movement around her is growing. Katniss wants no part of it, but Snow realizes that he needs to publicly break Katniss’s spirit if he is going to restore order. With the help of the new Head Gamemaker (Philip Seymour Thomas), Snow devises a Quarter Quell that requires all previous winners to head back into the arena for a new set of Hunger Games.
The sequel is not as good as its predecessor, which I enjoyed a lot more than I expected. In fact, plot-wise, “Catching Fire” is surprisingly similar to “The Hunger Games.” It is still plenty entertaining, though, and the sincerity Lawrence brings to her role sells the movie in ways no other actor or actress could.
Thematically, for some reason I don’t find it all that difficult to relate to a world and story where a corrupt president uses the willing institutions of entertainment and news media to consolidate his government’s control over the people.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is available at Amazon.com.