By Joan Ellis
If you loved last year’s “The Hunger Games,” you run a slight risk of disappointment with the newly released “Catching Fire.” Or maybe not.
Part II does everything right in the line of smashing special effects, and Jennifer Lawrence soars again as a New Age symbol of values and bravery. But in concentrating on the pyrotechnics, Part II of Suzanne Collins’ enormously successful trilogy lets its main strength fade into the background.
You may remember that a terrible war had erased a nation leaving survivors to rebuild. These survivors carried the seeds of character and culture that existed before the catastrophe, and they brought that DNA to the job. They were working with the entrenched germs of selfishness, war and self-promotion that became dominant in the first decade of this new century. This offered us a spot on resonance.
Their new culture was driven by government (The Capital), the media (control by surveillance), and money (the opulent lifestyle of the 1 percent). One boy and one girl were chosen from each of 23 districts to fight each other to the death in tribute to the peace that followed the Great War.
Assuming you remember that entire framework from last year, Part II plunges right into this year’s savage national competition which pits The Capital against District 12. The now iconic Katniss Everdeen will represent her demolished district in order to win rehabilitation for its citizenry. This time the story spends less time on the terrible government manipulators (Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland) and their opulent lifestyle and takes us instead into the heart of the jungle where our gallant band will try to outwit the terrible threats of wild animals, lightning, a tsunami and armed competitors amidst an appropriate deluge of special effects disasters. All of these are handled with great skill and the men who are allies of Katniss (Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson) do well with the physical challenges and blood-soaked results.
Our heroine is asked to indulge in the writhing that accompanies collapse, danger and defeat, but the image that triumphs is Katniss leading her small group through the jungle – straight, tall, beautiful and armed with arrows, blades and the skill to use them.
Jennifer Lawrence is the reason to follow this series. There is no question now that she has a lock on her own authenticity along with a determination to hold on to it in the face of success. Even in this outsized action movie, she conveys emotion with subtle facial expression even in outsized situations. She will remain a role model for her generation by reason of natural intelligence and talent. This is not the movie that will bring her a second Academy Award (“Silver Linings Playbook”), but when she wins again for another movie, she should surely wear the dress from the celebratory scene in this one where her elegant, voluminous white wedding dress morphs to a sophisticated sleek black number.
Joan Ellis’ address on the Internet, which contains her review library, is JoanEllis.com.