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‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’

by Kaori Shoji

The second installment to “The Hunger Games” is hot and fast but also pensive — not what you’d expect from an adaptation of a Young Adult novel series. I reckon author Suzanne Collins’ work and the first “Hunger Games” should be on the syllabus for high schools everywhere, and the latest adaptation does not disappoint. Anything that could be done to improve what has become a teen cult classic sans vampires has been done. Prepare for another round of the survival of the gutsiest.

The series has had a switch in directors (from Gary Ross to Francis Lawrence, of “I am Legend”) with redux results. This is enhanced by protagonist Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) shedding some of her baby-pink, childlike ambience and vamping herself as a cross between Joan of Arc and Cleopatra, with sizzling jet-black hair, mean dark eyeliner and an ensemble that looks positively metallic. Just what you’d expect of a young woman who survived the kill-or-be-killed “games” of the first movie and is now forced to live with the trauma.

Actually, Katniss hates the getup, the spotlight afforded by her “success” and the hilarious but relentless presence of escort Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), whose job it is to bring Katniss and her supposed lover, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), in front of the cameras to be exploited for propaganda. This is part of the plan hatched by the sneering despot President Snow (Donald Sutherland) of the futuristic city-state Capitol, to keep the masses distracted from mounting political dissatisfaction.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Rating
Director Francis Lawrence
Run Time 146 minutes
Language English

In the first “Hunger Games,” Katniss volunteered to fight in the televised survival tournament in lieu of her fragile sister, Primrose (Willow Shields), who had been picked as a contestant by lottery. To gain viewer support and come out of that alive, Katniss had pretended to have a thing going with Peeta, and the ploy worked. For the first time ever, the Hunger Games ended up with two winners instead of one, locked in an embrace of affection rather than violence. Katniss and Peeta were subsequently launched into stardom in the real world outside of the games.

While ostensibly receptive to Snow and the new Gamesmaker, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Katniss is still a wild child at heart. Wilfully unclear about the rules of society and the schemes of Snow, she strives to live by her own code while at the same time protecting those she loves, including her family and her secret crush, Gale (Liam Hemsworth).

Lawrence as Katniss is, as ever, luminously gorgeous, even when she discards the Cleopatra outfit for a blue factory worksuit and is forced to enter the arena for another round of Hunger Games. The TV show host (a wonderfully plasticine Stanley Tucci) presides over the proceedings once again — promising gore and brutality, and delivering just that.

Katniss Everdeen is a hero for our times — at once reluctant and defiant, she does what she has to do to survive. She has no higher agenda, no love for her country or desire for power. In her single-mindedness she makes Superman look like an angst-ridden, self-involved gym rat.

For a chance to win one of three “Catching Fire” tote bags, visit jtimes.jp/film.

  • Keith Schoose

    Good review. Nice work.