I’m reluctant to admit when some of my favorite actors or actresses fail to deliver. This time, it’s the flavor du jour, Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook). I adore her as much as everyone else does, don’t get me wrong. Her unassuming demeanor and down-to-earth personality make her a breath of fresh air in Hollywood, not to mention her undeniable talent. That being said, her presence wasn’t enough to elevate The Hunger Games: Catching Fire to my lofty expectations.
When we last saw Katniss Everdeen, she had emerged victorious from The Hunger Games alongside Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson, The Kids Are All Right). Both temporarily left their lives in District 12 behind as they fought to survive in a Darwinian cage match. Pulling the strings was President Snow (Donald Sutherland, Horrible Bosses), a subtly nefarious plutocrat who kept the majority of the citizenry under his thumb after a failed uprising. When Peeta and Katniss return home to District 12 things are bleaker than ever, as people scramble for essential resources. President Snow wanted to use the Hunger Games as a twisted tool of both oppression and inspiration, as participation is involuntary, yet contestants are expected to fight proudly on behalf of their district.
Snow recognizes Katniss’ influence, and feels threatened by its implications for his own stranglehold on the populace. He doesn’t want another uprising and must smite Katniss’ influence before she galvanizes the people. He mandates that the next Hunger Games will be comprised solely of past champions. Talk about the odds not being in your favor. Once again Peeta and Katniss must battle to the death, only this time their competition is infinitely more formidable. Katniss’ team of Haymitch (Woody Harrelson, Now You See Me), Cinna (Lenny Kravitz, Lee Daniels’ The Butler), and Effie (Elizabeth Banks, Movie 43) try their best to prepare she and Peeta for the challenges that lay ahead, though Katniss is overly protective of Peeta, perhaps feeling guilty for not completely returning his feelings. They must form new alliances if they want to survive; yet Katniss senses that the stakes are even higher this time.
I haven’t read the books on which the movies are based, and perhaps that explains some of my opinions regarding this sequel. I was very intrigued by the concept of a “best of the best” Hunger Games, but the actual competition portion of the movie didn’t quite live up to my expectations. I won’t elaborate too much, so as not to spoil it for you, but I don’t think the competitive dynamic between contestants was as exciting as it could’ve been. I also thought the movie ended very abruptly and left me wanting more. This was odd, considering the lengthy run time – but a friend explained to me that the book ends equally abruptly. Oh.
Finally, we come to Ms. Lawrence. Save for one scene, I wasn’t that impressed with her performance. She was beautiful and striking as Katniss, but the actual quality of her performance left me wanting more – and I know she’s capable of it because I’ve seen it. I’ll give you a small example, and feel free to disagree. If you’re supposed to be crying – I expect your face to be dampened with tears. I think that’s a simple expectation, but it’s one that wasn’t met here. I’m still in the tank for J-Law, but maybe she needs weightier material like Winter’s Bone to truly flourish. I look for her turn in American Hustle to make me forget I ever faulted her abilities. Final verdict? The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was pretty good. Not great. Grade: B.