Sunday, March 8, 2015

A Ghoul Versus The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Part 2)

Click here for Part 1!

Thanks to Cinna's latest efforts, Katniss and Peeta steal the show once again as their outfits burst into flame and THIS TIME they look hella real. You can tell Lionsgate really took the first film's special effects being ripped apart by the critics personally since they nearly doubled the budget for Catching Fire and does it EVER show. Post-parade, Haymitch introduces them to District's 11 tributes: Chaff and Seeder. Chaff greets Katniss by kissing her straight on the lips, the resulting look on her face being PRICELESS. One almost has to wonder if they told Jennifer Lawrence he was going to do that, or if she's just that great at acting.

We're not done with the hilarious introductions yet though, as one of the District 7 tributes, Johanna Mason, gets on the elevator with the District 12 crew as they're leaving. Johanna is played by Jena Malone, an excellent actress who never seems to get the spotlight she deserves. Johanna talks about how much she hates her stylist, throws some shade at Katniss, and then strips naked in front of everyone. Peeta and Haymitch are ALL SMILES while Katniss determinedly looks the other direction, probably making her hands bleed with how tight her hands must be balled up right now. Have I mentioned how much Jennifer Lawrence rules? I don't think I have. JENNIFER LAWRENCE RULES.

They go to the training center where they implement Haymitch's plan of making allies, Katniss talking with Wiress and Beetee. Wiress is played by Amanda Plummer, another great actress who has been getting steady work since the early 1980s. We've met her once, WAY back in my review of the first Prophecy film.  We've also met Beetee's actor, Jeffrey Wright, before as well. He was in Source Code, were he also played an extremely intelligent guy lacking a bit of social skills. Wright was the center of this film's particular casting controversy, as he is black and Beetee in the book was... you know, I'm not sure. He was described as having “ashen skin”, which really can apply to ANY race. The online whining about Wright being cast was nowhere near as vociferous as that surrounding Rue's actress Amandla Stenberg, but it was still a thing. God, I hate fandom.

The two District 3 representatives are a bit out there, but Katniss immediately notices how useful they are when they are able to identify a near invisible forcefield around the Gamemaker's lounge as well as figure out how the entire facility is powered in a matter of moments. Mags also shows up on Katniss' recruit list, as she is able to make incredibly detailed fish hooks which would help them get food quickly. Mags is unable to talk, but is able to communicate through facial expressions. Katniss is very kind to her, as they both share volunteering to save a loved one. Unfortunately, Peeta and Haymitch are less than impressed with the tributes she wants to join with, as they imagined the younger and stronger recruits.

When it's time for everyone to audition their skill to the Gamemakers to get their ranking, Katniss is once again the last to go. When she enters the room she sees Peeta has painted a mural of Rue on the ground, which makes her tear up. Steeling herself, she grabs a training dummy and paints “Seneca Crane” on its chest, hanging it by a rope for the judges to see. She does her patented sarcastic curtsey and storms out. This year's batch of interviews on Caesar's show don't go as smoothly as they have in the past, as all of the victors are very upset they have to enter the Games again despite being told they would never have to. They have no problem speaking their mind, because what have they got to lose at this point?

Katniss enters her dressing room to find Snow has decreed she wear the dress she was to be married in for her TV time, Cinna telling her he's made some “alterations” to it. As she waits backstage for her turn to walk out, her and Johanna bond over their hatred of the President. The dress also bursts into flames, but it transforms into a mockingjay-like costume complete with wings. We see Snow watching this with disdain, scowling as Cinna is appraised for his design genius. Well, it's been nice knowing you Lenny Kravitz. Peeta's not one to be outdone when appearing on Caesar's show though, as he drops the bombshell that not only did they get married in secret, but Katniss is PREGNANT. BOOM! This upsets the crowd greatly, who begin to yell for the Games to be stopped. Peeta returns to the top of the stage where all of the tributes are standing, the entire group holding hands as a sign of solidarity, forcing Caesar to cut his broadcast short.

Afterward, Haymitch congratulates Peeta on his latest stroke of genius. Effie gives Haymitch a gold bangle and Peeta a gold necklace to go along with Katniss' gold pin, neither of which I'm sure will be important despite the camera lingering on both of them. Haymitch gives Katniss one last piece of advice before she departs for the arena: remember who the real enemy is. Cinna escorts her to the launching area, but there's a snag as her tube doesn't start moving. Suddenly Stormtroopers burst into the room and SAVAGELY beating Cinna to death, while she's helplessly trapped behind the tube and forced to watch. Is Snow an utter monster or what? It's not until they drag him away does her tube start rising, putting her into the new arena. This year the Cornucopia is in the center of a lake, all of the tributes standing around it on floating platforms. Also new this year is Katniss' strategy, as she barrels STRAIGHT for the center of death. She makes it there first and grabs a bow and a quiver of arrows, about to shoot Finnick when he holds up Haymitch's bangle to confirm he's on her side.
Grabbing Peeta and Mags, they run into the nearby forest, which is now tropical instead of wooded.  They hack their way through the vines, Peeta taking lead with his machete. A moment too late Katniss notices the telltale shimmer of a forcefield, which electrocutes Peeta and sends him flying. He isn't breathing, Katniss going out of her mind as Finnick begins to perform CPR on him. This was another of my favourite moments in the book, as Katniss wasn't familiar with the procedure and thought for a moment Finnick was kissing him. Collins' trilogy are full of neat little world building moments like that, giving the impression she really put thought into her virtual world unlike another certain author whom shall remain nameless. COUGH COUGH sparkly vampires COUGH COUGH.

Peeta returns to life, a highly emotional Katniss kissing him. For the first time ever, this does NOT prompt a Gale reaction shot. They set up camp for the night, but the peace doesn't last long as they get attacked by a lethal fog that burns to the touch. Peeta, still weak from nearly dying, falls behind and starts getting killed by the fog. Mags, who has been riding on Finnick's back since she's unable to run, bids her foster son goodbye and runs directly into the fog. This frees up Finnick to carry Peeta to safety, the second straight time he's saved his life. Peeta's going to owe him the birthday present of a LIFETIME.

They get to know the arena, a circular area covered by a dome shaped forcefield, narrowing escaping another trap in the form of mutant baboons. They eventually meet up with Johanna, Wiress, and Beetee, the hot headed exhibitionist telling Katniss she saved the tech geeks for her. Wiress isn't faring too well, as she appears to be in shock and keeps saying “tick tock” nonstop. In a bit of inspired thinking, Katniss is able to figure out why she's repeating those two words: the entire arena is a round area that operates like a clock, with every hour bringing a new trap. Unfortunately this is Wiress' long contribution to the group, as she gets killed during an attack by the Careers, who then escape back into the jungle.

Beetee formulates a complicated plan to electrocute the entire beach to take out the Careers, saying he'll need six hours to prepare it. Katniss pulls Peeta aside as tells him they need to leave the group once the Careers are dead, because then they'll have to start turning on each other. Peeta talks about how if he lost Katniss he'd have nothing, as he has no one else that he cares about. Hmm, not even THAT FAMILY you mentioned earlier?! How did the writers and editors of the movie miss this?! I expect character motivations to change from scene to scene in something like Transformers or the Amazing Spider-Man 2, certainly not the Hunger Games!

He gives her his necklace, which contains photos of her family and Gale. She kisses him deeply while the romantic music swells, and again we get no Gale reaction. WHOO-HOO! Johanna cuts the tender scene short, announcing it's time to begin the plan. Beetee ties a metal wire on a spool around a tree, Katniss and Johanna charged with taking the rest of the wire down to the beach while Peeta and Finnick stay behind to guard him. At midnight lightning will hit the tree and generate enough energy to send Marty back in ti- I mean, electrify the beach and take out the Careers. They know this because lightning strikes this particular tree every twelve hours as part of its clock-like mechanism.

The plan gets off to a bad start as Katniss and Johanna get attacked by the Careers, getting even worse as Johanna knocks Katniss out from behind. She lures the Careers away, Katniss staggering to her feet and hiding when she hears Finnick calling out for Johanna. Katniss returns to the tree, finding only an electrocuted Beetee lying on the ground. She notices he's tied the wire around a spear, but puts this out of her mind when she hears a cannon go off. Finnick appears in the clearing, Katniss about to shoot him when he echoes Haymitch's words back at her about remembering who the real enemy is. She lowers her bow as the lightning starts to queue up, suddenly grabbing the wire and wrapping it around one of her arrows. She fires it into the sky at the forcefield just as the lightning hits, creating a massive explosion that scatters everyone.

Katniss, lying on the ground, looks up to see the ceiling of the arena collapsing, a lone ship lowering down and grabbing her with a giant claw. She drifts in and out of consciousness, waking up next to a sleeping Beetee. She explores the ship, stunned to see Haymitch, Finnick, and Plutarch talking shop. PLOT TWIST! They're all part of a the rebellion forming against the Capitol, and are on their way to District 13. Wait, 13? You mean the district that was destroyed during the first rebellion that the movies have never ONCE mentioned until now? The same 13 that was a huge plot point of the second book? Oh, okay. It's not until Haymitch confesses they were unable to rescue Peeta (and Johanna) does Katniss go ballistic and begin punching him, but Plutarch knocks her out with a syringe.

She wakes up for the ninth time to find Gale at her side, her first thoughts about her family. He replies that he got them out in time, which doesn't make sense to her. Hesitantly, he tells her Snow had the entire district firebombed and 12 no longer exists.

Cue the credits.

Not only did Catching Fire outperform the original financially, earning nearly 900 million dollars this time around, it also fared even better critically, scoring an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes. It became the highest grossing domestic release of 2013 on its way to notching tenth highest earning of all time. Highest grossing of 2013 is all the more impressive was the fact it was the first 2D to do this since 2008, as all the other films in meantime had the pumped up 3D ticket prices to artificially inflate their numbers. This makes me very happy, as hopefully this means the 3D fad is on the way out. The top two movies of 2014, Mockingjay Part 1 and American Sniper, were also both 2D so keep those fingers crossed!

This movie's far from perfect, but it's also head, shoulders, torso, and abdomen above pretty much every Triple A movie I've seen not featuring James Bond. I often talk about NOT to do a sequel, this is your blueprint on how TO make a sequel. They got way more right than wrong, as this is one of those collaborative efforts where ALL gears were clicking. The skilled direction, the dynamite script, and the steeped-in-effort acting, it all came together to make one of the most enjoyable movies I've ever seen. Very high recommendation here to everyone, even people who normally avoid Young Adult movies like the plague.