Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
Wasting no time after his role in Lee Daniels' The Butler, David Oyelowo is set to star alongside House of Cards' Kate Mara in Captive, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The crime drama is based on the true story of a 2005 hostage situation.
The film follows a man named Brian Nichols (Oyelowo) who breaks out of a courthouse jail (where he is being charged for rape) and proceeds to shoot and kill the judge ruling on his case, a court reporter, sheriff's deputy, and FBI officer. In an effort to escape from a statewide manhunt, Nichols then flees to the home of Ashley Smith (Mara), a single mother with a meth addiction, where he holds her hostage. Smith uses Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life to reason with Nichols, and surprisingly, herself. Talk about a high-stress situation.
While Mara's younger sister, Rooney, is more famously known for the intense roles she takes on (you know we're talking about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), the elder Mara is gearing up to give it all she's got to play a meth addict who's trying to save her own life. Mara, who plays a cut-throat journalist on Netflix's House of Cards and starred in the first season of American Horror Story as a psycho girlfriend, should have no problem channeling the intensity that will be needed for her role as Smith. (If she pulls off her role in this film, something tells us the "Kate v. Rooney" debate is about to get a little bit more heated.)
And of course no one should forget about the classically trained stage actor Oyelowo who has been in Lincoln and The Last King of Scotland, and who is currently filming Christopher Nolan's Interstellar starring Matt Damon, Anne Hathaway, Matthew McConaughey, and Jessica Chastain.
Leonor Varela and Mimi Rogers are also cast in the film, which was written by Brian Bird and Reinhard Denke and adapted from Ashley Smith's best-selling book An Unlikely Angel.
Good and bad news for members of the Kellan Lutz Six-Pack Appreciation Club: He'll play Tarzan in an upcoming movie, but it'll be via CGI motion capture.
Up-and-coming actress Spencer Locke (Resident Evil: Afterlife) is reportedly in talks to play the iconic character's wife, Jane, in the animated, as-yet-untitled film — to be written by Jessica Postigo, Yoni Brenner, and Reinhard Klooss, who is also directing.
In addition to a role in the upcoming Twilight Saga finale, Breaking Dawn - Part 2, Lutz has quite a bit in the works, including the crime drama Java Heat, alongside Mickey Rourke.
'Breaking Dawn - Part 2' Trailer Proves 'Twilight' Finale Could Top Them All
'A Warrior's Heart' Trailer: Kellan Lutz and Ashley Greene's Romance/War/Lacrosse Drama
Kellan Lutz Addresses Gay Rumors