The Odds are in Their Favor!
The Hunger Games, the franchise on fire! After a hot reception from audiences in 2012, Lionsgate brings us back to the world of Panem and The Hunger Games with a sequel that goes right up there with The Empire Strikes Back and other sequels that are much better than their originals. The first games was the standard games up until the love story came into play. Now, they raise the stakes by having the climax of the first one send ripples of revolution through the nation. We open with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) hunting like she used to, and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) shows up like last time, being all cool and casual. He encourages her to shoot a turkey instead of discouraging her from shooting a deer like in the first movie, only this time, shooting an arrow causes a flashback to the games, and after a panic attack Gale pulls her back to the present. I must praise the way Jennifer Lawrence portrayed PTSD in this movie (Like Robert Downey Jr. did in Iron Man 3 earlier in 2013), because she gets it right without mocking the millions of real-life vets with real PTSD. After Gale goes to his new job in the mines, Katniss gets an unexpected visit from President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who’s very unhappy with Katniss, and challenges her to convince him of her and Peeta’s (Josh Hutcherson) love. After waking up Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) for the start of the victory tour, they’re reunited with Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), and the rest of their prep team the book fleshed out and gave personality to (though at the party at the President’s mansion, Effie clearly name checks Flavius and Octavia from the prep team, go back and you’ll hear their names). After Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) introduces them on the Capitol feed, the tour begins, where Peeta tries to get to know Katniss better, fires of rebellion are kept contained (only so much), and ultimately, Katniss fails to convince Snow of her love for Peeta, initiating a chain of events that lead her and Peeta into a new arena with new (but familiar to Panem) tributes and new challenges. The new characters are developed as well as they’re needed to be in the context, but the spotlight still belongs to the star-crossed lovers. The plot is coherent, but the movie is (again) a long one, full of detail, but it could have had a few things gutted to make it shorter. I didn’t lose interest, but if it takes 80+ minutes to get to the titular event (The Hunger Games themselves), then you may be wasting time. Some events with whole book chapters got cut to glances and mentions, but otherwise, it was coherent. The visual was great as ever, and with a clearly larger budget and higher expectations, they delivered. The best part is Francis Lawrence kept a steady hand except for action, which was still easier to see than Gary Ross’ “shake like there’s no tomorrow” style. It may or may not have to do with the fact that instead of children, the tributes in the games are fully-grown adults, and the fact the MPAA has some level of standards for on-screen violence and its depiction, but I digress. James Newton Howard delivers the score worthy of the increasing drama in this installment, and there’s a lot more comic relief to be found here, as well as swearing (as in, some of the seven you can’t say on TV). The girl on fire’s story truly ignites here, and we get a sense of heightened tension. Remember who the real victor is here: you, me, and anyone else who enjoys this improved sequel.
No aspect Ratio Change = BUMMER
The theatrical release of the film had an interesting feature: as Katniss entered the arena, the aspect ratio slowly morphed to IMAX. Unfortunately this has been altered in the iTunes version, and the second half of the movie has a cropped image to maintain the aspect ratio of the first half. While I love this film, I'm sorely disappointed that this beautiful transition is missing.
What I find odd is that other iTunes movies, such as 'The Dark Knight', switch seamlessly to the larger-framed format, but this movie omits it for some reason. Perhaps, this can be remedied sometime down the road, without me having to repurchase.