Film Review – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
The Hunger Games was a huge box office success, the only young adult novel adaptation since Twilight to achieve that title. I read the trilogy by Suzanne Collins before seeing the film, and I really enjoyed it. Like many others, I was excited to see the first adaptation, but something happened. I came away with a “meh” feeling. It did not grab me emotionally in any way, unlike the novel.
Still, I had hopes for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. The novel is my favorite of the trilogy, but based on the first film, my actual expectations were pretty low. But as the end credits rolled at my screening, I was blown away by Catching Fire. It is so much better than The Hunger Games, and may in fact come out as being the best of the four films based on the novels.
In this film, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are going along with their fake romance, and they and their families have moved into the Victor’s Village area of District 12. They embark on their Victory Tour across all of the districts, along with Effie (Elizabeth Banks) and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson). On this tour, it becomes apparent that the districts are beginning to revolt against The Capitol, spurned by Katniss’s almost-suicide with Peeta in the last Hunger Games. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) already knows Katniss’s romance with Peeta is fake, and he’s becoming increasingly irritated with the districts’ disobedience. He sees Katniss as a threat and is determined to be rid of her. The Quarter Quell happens every 25 years, and this year the 75th Hunger Games are the most brutal and unrelenting of them all. Designed by the new Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), it will bring in two previous victors per district, one male and female, to compete again to the death. Both Katniss and Peeta are back in the Games, and Haymitch is their advisor once more.
Catching Fire has so much more emotion than the first film. I found myself almost tearing up two or three times. It also has the suspense, horror, and tension that The Hunger Games was missing completely. You can feel Katniss’s hate for Snow, Peeta’s love for Katniss, and Snow’s utter contempt of Katniss and the districts. The Hunger Games arena scenes are miles above what they were in the first film. Even though I have read the book, the arena and all that happens in it had me at the edge of my seat, rooting for the worthy victors to survive all that was thrown at them.
Because another Hunger Games is depicted in this film, there are more new characters, and both well-known and new actors to portray them. The most talked-about character is Finnick, and Sam Claflin portraying him. His casting was thoroughly debated in The Hunger Games fandom, but he certainly lives up to what I pictured in my head. He is strong, determined, and has that needed “I am the best” attitude. But Jena Malone’s portrayal of Joanna is probably my favorite in the film. She brings out her bitch card and carries it high. She is fed up with Snow and the whole Hunger Games system. She has been wronged and she will not forget it. She is a worthy adversary, and Malone brings all the attitude she could muster to the role. You can feel Joanna’s hate and determination through the screen. It is something to see, and I am sure everyone will love the elevator scene.
With this being a second film, the core actors seem more comfortable with their characters. The main trifecta, Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and Liam Hemsworth, who portrays Gale, all seem more in tune with the emotions of their characters. You can see and feel it with their performances. Hemsworth is not seen much in The Hunger Games or Catching Fire, but his time will come with the next two Mockingjay films.
The switch in directors from Gary Ross to Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, Constantine) looks to be the best decision that Lionsgate has made in this successful franchise. While I am sure Gary Ross is not to blame for all of my “meh”-ness for the first film, it certainly is clear this change made for a better second installment. Lawrence has more experience with large, big budget films, and it is clear that he had a vision and sought it through to the end. Everything about Catching Fire screams top notch, and there is a polished end product.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is simply an outstanding and exhilarating film, along with being an excellent adaptation of its novel. This will be a blockbuster, and one of those films that you probably will see a couple of times at the theater. It is a really fun ride. It does not end in a cliffhanger, which I thought it would, but another example of Jennifer Lawrence’s acting prowess. Bravo, Francis Lawrence, for making Catching Fire exactly what it was and is supposed to be.
The third film in the series, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part One, will be in theaters November 21, 2014.
Also, be sure to check out the press panel interview from Houston that featured Alan Ritchson (Gloss), Jeffrey Wright (Beetee), Sam Claflin (Finnick), Stephanie Leigh Schlund (Cashmere), and Jena Malone (Johanna).