Director : Francis Lawrence
Cast Headliners: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson
Original Release Date: November 22nd, 2013
The Hunger Games is starting to become one of those franchises which is poised to be up there with the greats. In the wake of a Harry Potter world, studios sought the next big thing and Lionsgate has found it with the Suzanne Collins trilogy, released a few years back. Last year’s titular first installment, The Hunger Games, was a pretty good if flawed adaption which delivered the emotional intensity of the book but was brought down by a rough cinematic style and a sem-rough budget. I personally am a major fan of the series, so I was not upset by any means but I would say “the book is better.” I can happily say that this film surpasses the first both as an movie experience and as a translation of the source.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is that very important middle chapter of the Hunger Games trilogy. Like other great trilogies, the world is introduced in one installment which may or may not be able to exist on its own as a standalone story. The first film was a riveting tale of a strange far future world and of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) trying to survive in the death match arena for which the series is named. Whereas the theme of that was all about merely trying to survive in a fight to the death between youths and the dangerous wilderness, there were hints of so much more. That is why I adore Catching Fire as my favorite installment of the novels, as it both is an improved version of that survival while bringing in themes of rebelling against the dystopia that is the Capitol. It is a darker film where all stakes are raised.
Katniss is recovering from the trauma of the first film. She nearly died and nearly had Peeta die as well. She also feels conflicted over Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and of her place in the world. It is incredibly interesting to see Katniss back in her hometown of District 12 again, changed by the horrors she faced in the arena last go around. Catching Fire, like its predecessor, is filled with some great characters and performances but it is Jennifer Lawrence who steals the show as Katniss. She portrays an incredible range of emotions portraying her scarred psyche. It is easy to see why exactly she becomes such a hero symbol to the citizens of Panem, as it’s easy to feel sympathy her sorrow, to fall in love with her charm, and to cheer her on in her trials. Katniss is packed with nuance and the now-Oscar winning Ms.Lawrence really delivers the goods when it comes to this.
I can say the best thing about this film is that it has MORE. More of an ensemble cast, from the dashing trident wielding warrior Finnick Odair (Sam Ciaflin), the eccentric inventor Beetes (Jeffrey Wright), and the new Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Plutarch has an especially important role going into the further films, but here Hoffman is a stellar calculating and commanding presence from the Capitol’s control room of the Quarter Quell games which occupy the film’s second half. Praise must be given to Jena Malone as Johanna Mason, whose spunky fierce attitude makes her a fantastic rival to Katniss. The returning cast is great too, with Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) having some great quips and even Peeta being even more likeable. And Donald Sutherland as President Snow, leader of the Capitol, is absolutely menacing. One can tell that when he makes a threat such as promising to kill Katniss’ family, he is going to do it with utmost efficiency. The power drips off every word he says. Each character has great new development, with more time being given to get to know them. There is some fantastic dialogue and moments. There’s even once in a while some great and smart humor as well, especially when it involves Haymitch being, well, Woody Harrelson. And Stanley Tucci’s ridiculous, vile, but also lovable Ceaser Flickmann.
The characters are amped up to the next level, and so is the story. The slow but ever increasing spark into uprising by the people of Panem is presented very well, and by the time the chaos leads into the “Quarter Quell” games the intensity is at an all-time new level. The plot never lets up, with an exciting string of twists, especially the ending which blows away the first films.
This “Quarter Quell” match of the Hunger Games is the highlight of the film. Last time, it was a standard yearly tournament in the canon of the film’s universe but was shocking for us to see because of its slaughter of kids. This time however, more time is spent leading to the circumstances of why this emergency game is forced upon Katniss which makes it start pack even more emotional intensity. Her opponets were children this time, but now it is a sort of all-stars match of past victors, many of them who are older and more experienced than her and Peeta. The arena packs dangerous threats, from poisonous fog (one of the standout sequences) to giant killer monkeys to tidal waves and more. The threats created by the Capitol are incredibly extreme, making the frequent set pieces excellent and leaving one on the edge of their seat.
The plot, characters, and Hunger Games themselves are injected with steroids of quality, but perhaps one of the greatest things about Catching Fire is the new talent behind the scenes. The new director is Francis Lawrence, of I Am Legend fame. Like that film, there are some incredible views of desolate landscapes such as the mountains of District 12 and the ominous metropolis of the Capitol. The world feels very finely crafted and authentic which gives proof that he was a perfect choice for this world. Whether it be by his choice or not, the most welcomed improvement of this movie is that it does not have the “realistic camera” of the first film. The closed in, shaking camera has been avoided making everything crystal clear and eye appealing. This makes the fast moving energetic scenes much more tolerable on the eyes, and thus the entire film is candy for the eye. It can be inferred that an impressive budget was put into this as well, with special effects dazzling. Catching Fire does not like in amazing futuristic technology, and it seems very real here. After seeing the wonderful work done here, I am pleased to hear that he has been contracted for all future films in the franchise.
Overall, Catching Fire is, to say the truth, awesome. Its dark tale ranges the gamut of emotion from sorrow to anger to adventure. Deeper themes of rebellion and the meaning of society begin to rear their heads, and each moment brings something more. It is an exciting installment in an exciting franchise, and this time it truly delivers on the promise of what Hunger Games is all about. Once again I can say as a fan, it was everything I wanted and even a bit more. I loved seeing the perspective of President Snow and Plutarch, which was absent in the book. I loved seeing new lines of humorous dialogue made from the film, such as Katniss, Haymitch, Peeta, and Johanna meeting for the first time. I loved seeing the epic moments in the Quarter Quell come to life, which was nearly every moment in that arena. This is both an exciting blockbuster and a thought provoking saga. This, like its source novel, is a must-experience and one of the best things of the year if not in many years. 9 out of 10