It’s always a tricky task to adapt a novel. The die-hard fans will be watching for omissions and slip-ups and those who haven’t read the book want to know the full story. When you get to a sequel, the stakes are even higher. Can the film be better than its predecessor and will it please audiences. Now, add in a new director and an even larger cast and the weight of the world is against you. With the whole world watching, only the Girl on Fire could save the day and bring audiences to tears and their feet. Well, that’s exactly what she did!
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) emerged from The Hunger Games as the two victors from District 12. Now back home, the two try to keep up their portrayal of love, so as to please The Capitol. On the side, Katniss and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) have their own relationship, outside of the oppressive land. While the world may believe that Katniss and Peeta love each other, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) sees the two as a threat, as revolution has sparked among the colonies. With the 75th Annual Hunger Games at hand, The Quarter Quell interrupts the Victor’s Tour and new game-maker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has a few tricks up his sleeve to dismiss thoughts of revolution.
For The Quarter Quell, the tributes are reaped from the pool of victors in each district. Katniss and Peeta find themselves back in the games, while mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) and beauty head Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) prep the two for an even tougher games. With allies like the cunning Finnick Odair (Sam Clafin), the intelligent Beete and Wiress (Jeffrey Wright & Amanda Plummer), and the seductive Johanna Mason (Jena Malone), the odds may seem in their favor. With the victors being the role models to the colonies, the members of the colonies are horrified that their precious victors are heading back, including the eccentric announcer Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) and Katniss’ dress designer, Cinna (Lenny Kravitz). In a new arena with more formidable threats, only one victor will emerge and the world will watch as the Girl on Fire finds herself fighting for her life, once again.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire improves upon everything and more that was wrong with The Hunger Games. That’s not to say that The Hunger Games was bad, but under the new direction of Francis Lawrence, Catching Fire seems light-years better than its predecessor. Less shaky cam, more politic focus, and better performances from all the actors. The scale is larger and the stakes are much, much higher. As Katniss and Peeta stretch their lie even thinner, they’re seen as beacons of hope from the oppressed colonist all throughout Panem. We get a better sense at what’s going on behind the scenes in The Capitol and the fire behind the eyes of those who detest The Capitol burns even brighter. For me, Catching Fire is the year’s best blockbuster.
Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence is living proof that talent grows with age and practice. She is not Jennifer Lawrence playing Katniss. She completely immerses herself in the role and becomes the girl who most of us read about. Her leadership and outlook on the dystopian world stand far above the rest and she sets the bar for female leads who totally kick ass. Alongside her, is the gentle and sensitive Josh Hutcherson, whose love for Katniss seems even more realistic. As he struggles to live a lie, he works hard to keep up their image and protect her at all costs. Woody Harreslon’s drunken Haymitch is at his prime, but it’s Elizabeth Banks as Effie and Stanley Tucci as Cesar who steal the show every now and again. Her loud outfits and grandiose hairstyles, and his flamboyant and amusing comments draw and keep your attention for every moment that she’s on screen. Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, Kantniss’ friend and designer adds more depth and emotion behind his advice and designer dresses. Together, this ragtag group from the first film have all elevated their performances to the next level and it really shows.
Possibly more impressive, is how well the rest of the cast does. Philip Seymour Hoffman is devious and controlling, and as a veteran actor, he seems to fit in just fine. His advice on how to quell the revolution will make you squirm in your seat and his dedication to the role is nothing short of brilliance. Speaking of which, Sam Caflin as Finnick really surprised me. The cocky, poster boy of The Capitol is full of depth and gets some extraordinary character development. He proves that there is more behind his muscular physique and good looks. As the intellectual duo, Jeffrey Wright and Amanda Plummer give a great look into the science behind the games and how things operate. Their understated performances cause you to think about the games in a new way and they contribute greatly to the team. More enjoyable than ever, is Sucker Punch star Jena Malone. Here, she’s flirty, seductive, foul-mouthed and tons of fun! With all this great talent, the film only gets better and more intriguing,
With the sequel to The Hunger Games essentially repeating the games, it was going to be tough to get audiences back to see the same thing. However, Francis Lawrence stayed true to the novel that takes a look at revolution and the power that the capitol holds. The first half of the film is spent on the Victory Tour and showing us the ins-and-outs of what’s going on in all the districts. We find ourselves connecting more with the characters who can see that the games bring nothing but fear and we want to see the revolution occur. There may not be music and singing to aid the struggle, but the action and adventure is just as fun.
Where the film falters, if ever, is in the final act of the film. I try to stray away from comparing the film from the book, but there were a few important events that were left out. Whether or not they’ll appear in either Mockingjay film is irrelevant, as we’re only told that certain events happened outside of the games. Rather than being told, I would have liked to SEE what we were missing. I also wish that we spent some more time the likes of Cesar, Effie, and Haymitch, as they add some lighter elements to a darker film. With an almost two-and-a-half-hour runtime, the film goes by really quickly. The fast pace and incredible story telling could have benefited from a few more long scenes and more time spent in the arena. Other than that, my only invalid complaint is that I wanted the film to go on for hours, because it’s so much fun!
There is a reason that these books and these films are so successful. The premise is new, fun, more adult, and provides many different types of entertainment. While the blood and violence is not on the same level of Battle Royale, the film that inspired Suzanne Collins novels, there is just enough to satisfy those who enjoy the gruesome game. Catching Fire finds itself among the other best and successful second films in a series (T2: Judgment Day, Aliens, The Dark Knight, Spiderman 2, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather: Part II). I cannot praise this film enough for how well it was executed and I cannot wait to go see it again. If you’ve not read the books, you can see this movie and still feel like you’re a part of the story. That, in itself, is what makes this film so great. Don’t waste another minute and go see this film now!
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Trailer