The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
While there were plenty of eagerly-awaited films this year, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was perhaps the most anticipated. Luckily for fans, it was worth the wait.
When it comes to sequels, there are high expectations. Especially when the sequel is part of a franchise based on a popular young adult novel. If Twilight and Harry Potter are any indication of these type of films (those being book adaptations that are well-received by fans), each addition will only get more hype and the expectations will continue to get ratcheted up. Thankfully, for fans of Susan Collin’s dystopian novels, Catching Fire is a worthy successor to the original film. Not only does it maintain the momentum, but it adds depth to the story while continuing to entertain. In fact, saying that it is a superior film over 2012’s The Hunger Games is not an altogether unreasonable perspective.
The Hunger Games was successful as a film because it focused on providing its audience with great cinematic moments, sometimes at the expense of simplifying or ignoring some of the themes present in the book. As we’ve seen with adaptations of popular books over the years, simplification of the source material is often required to make the jump to the big screen. While Catching Fire isn’t immune to this difficulty, it does manage much better than its predecessor. This is a very emotional film, full of the same human struggle and integrity that fans enjoy from the novel. Most importantly though, it finds a fantastic balance between telling the story from the novel and presenting the audience with exciting movie moments. Credit goes to strong performances from the actors and a consistent human-focused direction.
Entertainment Value: There will be two things that come to mind immediately after viewing this film. First, is the fact that it is two and a half hours long. Second, is how dark the film is both visually and emotionally. The fact that both of these aspects don’t hurt the film’s entertainment value says a lot about the quality of product being delivered. To say that the film needs every second of its run time is not a lie. There are a lot of things that happen here. Luckily, the story doesn’t lose itself and the focus remains on the characters, which makes the long run time more manageable for the audience. It also helps that the material is very emotionally dense. It makes the story more engaging even if it is a bit of a downer. Good (4/5)
Story: As victors of the previous Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta must embark on a tour to the other districts as part of a publicity stunt for the government. While on this tour they become aware of the oppression by the government and how they are being used as pawns to keep people pacified. When the tour doesn’t go as well as planned, the president decides to take drastic actions. A new hunger games will take place, but this time the participants are chosen from the pool of existing victors in each district. This means that Katniss and Peeta are once again thrust into the life-or-death struggle of the games, but the controversial outcome of the previous games means that they have both new friends and enemies. Will they be able to beat the odds once again? Good (4.5/5)
Acting: Jennifer Lawrence continues her streak of strong performances as Katniss. Her character goes through more in this film than in the original, and Lawrence is up to the task. Josh Hutcherson is back as Peeta, and is again good, but isn’t as heavily featured as before. Woody Harrelson is back as Haymitch, and his performance seems somewhat toned down compared to last time, but that might be just because the writers know that the audience understands him better than before. Sam Claflin and Jena Malone play important roles as former victors, and provides some much needed attitude and excitement to the otherwise gloom story. In supporting roles are Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Donald Southerland, Phillip Seymore Hoffman, and Stanley Tucci. Tucci’s character steals the show by being charismatic and over-the-top. Hoffman is new to the franchise, and feels somewhat out of place, but he only has a couple important scenes in this film that set up his role for the next one. Everyone else is suitable for their roles and do a respectable job. Good (4.5/5)
Direction: Francis Lawrence does a commendable job as director. He manages to balance the action and the drama to create a movie experience that is as entertaining as it is thought-provoking and emotionally impacting. This is even more of an accomplishment considering that he hadn’t really been able to do that in any of his previous films. One of the things that he said he wanted to do in this film was make it more impactful visually, especially when the film has scenes that take place in the Capitol. To be honest, Lawrence doesn’t really deliver in that regard, but, in the end it doesn’t really matter. The Capitol scenes have plenty of potential for lots of visual pizazz, but the camera remains focused strictly on the characters. The scope is small, and while this may not make the film as visually exciting as it could have been, it pays off because it is those characters and the director’s strict focus on them that make the film enjoyable. A plain style for the film makes it more believable and helps to maintain its emotional appeal. Good (4.5/5)
Production: While the special effects may not be the main draw this time around, they are a marked improvement over those featured in the previous film. The film culminates in another hunger games, and much like the original film, most of the action and excitement takes place here. These moments also are the brightest and most dynamic in the film. Everything else is rather grey and dreary, providing a depressing tone which matches the characters’ struggles. Therefore, the film isn’t really that visually interesting besides the final battles, but in not focusing on visuals so heavily the film makers have shown a maturity that is rarely seen in these type of films. Overall, the film is well made and in most regards is an improvement over the first installment. Good (4.5/5)
What’s Bad: Long and gloomy, tame visuals.
This is a surprisingly emotional film, hitting on several hard themes that really got me thinking. The love triangle aspect is handled far better than most films, and it becomes a genuine part of the story rather than something thrown in for the tween crowd. It generated more emotion from me than I thought, and I found myself genuinely engaged in the romantic elements; even rooting for one side to win out over the other.
I loved that most of the action didn't come until the latter part of the film. This could have easily been an action-centric sequel, but instead the filmmakers chose to go for an engaging story and more deeply developed characters. For the first time in a long time, I feel invested in these characters beyond a simple, what's happening next. I mean, I've read the books, I KNOW what happens next, but the film managed to suck me into these characters despite that.
The dystopian future feels better developed and there's a greater sense of just how WRONG their system is. While the first film hit on this idea a little, it mostly TOLD you about how wrong it is, and did little to show the audience it. Catching Fire shows you how wrong the world has become makes you feel as angry as the characters themselves. This provides an excellent setup for the next film which will be all about rebellion.
While I loved The Hunger Games and thought it was a fun ride, Catching Fire has made the franchise a must-see and something that could be truly special. This is not a film to miss, and is far from the norm in terms of movies based off of teen books.