Review written by John McGinn
What a prophetic title Catching Fire is for the sequel to 2012’s The Hunger Games the first film based on the series of novels by author Suzanne Collins. After the surprise huge success of the nearly seven hundred million dollar worldwide box office gross of The Hunger Games Collin’s dystopia sci-fi series truly caught fire launching the popularity of the novels, films, and Jennifer Lawrence to new heights never thought possible. The fire ignited by The Hunger Games continues in Catching Fire as the sequel is a major step up from its predecessor in every way.
When we last saw Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark had just finished winning or better yet surviving the 74th Hunger Games, and were returning home to District 12. Katniss revealed to Peeta that everything in the games was an act, and President Snow was not happy with the results of the Games which led to an unhappy end for head game maker Seneca Crane, and now months on the eve of the Victory Tour an annual event after the Hunger Games where the Victors tour the other districts on the way to the capital Katniss and Peeta have an icy relationship, and both suffer from PTSD. Both of their lives have gone back to relative normality until just hours before the Victory Tour President Snow pays Katniss a visit explaining how things are going to be if Katniss wants Gale, and her family to continue to breath. Katniss and Peeta are forced to act like a happy couple to help appease the unhappy citizens of the other districts only to have their stiff and unconvinced act antagonize the people for leading Snow to make changes to the Third Quarter Quell and 75th Hunger Games as he decides to have the tributes chosen from the exciting victors of each district as he hopes to rid himself of Katniss, and the other tributes who Snow views as instigators who believe they are above the law, and can get away with anything.
It’s rare for film adaptions to surpass its source material with Out of Sight, Blade Runner, and The Silence of the Lambs such a few that were better than the source material yet The Hunger Games series has done it twice with the first film, and now with Catching Fire. Directed Francis Lawrence, and screen writers Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt had some tough decisions adapting Catching Fire. They had to both make fans of the novel happy as well as the ordinary people whose only knowledge of the novel series is what they learned from the first film, and as a fan of Catching Fire I believe they did that. Beaufoy and Arndt streamlined Catching Fire omitting certain elements and characters from the novel. They didn’t do a perfect job as I felt they should have at least like in the first films included scenes of Peeta’s family. They didn’t have to have lines in the film, but I felt they should have been there or more scenes with Haymitch who won the second Quarter Quell, and shows Peeta and Katniss his time in the games, but those are small complaints for me as the two screen writers added all the important themes in the film from class warfare to the effects of war and violence has on people and an society to simple fear, and self-preservation over revolution and change, and scenes like Gales whipping, the scene in district 11, the games, and the beautiful moment on the beach between Katniss and Peeta. The only other real complaint I would have would be the scenes with Snow and his daughter. I know the screen writers wanted to show the impact Katniss was having in the capital and Snow’s daughter, but the scenes weren’t necessary and took away from the film. Outside of that Beaufoy and Arndt did a wonderful job adapting the novel to film, and getting me to love the film more than I do the novel.
While I loved first Hunger Game film it did have its problems in particular in the acting department. Perhaps it was the lack of screen time or just plain lackluster acting, but Liam Hemsworth was forgettable as Gale Hawthorne, Josh Hutcherson did a good job as Peeta, but seemed stiff and unemotional compared to Jennifer Lawrence, and outside of Rue and Cato the tributes weren’t that well casted or acted. Catching Fire has some small issues with acting, and in particular with Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee. The award winning actor just seemed disinterested in most of his scenes. Hopefully that will change in the two upcoming Mockingjay films. Lenny Kravitz as Cinna was also a minor hindrance as he spoke with no emotion and in a robotic tone, and thankfully he won’t be around in the sequels.
Besides those two the acting was again a major step up from the first film. Liam Hemsworth came into his own has Gale who hates the capitol, and after hearing about uprising in other districts wants to rebel as well. Sam Claflin and Jena Malone were perfectly casted as Finnick Odair and Johanna Mason. The two actors in their roles just capture the essence of their characters perfectly and draw the cameras to them. Elizabeth Banks gives such a great performance as Effie Trinket it’s hard to separate the two, and in Catching Fire, Elizabeth Banks shows that Effie is more than just a vain capital born citizen. Donald Sutherland does another solid acting performance as President Snow, and in particular his short scene with Lawrence. The young Hutcherson comes into his own in Catching Fire showing both his and Peeta’s growth as an actor and character in particular with his scenes and chemistry with Katniss/Lawrence. Catching Fire certainly does have some great acting, but with that said Catching Fire and The Hunger Game films are made boom or bust by its star Jennifer Lawrence who since her breakout performance in first Hunger Games, and her Oscar winning performance in Silver Linings Playbook has become America’s sweetheart. Lawrence is gorgeous, funny, smart, humble, and a tremendously talented actress who’s willing to make fun of herself, and her star will continue to rise after her performance in Catching Fire. Lawrence is so effortless in her acting that it’s as if the character and actress are one and the same. Jennifer Lawrence perfectly displays the wide ranging emotions of Katniss from her PTSD nightmares to hatred for Snow and the capitol, and growing love for Peeta. Lawrence drives the Hunger Games and continues to in Catching Fire displaying why she is an Oscar winning actress, and the one of if not the best actress of this current generation.
With Gary Ross out as director, and Francis Lawrence brought in the director for Catching Fire, and the two Mockingjay films changes in style were made to Catching Fire that was added by estimated one hundred and thirty million dollar budget. Out was the shaking camera style that many critics hated in the first film as Francis Lawrence brought a more visual, and darker element to Catching Fire that benefited the film. Lawrence did a superb job in bringing Catching Fire to life, and I look forward to his vision of the two Mockingjay films. I have been purposely vague about the action scenes and the games themselves, as I don’t want to give anything away or ruin it for those who haven’t read the novels, but the action is masterfully done, and directed, and no the action is not just a retread of the action of the first film.
I know some, and in particular men will refuse to see Catching Fire, and The Hunger Games films because of the Young Adult label is cursed to be attached to the dreaded Twilight books and films as well as crappy romance, and screaming girls or some ill-conceived notion that The Hunger Games is a rip off of the overrated Battle Royal manga series that was in itself heavily influence by Lord of the Flies, but they’d be missing out on a truly special film, and films that is far more than the labels given to it. Yes The Hunger Games novels are under the YA label, but the Y has really nothing to do with the novels. There are no vampires that sparkle, crappy magic elements or a female lead that has no personality or goals outside of the men, and in most cases the two men in her live. The Hunger Games novels, and author Suzanne Collins strived to be more than that, and are as there is actually real depth, and themes in the story. Yes there is romance, and a sort of love triangle in the novels, but the romance is extremely well done, and isn’t the predominate factor in the series. The lead character Katniss is an actual character with feelings, emotions, and a strength that doesn’t make her reliant on a man to protect her or hold her up. The Hunger Games, and author Suzanne Collins wanted instead of playing it safe to instead challenge the young reader and audience members to think about the themes in the novels and the world as a whole.
It would be a shame for people to let preconceived notions keep them from missing out on The Hunger Games, and Catching fire as Catching Fire is a great film one of the best of the year as well as a one of the best sequels in years with a brilliant adapted screenplay, great directing, with a well casted cast that did a splendid job in their roles, great action, cinematography, and of course the great Jennifer Lawrence giving another marvelous performance as Katniss. Catching Fire is a brilliant film that shouldn’t be missed.
5 out of 5 Stars