The Hunger Games is arguably the most popular franchise right now, and with the second installment in the four part movie saga, director Francis Lawrence captures what Hunger Games director Gary Ross could not. Lawrence takes the series in the direction it should be going, with brilliant action scenes and a well-done story. Top notch acting from Jennifer Lawrence, Elizabeth Banks, and many others, Catching Fire should not be passed off as standard young adult fare.
Catching Fire finds Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, the victors of the 74th annual Hunger Games, an annual televised fight to the death. They are now living in the Victor’s Village in District 12. Words of uprising have been spread around the districts, and as the two embark on their Victory Tour to the other districts, a rebellion seems underway following the results of last year’s games. On top of that, the two lovebirds must go back into the arena once more, for the 75th Quarter Quell (think all-stars reality tv shows), where the tributes are reaped from past victors.
Like the first film, Catching Fire features some magnificent actors flexing their acting prowess here. Jennifer Lawrence, my favorite actress right now, is once again on top of her game. Haunted by visions from last year’s games, Katniss must keep herself together to escape the arena. Josh Hutcherson, who plays Peeta, is much improved from his corny dialogue and weak acting from the first film. Now he has a tougher personality and is much sharper, and Hutcherson really delivers here. Other favorites like Elizabeth Banks as Effie, Lenny Kravitz as the stylist Cinna, and Woody Harrelson as their mentor Haymitch, deliver great performances, but they don’t have as much screen time as they did in the first film. My favorite from last time around, Stanley Tucci as announcer Caesar Flickerman, shines once more with some of the film’s best lines and funny moments. Liam Hemsworth as Katniss’s old friend Gale and Willow Shields as her sister Prim round out the top actors, as they have much more time in the spotlight than before. Donald Sutherland also shines as the chilling President Snow.
New characters help give flair to the ritzy glamour of the Capitol and the harsh battles of the arena. New tributes such as Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) and Johanna Mason (Jena Malone) are standouts. They are both bitingly funny, with memorable dialogue and great scenes. An elevator scene in which Johanna strips naked is both awkward and intimidating, and Finnick provides some great eye candy. Jeffrey Wright plays Beetee, a tech savvy tribute who helps them escape the arena. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is a delight as head game maker Plutarch Heavensbee, and he gives one of the best performances of the film. All in all, Catching Fire’s acting is a delight, and features an outstanding ensemble cast.
Catching Fire is a perfect adaptation of the novel. Haters and die hard fans will nitpick details, but Lawrence captures the spirit of the novel almost word for word here. Like I said, Lawrence is taking the series in the direction that it needs to go. While Ross was an expert at the emotional scenes in the first film, such as Rue’s death, Lawrence is king of action and dialogue. The battle scenes in the gorgeous arena are outstanding. A spinning cornucopia and poisonous fog are only some of the obstacles that the heroes face in the clock-shaped dome. These scenes are brilliantly done, and fans will remember them scene-for-scene from the book. Sharp dialogue and writing helps break apart the tense emotional scenes, and the film is quite funny at places, courtesy of actors like Banks and Malone.
The film’s plot seems all too relevant in society today. A bitter satire on surveillance society and privacy is seen in the undertones of the film. When the Peacekeepers take over District 12, to the monitoring on the arena, it calls to mind some current events in a surprisingly relevant way that no other big films like this can. It’s a small thing, but definitely noticeable.
If there’s any minor criticism, it’s that Catching Fire has a real sense of deja vu from the first film. I know that this can’t really be helped, considering that they are almost identical in form, it would have been nice if Lawrence broke apart a few scenes to make the film feel different than its original. While it’s not a shot-for-shot recreation, in terms of form and structure, it comes pretty damn close, and this is especially noticeable after watching the two films back to back.
Catching Fire is a visual spectacle. A gorgeous arena filled with all kinds of traps in a beach setting make for some fantastic set pieces. A huge wave crashes over a part of the arena, and lightning strikes and force-fields litter the forests. These are gorgeous, and some well done CGI helps to emphasize the danger of the arena. The snow covered District 12 and futuristic Capitol provide some cool locales, and with a higher production budget, it allows for some new shots and angles you’ve never seen before. Cinematography is solid, with some excellent shots on a sunset beach and a beautiful finale. A decrease in the use of shaky cam should make fans happy, as the action scenes are easy to watch and more enjoyable as a result.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is everything you would want out of a sequel. It’s tense, funny, emotional, and features some of the best acting you’ll see in a blockbuster like this. Director Francis Lawrence has taken control of the series, and now I’m eagerly looking forward to the next installment.
Overall: 3.5 stars out of 4
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