The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Review

Posted: November 23, 2013 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews
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By: Michael “MovieBuff801” Dennos

What’s this?  Is it what I hope it is?  Could it be?  Could we have on our hands another case of a superior sequel to an already very good film?  I think we do!  Much in the vein of movies like The Dark Knight and The Empire Strikes Back, to name a few, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire brings you back into its respective world with a vengeance.  Now, just to be clear, I’m not hailing this film as a masterpiece like those two movies, but there’s no denying the ante has been upped considerably.  Just like the characters in the story, it’s not playing around anymore; the games are over, the gloves are off and the battle is on.  Of course, having read the books, this upgrade in efficiency and quality comes as no surprise to me (especially since Catching Fire happens to be my favorite of the novels), but new franchise helmer Francis Lawrence and co. have really risen to the occasion and hit this one out of the park.

Picking up just a few months after the first smash-hit, this second installment, adapted from the trilogy of novels by Suzanne Collins, finds intrepid young heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) not basking in the spoils of victory, but rather wallowing in the disheartening consequences brought about by her clever cheating in the previous Hunger Games.  For those of you not in the know: The Hunger Games are an annual tradition in the futuristic totalitarian world of Panem, where two representatives each from 12 Districts of varying classism participate in battles to the death until only one is left standing.  But the most recent Games saw two victors, Ms. Everdeen and her possibly-maybe-boyfriend Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), something unheard of in the history of the bloodbath.  Since then, Katniss’s relationship has developed more into a question mark than anything else, with the two only being all lovey-dovey for the cameras of the oppressive Capitol.  They have embarked on a Victory Tour of all the Districts, where they see firsthand the kind of grip-tightening the Capitol has enacted in each, fearful that Katniss and Peeta’s act of defiance may have sparked a rebellion, particularly from the view of President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who’s prepared to do anything to stomp out that spark before it ultimately catches fire.  Things get even worse with the arrival of the 75th Hunger Games, a.k.a. The Quarter Quell, which is suspiciously worked so that existing victors must go back in the arena.  And before they know it, Katniss and Peeta once again find themselves fighting for survival in more high-stakes games created by new Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman).

As a fan of the series, and the second book in particular, I couldn’t be happier with Catching Fire as both an adaptation and as a film itself, with other fans likely to feel the same way.  An element that’s really in this franchise’s favor is that the people making these films clearly with both eyes on the ball.  Even though the books qualify as young adult fiction, The Hunger Games is NOT another teen franchise.  Sure, there’s the issue of who’s the hotter hunk, Josh Hutcherson or Liam Hemsworth?  But such a question falls to the wayside soon enough, because Catching Fire and its screenwriters, Simon Beaufoy and Michael DeBruyon, are more fascinated with exploring the equally intriguing issues and characters inherent in the world of Suzanne Collins.  There’s more to this story than just bloodlust in the form of a sport, especially in this second outing, and that’s really what elevates this material from mere teen fiction and into something anybody can appreciate.

The franchise’s face of humanity remains Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, who’s even more at home by now, showing that even though she’s back in a mega blockbuster, she has no intention of making us question her recent Oscar win.  The representation of Katniss on-screen is really a team effort when you think about it, but the words on the script pages wouldn’t mean as much as they do if it wasn’t Lawrence delivering them.  She deftly defines Katniss as a flesh-and-blood human being who’s conflicted over the consequences of her actions from the first film, and certainly in over her head when all is said and done.  Rather than playing it as a typical badass with a bow, Ms. Lawrence taps into what makes Katniss Everdeen tick: her fears, her uncertainty, her compassion, her bravery and combines it all into a commanding performance that’s leagues ahead of the kind of acting we normally see in young adult fiction.  In many ways, Jennifer Lawrence is very much The Girl on Fire.  Josh Hutcherson has also grown more comfortable as Peeta, and he gets meatier material to work with here as well.  What’s really interesting about the relationship between these two is the duplicity, wherein their lies to the people who really think they’re in love gradually start to confuse them, which creates a very interesting dynamic.  This is much more complicated than say, a certain romance between a human girl and an age-old vampire.  Other returning actors such as Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland and Elizabeth Banks still shine bright, and newcomer Phillip Seymour Hoffman certainly makes a strong first impression, practically stealing most scenes he’s in.

Taking over from Gary Ross as director is Francis Lawrence (no relation to Jennifer), who not only retains the strength of storytelling here, but also even improves on it.  First of all, most of you will be happy to know that the shaky cam Ross was so in love with is gone.  Francis Lawrence uses steady hands when filming Catching Fire’s action, which is just as intense and visceral as the first film’s.  The whole section set in the Hunger Games Arena, which this time resembles a tropical island, is exhilarating right from the moment when the starting cannon fires.  This is even more of a commendation coming from me because I already knew what was going to happen in this section, and yet due to Francis Lawrence’s skilled methods of building suspense and creating danger, I couldn’t tear my eyes away.  The various death traps and conditions that the Tributes encounter this time around are more dangerous than anything from the first film, an aura which bleeds out into the overall tone of the entire movie.  Francis Lawrence also expands the scope of the world of Panem, which is a given with the bigger budget, but still makes sure the more lavish elements don’t overshadow the bleaker tone and themes being explored.  The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is perhaps the most serious-minded blockbuster of the year, even more than Man of Steel, and yet that also helps it feel like one of the more accomplished.

What we have here is a major studio franchise that actually has meat on its bones, and is incredibly well-made to boot.  This isn’t just people getting killed in exotic locations, but rather an action movie that’s maybe even more concerned with making sure it’s not an arbitrary experience.  The Hunger Games: Catching Fire had me in a death grip by the throat from beginning to end, never relenting until the end credits rolled.  Not only that, but it also instilled in me the feeling that I was reading the book again for the first time, and seeing as how I devoured that book in a short amount of time, imagine how hungry I am for more.

****/****

Comments
  1. Good Review :D

    It was a great film, really liked it a lot. Thought it was a fantastic improvement over the first, and I cannot wait for the next one, especially after that ending :D

  2. moviebuff801 says:

    Thanks. :D

    It’s definitely an improvement over the first film, but I still really like that one a lot, so yeah. ;)

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