The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
The best thing about the first Hunger Games, besides Jennifer Lawrence, is it gave fans a well-portioned feast that sated their ravenous stomachs and stopped the twitching in their page-turning fingers (well, let’s be real, probably less than a quarter of the audience actually read the books). Catching Fire is arguably more succulent than its predecessor in almost every way possible, as it expands its menu to offer fans a broader array of delicacies than the original.
However, the portion sizes are smaller this time around. While the first Hunger Games ensured every scene, character, and conversation were perfectly represented, Catching Fire is forced to sometimes gloss over the good stuff to get to even more good stuff, since there’s almost too much to go around within the film’s heavy 146-minute run. It isn’t a problem as much as it is a strong point on paper, but the finished product may not linger with the audience as long as the first.
Pushing this non-complaint aside, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire solidly confirms the series’ position as leading young adult book-to-movie blockbuster series (though seriously, does anyone even know it was a book series first?). What’s different about The Hunger Games however is while other franchises are pleasing mainly on a dedicated fan base level, this series can be savored from a technical standpoint as well. Not to detract from other young adult franchises, but Catching Fire addresses deeper themes than even its predecessor dared tackle, with more mature acting and excellent cinematography than is typically found in a blockbuster franchise. The Hunger Games is going farther with itself than some previous franchises of similarity, and its record-setting box office opening shows it’s doing something right.
The sequel is more confident in itself than the original in mostly every way. Perhaps this is why the film is devoid of the disorienting shakycam the first one suffered from: it turns out it was just nervous the first time around. Or perhaps it’s thanks to director Frances Lawrence taking the helm and keeping the film meticulously close to its source material. Or, maybe it could have something to do with a unanimous improvement from the cast across the board, as well as exciting new additions. Whatever it was, audiences will eat it up.
After Katniss (Lawrence) won the 74th Hunger Games by feeding audiences a romance with co-competitor Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) of ambiguous authenticity, President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who is somehow so controversial despite having such little personality, believes the districts of Panem see through Katniss’ romance and view her as a symbol of rebellion. While on the victors tour through the 12 remaining districts and capital, Peeta (whose side of the romance was actually real, awkwardly) talks to Katniss about colors and sunsets, and Katniss harshly realizes she has to marry him if she’s ever going to convince Snow it’s real.
Despite their best efforts the duo incite about five rebellions in the course of a week, and Snow concocts a master plan to eliminate Katniss and squash any hope of an uprising. Whiny Gale (Liam Hemsworth or something) doesn’t make things any easier for Katniss by expecting her to put his feelings toward her above everything else going on. As past victor and personal “mentor” Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) hisses, “The games don’t end when you get back home.” Unfortunately he’s more right than even he knows.
Added to the cast is Sam Claflin as the charming Finnick O’dair, whose cocky persona is quickly dropped to reveal the trident-wielding teddy bear he is. When Katniss and he are forced to trust their lives in each other’s hands as the movie reaches its boiling point, what unfolds is an arc mainly conveyed through cinematography rather than dialogue that highlights the film’s excellent subtleties. Meanwhile, Jena Malone triumphs the role of Johanna Mason, a past victor jaded by the Capitol with nothing to lose. These two stick out from the new excellent cast of past victors, along with Phillip Seymour Hoffman who plays Plutarch, the new Game Maker (Swirlybeard’s replacement).
The movie focuses less on action than the first one, which is a shame because it’s the movie’s clear highpoint in a feast of highpoints, if that’s even possible. I’d estimate the movie is divided by an 80 minute/50 minute split between extravagant but deadly fashion catwalk and pulse-pounding action. There’s a potent sense of mounting tension building up to the film’s climax, which instead of bombarding the audience with loud fight sequences like the first one, feels more like a cadence than a climax.
The ending was still far and away my favorite part of the film, and is probably my absolute favorite book-to-movie adapted sequences I’ve ever seen. However, it played more like a stepping-stone to the impending sequels than it did to cap off the current installment. What it did do perfectly is whet the audience’s appetite for more, cruelly before they’ve even been fully sated. This is perhaps Katniss’s wisest game strategy yet.
Catching Fire is an inferno of a cinematic event that’s still being kindled. Personal disclaimer: I saw it twice in the first two nights of its release. That’s how stupid I am but that’s also how good the movie was. Who knows why Katniss is trying to quell an uprising when a franchise like this is a revolution in itself.