We return to Panam with Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins’ second part of her Hunger Games trilogy. Now, I’ve read several reviews myself at this point, I’ve read the books and I’ve seen the films. Catching Fire is being compared to everything from a box office let down to the Empire Strikes Back of the series. With that said, here is my take on the sequel. Be warned, there will be some spoilers throughout this review after this point.
Catching Fire is superior in almost every conceivable way to the first film and even the first book. One of my biggest complaints about The Hunger Games was that it left out nearly all of the political undertones and strip out much of the political controversy that was present in the book. I was concerned that it would be incredibly difficult for the second movie to pick up the pace and get the story on track, where it needed to be.
The series is very much political. It’s a story of rebellion, of hope where Katniss Everdeen is our symbol, the Mockingjay. Now, as I noted, I’ve read the books and I’ve always thought Catching Fire was, by far, the best in the trilogy. The film does not disappoint me. In fact, the film surprised. As intended, the film’s focus isn’t truly the games themselves, though the 75th Annual Hunger Games and 3rd Quarter Quell are unique and definitely a significant part of the story. The film is solid from several angles, story, acting, special effects. Let’s take a look at each of these aspects individually.
The story is intense, exciting, controversial and inspiring. Here we have our Victors going on tour across the twelve districts, ending at the Capital. Katniss and Peeta must continue the charade of their romance but things are not going according to plan. Their defiance against the Capital at the end of the 74th Annual Hunger Games has sparked hope and riots in some of the districts. One of the primary relationships in this film is Katniss and President Snow. While Snow was fairly insignificant in the first film, which was unfortunate, he is able to ramp up his status in Catching Fire. Here we see that he fears what Katniss has created, intentional or not. We learn that the Capital’s system of controlling Panam is quite weak, weak enough that a young woman might be able to topple it with a single act of eating a poisonous berry. Meanwhile, several key players, Peeta, Haymitch, Cinna, Effie and others are working behind Katniss’ back to protect her. She is quickly, without her even being aware, becoming the symbol of rebellion against the Capital and she must remain alive. Overall, the tensions are much higher and the stakes are even more precarious.
The tone of the film is obviously darker. While there is a spark of hope for the rebellion, the Capital is angry and taking action against them. People are dying, being beaten, thrown from their homes, put under curfew and guard. It’s the smell of fear from the Capital, fear that the Mockingjay might just take them down.
Of course, a story means very little if you don’t have actors to pull it off and truly, no one disappoints. We have returning favorites like Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss Everdeen), Woody Harrelson (Haymitch Abernathy), Josh Hutcherson (Peeta Mellark), Donald Sutherland (President Snow), Lenny Kravitz (Cinna), Elizabeth Banks (Effie Trinkey), Stanley Tucci (Caesar Flickerman) and Liam Hemsworth (Gale Hawthorne). Jennifer Lawrence is coming off her Academy Award winning performance in Silver Linings Playbook and while I liked her in the first film, I loved her in Catching Fire. She clearly has gotten to know the character better and is channel the emotion, the strength and the defiance more specifically.
Since President Snow plays a larger part, it allows Donald Sutherland to stretch his legs and man, what a performance. He is dark, cynical and intimidating, everything we need him to be as the enemy of the rebellion. I don’t want to spend all day on this actors but every did a fantastic job. Personally, I really got into the depth of Cinna and Effie played by Lenny Kravitz and Elizabeth Banks, respectively. Both of their characters were able to expand their emotional depth and complexity in this film and we learn that they truly aren’t just people from the Capital. Instead, they are allies, and in some ways, even heroes.
We also have some new comers, Victors from other districts would enter the Quarter Quell. First, we have Sam Claflin (Finnick Odair). He is cocky, self-absorbed and arrogant but quickly, we grow to actually like him and understand him as more than just a well built body. Jeffrey Wright (Beetee) was another fun actor. His role was unique because of the mental complexity of his character. Beetee is not your normal Victor. He focuses more on mental abilities and strategic plans rather than straight up weapons and force. Then we have Jena Malone (Johanna Mason), how much fun was she? She is exciting, emotional, tough and a little crazy. Basically, Katniss if she had been more okay with the killing part of the games. Finally, one of my favorite actors, Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Plutarch Heavensbee). Hoffman comes in as the new Game Marker for Catching Fire and his character is shrouded in mystery and deception. We never truly know what his motives are until the very end but man, he does a fantastic job!
Now we come to special effects. Usually, I’m a sucker for these and care a lot about them but in all honesty… I’m not sure I care this time. The story and acting was so solid, the special effects took a back seat which is odd for a science fiction movie. With that said, the effects are solid. Catching Fire doesn’t really do anything from a visual standpoint that it hasn’t done before, so nothing really stands out. As expected, the costuming at the Capital is bizarre and that’s a lot of fun. In the end, the effects were good enough for me to not to really take notice. They didn’t distract from the story and didn’t really get in my face either, which is exactly how it should be.
Overall, Catching Fire does what the first movie didn’t dare do, it ignites the political undertones and the rebellious plot that the trilogy is meant to explore. The plot is darker and more exciting while the acting is more well refined and focused. I don’t really have anything negative to say about this film other than the last line which was almost verbatim from the book. My criticism is that it should have been verbatim but they modified it slightly. But if that’s all I can complain about, it’s a must see film staring a lot of fun, exciting actors new and old!