A Film Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
A definitive improvement over its predecessor, Catching Fire arrives with a palpably crazed excitement. The second Hunger Games installment is thrilling from the very beginning to the very end, its cliffhanger ending to irritate and excite. The film is not without its problems, but there is no doubt that the series has upped the ante for the better. There is considerable tension in the air from the very beginning as the camera flows through the wintry mix of the Victor’s Village to the final expression on Katniss’s visage, even though the tension is definitively different in the first and second halves. The first is certainly the better of the two halves, the political gravitas far stronger than the action sequences in the second. Francis Lawrence helms the director’s chair after Gary Ross could not return. He does the work with aplomb, settling into Panem with an impressive security. Thankfully the shaky camera is gone and it is now possible to watch the arena without the camera going spastic. The cast is solid here and the addition of Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the game maker Plutarch Heavensbee is excellent. There is a noticeably larger budget and the film is crisper for it – the visual effects do not want to make one laugh out loud. Overall, Catching Fire is a superior sequel but one with a bit more panache but struggles with the feelings of familiarity that exist.
Jennifer Lawrence is as reliable as ever, bringing more fieriness to Katniss than ever before. Katniss is no revolutionary and Lawrence displays her journey from survivor to savior with incredible strength. Josh Hutcherson is roughly the same as Peeta and even though he’s given more scenery to chew, he’s not quite that effective. Liam Hemsworth as Gale is even less so. Elizabeth Bank’s Effie Trinket is given extra material here and it works quite effectively in revealing the human behind the show. Lenny Kravitz has a brief and tragic turn as Cinna, Woody Harrelson is great as ever as Haymitch Abernathy, Jenna Malone is ecstatic as Johanna, and Sam Claflin gets the job done as Finnick Odair. Donald Sutherland is more menacing than ever as President Snow and he enjoys every minute of the greatly expanded role the film adaptations have given him. Hoffman is great as Plutarch, his steely demeanor chilling.
The plot largely expands upon the first installment and centers on the transformation of Katniss from someone who only cares about her family to the Katniss who espouses her role as the Mockingjay that will lead Panem out of darkness. As a standalone, the film suffers like many middle installments often do, with the games story feeling a bit repetitive after the original. And that feeling of repetition is largely what causes the first half of the film to become more successful than the second half. The first is a twisted ride through many of Panem’s districts, a disgusting victory tour that leads Katniss and Peeta to a party hosted in their honor by President Snow and arguably the film’s best scene. The debauchery is despicable, a hegemony of hedonism basking in the power of a dictatorship. The story stays remarkably close to the book and admirably so, although the portions changed have done so understandably, even if it is not always the right call. What the films have captured really well (even more so in the sequel) is the feeling of Panem and the point of view of the Capitol, exterior events often lost in the books due to the books’ narrative device of telling the story from Katniss’s point of view. The film essentially functions as a stepping stone, which is perfectly fine, and for the most part it does it well.
Technically Catching Fire is far beyond its predecessor. The Capitol does not, like it did in the first one, look like a cheaper CGI version of Theed in The Phantom Menace. It looks like a real, futuristic Denver that would instill fear and wonder within those who saw it for the first time. The arena is fantastically constructed, with the poison fog sequence the standout. Costuming this time around is still as astounding but they blend into their environments better. Katniss’s wedding gown (astonishing in itself) transforming into the mocking jay bird is jaw-dropping. The fire is much better handled here, crackling and gnashing as it devours the dress. Francis Lawrence’s direction is fantastically handled, the shaky camera is thankfully gone and he settles into the darker and moodier Panem with panache. His return for the series’ two final installments is a promising one.
Catching Fire is a superior sequel in almost every way. The actors are better, the plot is handled with more maturity, and technically the film is prime. The underlying current of Panem’s danger, its authoritarianism, is what makes the sequel superior. There is a motif here, of people rising against authoritarianism. Often we are told that as one person alone, you can never rise up against injustice. One person cannot accomplish anything. That feeling is what allows injustice to stay in power, in Panem, in the Wizarding World, in Middle Earth, and here on Earth. Katniss is alone when she decided to eat the berries with Peeta. She doesn’t have an army behind her then. As Gale tells Katniss, she gave the people an opportunity. All they have to do know is seize it.
Title: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Francis Lawrence
Producers: Nina Jacobson, John Kilik Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy, Michael deBruyn
Based On: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Jena Malone, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland Music: James Newton Howard
Cinematography: Jo Willems
Editing: Alan Edward Bell
Studios: Color Force