I feel like I’m late to the party with this one. WordPress has simply exploded with Catching Fire reviews the last several days! And I’ve been paying close attention to those reviews. Widely regarded as the best book of the Hunger Games Trilogy (I can’t comment on that since I’ve only read the first two), I had pretty hefty expectations for the Catching Fire film. Those expectations only grew upon seeing the many positive remarks critics and fellow bloggers had to share.
I’ll take a second to admit this: having read the first two books, I still don’t quite understand all the hype. I think the books are interesting and unique, but they’ve never blown me out of the water. However, I was very impressed with the first film when it came out last year. I very well may enjoy watching it better than reading the book. After seeing Catching Fire, I could probably say the same. Like the book, this film builds on the groundwork of its predecessor, further developing characters and thickening the plot in a tense, dystopian world. It’s a faithful adaptation and a pretty spectacular ride. I can confirm that I enjoyed almost every minute of it.
Synopsis: “Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark become targets of the Capitol after their victory in the 74th Hunger Games sparks a rebellion in the Districts of Panem.” –Borrowed from my favorite movie site, IMDb.
The Good: Jennifer Lawrence. It’s like the girl was born to play Katniss. Lawrence expertly infuses Katniss with both a feisty spirit and a more vulnerable side, making a potentially frosty and flat character into a heroine we can root for. Her character was already great in The Hunger Games, but here she’s more confident, more clever, and also much more damaged from the events of the previous year. We watch her struggle between her hatred for the Capitol and her fierce desire to protect the people she loves. It quickly becomes apparent that the stakes are much higher in this film, and though I must give credit to author Suzanne Collins for that, the film does a brilliant job of picking out the most important parts of the book and showing them almost exactly as I imagined. The Capitol and its eccentric characters are even more bizarre and visually interesting than in the previous film (you can tell the franchise’s budget has increased), and the Hunger Games arena is cool and clever (and, you know, completely twisted). In regards to characters, we get to see a less phony side of 12th District escort Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), more of the Katniss-Gale (Liam Hemsworth) relationship, and more of vicious President Snow (Donald Sutherland). However, we also get to meet some solid new characters, including new Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and tough tributes Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) and Johanna Mason (Jena Malone). You get the impression that they’ll all have pivotal roles to play in the next two films (though why they’re splitting Mockingjay into two films is beyond me). And the last scene is a great cliffhanger. I haven’t been in a rush to read the last book, but now I kind of want to. Favorite scene: This was a standout moment for me in the book, and I’m glad they decided to carry it over to the film. Katniss and Peeta are attending a party at the Capitol following the conclusion of their Victory Tour. Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) makes a remark about being too full to eat anymore. With a smirk, one of his stylists hands him a full glass and tells him to drink, explaining that it’ll make him vomit to make room for more food. It’s perfect—everything that is messed up about the obscenely wealthy Capitol in one glass.
The Bad: Though everything was pretty clear to me, there were moments throughout the film when I wondered if people who hadn’t read the books could understand everything. For example, would they really remember the name of previous Gamemaker Seneca Crane? Even posthumously, this character’s role is fairly significant, but not much is done to remind the audience of why the name carries such weight. This could be solved with a brief flashback. I’d even recommend a flashback for former Hunger Games tribute Rue, though her role was much more memorable. There are a few characters that I feel kind of get the shaft in this one—particularly Peeta, who still feels somewhat bland. Even Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), the drunk mentor with a heart of gold, seems somewhat wasted (pun intended) in this film. I also would’ve liked to see more from quirky geniuses Beetee (Jeffrey Wright) and Wiress (Amanda Plummer). Granted, Catching Fire is already very close to two-and-a-half hours, but I’m sure other things could’ve been sacrificed to further develop some of these characters. But hey, if this is all I have to pick on, that’s not too shabby. Least favorite scene: Katniss is a smart gal, but there is one face-palm moment involving her in the arena. It’s night and everyone else is asleep while she’s on watch. She sees a suspicious fog creeping toward her. Rather than waking the others and hightailing it outta there, Katniss reaches out toward the fog…and it’s not good. C’mon, girl. This is the Hunger Games. What were you thinking?
To Sum It Up: All in all, this is a nearly perfect sequel. The stakes are higher, the effects are bigger, and our favorite archer heroine is better than ever. I only hope that Part One of Mockingjay can continue to up the ante.
My Grade: A