As with most recent “middle” films, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire serves to set up the next installments of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (which has been split into two films). There’s an immediacy and danger in almost every decision that Katniss makes. And while us fans of the book series undoubtedly know what happens next – the second installment of the Hunger Games franchise is gloriously entertaining and surprisingly affecting for a pop culture phenomenon.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire picks up after the first film left off, with Katniss Everdeen (played by everyone’s girl-crush Jennifer Lawrence) coming to terms with her new found “celebrity” and the weight of her actions as a victor of the 74th Hunger Games.
Katniss realizes that she more a prisoner than anything else, as she is under constant scrutiny of President Snow (Donald Sutherland). She has unwittingly become the face of the rebellion.
Snow announces a special all-stars edition of the 75th-anniversary Hunger Games Quarter Quell. Former victors of previous games recruited from Panem’s 12 districts will be pitted against one another, and Katniss and Peeta must put their lives on the line again.
I’m going to start by saying that I am a big fan of the novels, and as such, had pretty high expectations for this film. While I really liked The Hunger Games, Catching Fire is one of those rare sequels that surpass the original.
The cast for this film is fantastic. The beloved cast of the first film is back in full force. Jennifer Lawrence (fresh from an Oscar win) is the heart and soul of the film. She’s incredibly magnetic on screen, and is able to convey such depth of emotion from facial expressions and tone of voice alone. We feel Katniss’ reluctance to become a “symbol” for the people and her increasing desperation to find a way out. She’s able to capture the incredible strength and resilience of Katniss the fighter, while embodying the incredible vulnerability and fear of a person dealing with the repercussions of violent and horrifying actions from her time in the games. Katniss Everdeen is a great heroine for young girls – smart, strong, independent and capable of taking care of herself (and others). Suzanne Collins, author of the Hunger Games series, has created a tough and complex character that Jennifer Lawrence embodies effortlessly.
Josh Hutcherson (or as Saturday Night Live refers to him…the pint-sized dreamboat) and Liam Hemsworth (Thor Jr.) have definitely upped their game. We are starting to feel the tension and indecision that Katniss faces in choosing between Peeta and Gale, but, it’s a plot point that is much better drawn out in the books that it is on screen. Peeta is genuine and sweet – possibly the only person who can relate to the horrors that Katniss has undergone and committed in the games arena, while Gale is her lifelong friend and confidant. It’s full of clichés, but thankfully, not the focus of the story.
Even though they had less screen time, fan favorites Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) and Prim Everdeen (Willow Shields) were absolutely great. Elizabeth Banks finally has something to do besides looking amazing in Capitol couture, as Effie reveals her lovely and emotional attachment to her victors. Lenny Kravtiz’s Cinna is as cool as ever and Stanley Tucci seems to have the most fun playing the over-the-top Caesar Flickerman.
The new additions (and there are quite a few of them) are equally great. The victors include Jeffrey Wright and Amanda Plummer as weird geniuses Beetee and Wiress, Lynn Cohen as the silent and sweet Mags, Sam Clafin as the handsome and dangerously charming Finnick Odair, and Jena Malone as the unpredictable and lethal Johanna Mason. Philip Seymour Hoffman enters the fray as gamesmaker Plutarch Heavensbee – and the interactions between Heavensbee and Snow are fantastic – scheming at its best. An incredible cast lending the Hunger Games sequel with star power and talent.
Another new recruit is director Francis Lawrence, who has been able to make this sequel fit with the first installment, while creating a darker and more somber feel for the film. It’s not an easy task for a director to take over a franchise and merge his vision so seamlessly. He’s done a great job of honoring the first installment, yet making it his own.
Everything in Catching Fire is done on a grander scale: the pomp of the games, the costumes, the action, the violence, and even the emotions. The Victory Tour, where Katniss and Peeta visit each of the districts and Capitol are emotionally-loaded and filled with a loud and resounding call for revolution. The games prove to be even more interesting and dangerous – with seasoned veterans and tentative alliances leading to tension-wrought scenes of dialogue and action.
Trish Summerville has created absolutely phenomenal costumes for this film. All of the costumes are visually sumptuous and breathtakingly intricate. It feels like a couture show – gowns, menswear, coats, and even the winter clothes worn in District 12. The costumes are a part of the story – creating the gap between the excess of the Capitol and the desperation in the districts. Katniss’ dresses even become a sign of rebellion against the tyranny of President Snow.
Haves and have-nots are still a central theme to the Hunger Games mythos, but the increasing Capitol presence and dissent in the districts and specifically in Katniss’ life is a great allusion to our times – with increased national security, privacy issues and war as pressing and controversial issues in our media.
Catching Fire is everything we look for in a blockbuster film – it is spectacular, sleek, and full of action, a great story and great performances. The Odds are definitely in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’s favor.