The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The Hunger Games- Catching Fire

  • Catching Fire is superior to its predecessor and might also be better than its source material. At the very least, it equals the novel.
  • Unlike the original movie, this one is haunting. It doesn’t make the Hunger Games themselves horrific, per se, but it does draw attention to Panem’s inequities and injustice. In so doing, it more faithfully investigates the novels’ themes, which gives it allegorical weight the first movie lacked.
  • The film is also true to the book’s characters. Writers Michael Arndt and Simon Beaufoy and Director Francis Lawrence develop Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) well and make us feel her fear and disgust at every turn.
  • They also skillfully characterize important side players Johanna Mason (scene stealer Jena Malone), Finnick Odair (Sam Clafin), Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), Primrose Everdeen (Willow Shields), President Snow (Donald Sutherland), and Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman).
  • The only character on whom Arndt, Beaufoy and Lawrence stumble is an important one: Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). While they capture Peeta’s devotion and loyalty to Katniss, they only hint at his emotional response to the Capital’s manipulation and underhanded tactics. Peeta is the most important character to Katniss, which means he should be the script’s second most significant. Instead, he often fades into the background.
  • It is a minor flaw, however, because it doesn’t limit the film’s effectiveness. Ditto that for the fact that Catching Fire ends without plot resolution.
  • Why? Because this picture is about Katniss and how she . . . well . . . catches fire. From beginning to end (especially in the final shot), Lawrence, the director, focuses on Katniss’ path, and he resolves it, even if he doesn’t find a great plot-break.
  • The director’s cast, every member of it, helps him. A lot. None more so than his star. Jennifer Lawrence’s performance is special. Very. She carries Catching Fire and channels emotion in almost every scene. We know her character, largely because of how well Lawrence fades into her, so much so that we forget we’re watching a reigning Oscar winner.
  • Jena Malone’s performance is equally remarkable. As a teenager, Malone seemed destined for stardom, but it has eluded her thus far, for whatever reason. Perhaps this performance will garner the recognition she deserves. In limited screen time, Malone is striking.
  • Yet, Catching Fire is not without some additional flaws. The nighttime scenes are a bit underlit, perhaps, and the director uses a few too many close ups. Furthermore, the pacing lags a touch in the middle and the writers all but omit mention of District 13, which eventually proves problematic.
  • But the flaws are minor and the strengths (including its amazing costumes and the way it never feels repetitive of the first movie) are prevalent. This is an excellent film.
  • Final Grade: B+

29 thoughts on “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

  1. Good review. First one is still a bit better in my mind, but nonetheless, I still look forward to what’s next with this story, and for these characters that I actually care a lot about.

    • I saw you say the same in your review last night. And it’s a fair opinion.

      I side with Catching Fire. Why? I think the first suffers from an important contradiction. It decries the western world’s violent culture, but loses the book’s haunting, horrific tone. Which means it screams about violence, at the same time it glorifies it. The movie was still good, mind you, but this contradiction limits, in my opinion, its thematic power.

      This one, I think, avoids that contradiction. The games themselves might not haunt us, but the movie as a whole certainly does.

    • I don’t think anyone does. πŸ˜‰

      I liked the first, as well. There’s a lot it did well, and the changes it made to the novel served it (except, perhaps, for the silly reaction shots of Gale). Other than shaky cam, it’s biggest issue was it didn’t feel haunting. It felt fun.

      This one doesn’t suffer from those issues, has the first’s merits, and finds new strengths all its own. It is near fantastic and is certainly very, very good.

  2. Hi James! The trailer looks quite dark and like you said, haunting. Glad the film lives up to that and it doesn’t shy away from the dark themes. VERY excited to see this next week!

    • Completely agreed on both points.

      I think I’ve said it before on this page, but the first novel is one of my favorite books ever. It’s in my Top Ten. Might be in my Top Five.

      And I’ve read a whole lot of novels. πŸ™‚

  3. Good Review πŸ˜€

    It was a great film, really liked it a lot. Thought it was a fantastic improvement over the first, and I cannot wait for the next one, especially after that ending πŸ˜€

    • Thanks you.

      Back in the early 2000s, she was the “it” girl in indie films looking for a young actor to play troubled teens (Donnie Darko – 2001; Life as a House – 2001; Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys – 2002; etc) and she was fantastic in every role. Since then, she’s sort of faded from prominence, from some reason or another.

      Though her turn The Hatfields and McCoys (2012) was pretty exceptional. So was, as you say, Into the Wild. I’m hoping she becomes a more used character actor again. I was a fan when she was a teenager and I’m still one.

  4. Excellent review bud.

    “Unlike the original movie, this one is haunting. It doesn’t make the Hunger Games themselves horrific, per se, but it does draw attention to Panem’s inequities and injustice.” – very well said. That’s pretty much exactly my sentiment about this, and how this was a huge improvement upon the first (which is a feat in itself since sequels tend to struggle)

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