The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the much-anticipated sequel to The Hunger Games, a film about young Katniss Everdeen, who is thrust into a battle tournament to save herself and her family.
In Catching Fire, she must deal with the consequences of her actions in the first film, while still trying to stay one step ahead of the leaders in the Capitol that still want her head.
Director Francis Lawrence’s Catching Fire is far better than its predecessor, Gary Ross’s The Hunger Games. The original suffered from poor cinematography and even worse editing, which often resulted in a feeling of motion sickness or disorientation. Thankfully, Lawrence chose Jo Willems over Tom Stern to serve as director of photography, so most of the camera work is much better.
The editing in Catching Fire was also done by Alan Edward Bell, as opposed to the three separate editors of the original. These few changes alone move the film out of its near-unwatchable state, which was only rescued by the pure charm of Jennifer Lawrence (No relation to the director).
The real work, then, is in the story. In broad themes, this film deals with friendship, loyalty and oppression. Specifically, it is about rebellion, propaganda, the influence of the media and trust without reason. This is where the rest of the cast comes in.
Everyone has a larger role, including the favorites from the last film such as Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth, with large roles for Donald Sutherland and the new introduction, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Each of these actors and their characters is important now, both in their relationship to Jennifer Lawrence and the obvious setup to the next two films. Jennifer Lawrence’s charisma as an actress is, again, what keeps this franchise viable, as her vulnerability and determination is both relatable and an example for moviegoers.
Each of the characters represents something different, themes that will presumably be addressed in the next installments but are being introduced now. Most of them exist in duality with another character, a person who is similar, except in their core beliefs.
Harrelson’s Haymitch Abernathy represents intelligence and cunning, a valuable resource for Katniss in the rebellion, though he will trample others if need be. Banks, his counterpart, stands for empathy, although she may not know it. There are some small moments with her character, Effie Trinket, that reveal something larger about her motivations. She has sent many competitors to their deaths, with Katniss being the only survivor.
She desperately tries to ensure that Katniss survives now, in the vastly different game of the political arena, but is constantly ignored, leaving her hardened and heartbroken.
Sutherland’s President Snow, and by proxy, Stanley Tucci’s Caesar Flickerman, are the icons that are desperately trying to hold the country together, but still it slips through their fingers. Hoffman’s Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee, a replacement for the original film’s Seneca Crane, is a foil for Sutherland. The scenes they have together are electric, and Hoffman is even better when they’re apart.
Hutcherson’s Peeta stands for peace, according to director Francis Lawrence. His foil, Hemsworth’s Gale, speaks for war, or at least rebellion.
“Both believe that their path is the right path,” Lawrence said. “And each of those paths has consequences.”
The film isn’t perfect, but the improvements are more than enough to keep the franchise going. Some of the difficulties stem from the adaptation, and there are some holes in narrative that are obviously missing in comparison with the books.
Another issue, though not so much a problem, is that there isn’t a lot of creativity involved. Director Lawrence is well-known for getting emotional performances out of his actors, as seen in films like Water for Elephants, but a lot of other factors are rather bland.
After the frenetic mess of the first film, perhaps it was necessary to tone it down some, but there is little in this film to make it a great movie.
It is, however, fun, thrilling and watchable, so these complaints are all rather minor.
The runtime is 146 minutes, but it definitely doesn’t feel too long.