“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is a step up from the lacking first installment in the series, and is smart and smoothly directed by Francis Lawrence and features a strong cast. It explores the series central themes in greater detail and features a cleverly written script that proves to be thought-provoking for the audience.
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) have returned to District 12 following their victory in the 74th annual Hunger Games. Immediately upon arriving home, the two must turn around and head back out on the “Victor’s Tour”, traveling to all 12 districts to showcase their bravery and courage. Katniss senses a rebellion is near, but the capitol, led by President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is well in control. With the 75th Hunger Games approaching (the Third Quarter Quell), the events that occur may eventually change Panem and the 12 districts forever.
“Catching Fire” is very well crafted in the sense that it entertains without trying to be too funny, foreshadows without ruining the story, and progresses the plot without feeling rushed. Francis Lawrence took a big step forward with his work as director of the 2nd installment in the series. The camera work in this film is much better than the original. The adapted screenplay written by Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt is both fresh and clever. It sticks to the central theme of the Mockingjay, foreshadowing towards the future 2-part finale that will hit theaters in both 2014 and 2015. They consistently show signs of all districts of Panem rising up in unity to work together against the enemy, the capitol. Likewise, its freshness provides a considerable amount of laughs that is worth noting. Though at times it feels forced, most of the one-liners, especially the ones delivered by Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), connect. The mix between entertainment and basic plot development makes the script flow well together and is easy to sit through.
The costume designing is, like the first film, exceptional. Though we never learn in the first film why the people from the capitol dress as extreme as they do, we still see it. So regardless of the reason why the costumes of the citizens of the capitol are so extreme, they are designed very well and depict a great image of the type of city it is. Similarly, the scenery created for the film is also beautiful. Though it doesn’t compare to the likes of “Lord of the Rings”, it is still made with a keen eye to detail. The arena is made flawlessly, and the capitol city looks stunning. Even the districts visited are constructed well.
Though the film revolves around its two main characters in Katniss and Peeta, a lot of credit must be handed to the supporting cast of this film. You would expect nothing less than a terrific performance from Lawrence, and ask and you shall receive. Hutcherson as Peeta is nowhere near as good as some of the others actors in the film. He doesn’t show enough emotion in his character, and keeps the same facial expression throughout the film’s entirety. Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket is just a work of art. From her costume to her voice fluctuation and back to her outrageous costume, Banks plays her wonderfully, never leaving character. Woody Harrelson is always a class act, and his performance as H, the drunk mentor, is for comedic purposes. He succeeds. Stanley Tucci as Caesar is a very good show host and should consider pursuing that profession in real life; he is serious about his character and provides laughs for both the show he is hosting and the viewers of the film. Finally, it’s great to see Philip Seymour Hoffman appear in the series as the new director of the Hunger Games, Plutarch. Though his role is small in this film, he makes good use of his time on screen. Look for Hoffman to play a key role in the upcoming films.
None of the negatives are entirely detrimental, but here there are some things that could have been addressed. Some of the plot scenarios seemed forced; the times that they appear are very unlikely to occur and they feel forced into the script. Also, similar to the previous sentence, certain scenarios arise that end with outcomes that are not plausible. Rather than letting things end the way the film is projecting them to end, the writers insert a curve ball that throws things off a bit. Sometimes this works out, other times it doesn’t. It’s nothing huge, but just little things here and there that make it seem like every other film.
Overall, “Catching Fire” does what it needed to as a film to continue the journey towards a rebellion. It is similar to the first in plot, but it explores its central themes much further. It is definitely entertaining and something that you will want to watch. It appeals to a broad audience and can be enjoyed by fans of many different genres, featuring moments of action, drama, romance, and comedy. It is a key component to the trajectory of the finale that will be split into two separate films. It is certainly not the best film of the year, but it is a step up from the original and foreshadows great things to come in the final two films. 4/5 stars.