I’m a pretty big fan of The Hunger Games series of books. I tore through them in a day and while Catching Fire isn’t my favorite in the series, it does have the most intriguing setups in the trilogy. The production for Catching Fire has notably gone through a bit of trouble with its change of directors (now helmed by Francis Lawrence), and most fans (including myself) were worried about the nature of the adaptation given the original Hunger Games film had a fair share of problems.
The trailers for Catching Fire showed a film that seemed to learn from its predecessor’s mistakes (less shaky cam footage, more balanced use of color, Phillip Seymour Hoffman joined the cast), so does the final product hold up to the potential of the series? Is The Hunger Games: Catching Fire hotter than a fantasy or is it filled with catastrophe? Read on for the answer!
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Director: Francis Lawrence
Release Date: November 22, 2013
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire takes place shortly after the events of The Hunger Games as Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) begin their Victory Tour, a ceremony across the twelve districts of Panem after their victory at the 74th Hunger Games. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) fears that Panem will go through an uprising, so he tries to get rid of Katniss by throwing her into the 75th Hunger Games (or the Quarter Quell) with 23 other previous winners.
If that sounds like, pardon the pun, malarkey to you because you’ve just joined the series, there’s no setup to help ease you in. So Catching Fire won’t win any new fans that haven’t invested the time, unfortunately. While there are multiple mentions of the events of the previous film shoehorned into the dialogue, you’ll be hit with so much jargon and kooky names (and at such a fast pace), that it’ll seem like buzzing noises for the most part. That jargon won’t bother fans, however. And thankfully most of it stops halfway into the film when it gets to the actual games.
One of the biggest problems with the original film, for old and new fans alike, was how the time spent building up to the actual Hunger Games themselves was used shoddily building character. Since the Katniss in the novel version is so methodical and hardly speaks, it became a detriment to the visual version when everyone would just speak AT Jennifer Lawrence while she put on her best Grumpy McGrumpterton face. Thankfully, given the darker turn for series (Katniss’ life is directly threatened at all times), Lawrence is given more to do than stoneface into the distance. And when Lawrence is given more to do, the rest of the setup comes together.
Rather than have everyone in the film sort of stumble around with melancholy (therefore making it dreadfully boring to watch when not executed well), the greater part of the film is dedicated to revealing the political struggles in Panem thanks to Katniss’ action in the Games. During their Victory Tour we’re allowed to see most of the other Districts in some kind of anguish using Katniss as a sort of symbol. Catching Fire finally Capitol-izes on the sociological criticism promised in the first film. In the same breath, however, that stuff isn’t given enough screen time (something has to be saved for the next two sequels, I suppose). As the sequel chooses to focus more on Katniss’ relationships than on her world (as most of the rebellions happen outside of Katniss’ singular vision), the film runs into some unsuspected problems.
With so much focus on Katniss, it sheds a light on how terrible her love interests are. While Josh Hutcherson as Peeta emotionally gets more room to play around, it turns out he’s really bad at it. Every time Hutcherson speaks, there’s a wooden quality to it that’s not much different from when Peeta’s supposed to be faking his romance with Katniss. It becomes such a problem when a scene is meant to play out romantically instead feels forced or cornball when you can count on your fingers the five second pauses in between everyone’s lines. And Liam Hemsworth as Gale? He’s just a guy who says one thing, then something violent happens to him, and then does nothing again. Neither of the main males do anything for this “love triangle” that’s being pushed here.
Now to finally get to why you’re all here. How does the film look? Pretty damn swell. Compared to shaky action of the first film, Catching Fire does a far better job presenting action scenes. The actual games are a beauty to behold with an arena that’s gorgeous (although the jungle setting could’ve used more vibrant colors in this drab greyish blob of a movie). There are also some impressive shots, with one crane shot in particular (both in the technical and physical sense, you’ll see what I mean) looking absolutely gorgeous as Lawrence goes through a bevy of emotions.
There are more than a few needless close ups of Lawrence crying but, for the most part, it all works. The only unfortunate stickler seems to be a wavering when trying to view something from far away. It’s like the cameraman couldn’t find quite exactly what he’s supposed to be pointing at during certain scenes.
Although the film could use more color, at least it’s mostly acted well. Other than the rough romantic patches mentioned before, now that the games are filled with adults instead of kids that still need acting school, everyone is cast well. Elizabeth Banks is wonderfully hammy as the colorful Effie (although that ham did lead to unintentional comedy during some dramatic moments), Woody Harrelson is Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz is Lenny Kravitz and not much else, Stanley Tucci is still great, Jeffrey Wright plays a great oddball genius, Sam Claflin is attractive as the attractive Finnick, Jena Malone needs to be in more things, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman should have been in the series since the beginning.
But while the film looks better and has better content available, it doesn’t save it from its overall cornball nature. A lot of imagery and exposition are dealt with a heavy hand (you’ll know what I mean by the final scene), but at least it seems to be trying harder than the first film. Fans of the book series or fans of the first Hunger Games will love what they’re given here as there’s plenty to chew on (the cliffhanger’s even better!). But for those who don’t like Hunger Games in general, nothing here will convince you otherwise.
All in all, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire does indeed have both feet on the ground, and it’s burning it down…but hopefully future flames will be brighter.