(WARNING: MILD SPOILERS)
One would imagine that surviving the 74th Hunger Games would be something to celebrate. Awarded with homes of their very own to keep their families living comfortably for the rest of their lives and more money than either of them will ever need,
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) have returned safe and sound to their homes in District 12, but a storm is now brewing and it is President Snow’s belief that this is as a result of Katniss’s actions during the Games. Rebellions and uprisings have begun in other Districts, and it is now left to President Snow (Donald Sutherland) to eradicate this problem.
He announces that the “Quarter Quell,” an event marked by every 25 years of the Games, would be introducing a new twist for the 75th annual Hunger Games. The surviving victors from the previous years would be the sole names in the drawing for the Reaping, instead of the entire lot of each district, throwing Katniss and Peeta back into the fray. And it doesn’t end there. Allowing both Peeta and Katniss to live has resulted in Seneca Crane’s termination, resulting in the appointment of a new head gamemaker,
Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), who is teaming with President Snow to destroy Katniss’s reputation as a symbol of hope just before their planned time for her ultimate demise.
Now, as a fan of the books as well, the first installment of the series was my favorite out of the other reads, but the film Catching Fire is ultimately the winner against its 2012 predecessor, The Hunger Games. Under the guidance of its new director, Francis Lawrence, Catching Fire ditches the overabundant use of the hand-held shaky cam made infamous in the first movie and packs a heavy punch with its great ensemble cast. Along with its returning company of characters including the gruff Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), the exuberantly gaudy Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), the blue-wigged Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), and the inspirational Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), Catching Fire opens the door for some new faces like the charming Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin; Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Snow White & the Huntsman), the feisty Johanna Mason (Jenna Malone; Donnie Darko and Pride & Prejudice), the ingenious Beetee Latier (Jeffrey Wright; Casino Royale and HBO’s Boardwalk Empire), and the nutty-but-clever Wiress (Amanda Plummer; Pulp Fiction and So I Married An Axe Murderer).
There are a few snags in the movie, but the gripes are minor at best. Given the fact that the Quarter Quell would comprise of a number of pretty vicious former champions, one might be anticipating some serious gladiatorial death matches when facing the other competitors in the arena that would make Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” look like child’s play in comparison. Unfortunately, the Games this time around are much more centered around a survival-of-the-fittest scenario where the tributes battle the elements more often than each other, and that seems to downplay the overall lethal intensity that the original games from the previous book/film delivered.
Also, the chemistry between Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss and Liam Hemsworth’s Gale doesn’t really seem to have that spark, urging you to really care one way or the other about this side of the supposed ‘love triangle.’ Thankfully though, Hutcherson and Lawrence do play off one another much better this time around, and their budding romance does actually build traction. As for the buildup to the fight in the arena, it does justify itself against all odds. Normally when second installment movies such as this come about that require a lot of dialog-driven plot for over the first half of the picture, audiences are left with sinking eyelids and a wide yawns (Yes, I’m talking to you, Lord of the Rings: The Tower Towers!). Surprising, Catching Fire swells in its heavy-hearted first half, laying down not only the groundwork for the climax of the movie, but to the overall storyline of the franchise as well.
The themes of hope, independence, devotion, and sacrifice in the book translate beautifully to the screen, and Jennifer Lawrence, as always, brings her A-game. Katniss is a deserving protagonist and a worthy role model to readers and viewers alike. The one drawback… The end. Granted, that sounds like a major problem, but it’s really not. It’s one thing to leave the audience yearning for more, but just as the book did, the movie concludes on a note that has us demanding for more information, more material… But alas, just as you find yourself as hooked as ever, the mockingjay symbol comes on screen, and the chorus of moaning at the realization that this second installment was over begins. (Literally, that’s what happened at the viewing I attended.)
The movie does in fact leave on a cliffhanger. For me, this was acceptable for the book, since I started reading the series after all the installments were already released, because I could just pick up Mockingjay to find out what happened next. But as far as movies go, I’m a bit more a fan of finality to a certain degree. Sure, I’m used to being teased by filmmakers dropping in additional scenes that hint at what is to come, but to just end abruptly really does inspire you to want to moan as well. Catching Fire didn’t really seem to end. Sure, it had end credits, but cutting to black doesn’t mean that the movie actually concluded.
Overall though, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is still a worthy 4 out of 5 stars.