By: Bryan Montgomery
Rating: 9 out of 10
When The Hunger Games came out in early 2012, Hollywood saw the emergence of a new and surely popular franchise. However, the first film had drastic flaws, many of which fell on the shoulders of the director, Gary Ross, who seemed to favor style over substance. Regardless, The Hunger Games was a massive box office success and set the stage for the remainder of the franchise to hit theaters. The second installment comes in the form of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which more than makes up for the flaws of the first film, making an intense thriller driven by smart pacing, outstanding directing and another top-tier performance by Jennifer Lawrence.
After winning the 74th Hunger Games with her fellow District 12 resident Petta Mallark (Josh Hutcherson), Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) is forced to parade around the districts as part of the “Victory Tour”. As the tour closes, Katniss starts to realize that her actions in the arena have begun to influence rebellion amongst the districts. This is only confirmed by President Coriolanus Snow, who, to hopefully abstain the rampantly increasing chances of rebellion, announces the third quarter quell on the 75th anniversary of the Hunger Games, creating a game consisting of surviving tributes. Suddenly, Katniss is thrown back into the fray, now having to battle the Capitol itself while she now must stay alive against other trained killers.
The first Hunger Games was a solid film but ultimately fell short of lofty expectations due to a series of missteps, especially regarding the end of the film. Losing pace during the last 45 minutes of the movie, Ross struggled to throw together the pieces needed for the rightful conclusion, resulting in a hobbled mess in what should have been a heart-stopping ending. Catching Fire more than makes up for these mistakes, as director Francis Lawrence is true to the source material, creating a riveting adventure that is as gripping as it is exciting.
As always, the focal point of the plot is Katniss, and Lawrence once again knocks it out of the park as the Titular character of the saga. She truly understands the character of Katniss and shows it throughout the film, as the emotions that the protagonist is forced to deal with throughout vary in intensity, but Lawrence is able to bring it to the table and make her character immensely believable at all points of the film. The stakes are exponentially raised in the second Hunger Games installment, as an early meeting with Snow sets the tone for the rest of the film, and Lawrence’s reactions and mannerisms during the film drives the tension.
While the first film lagged in the latter third, Catching Fire gathers its footing early and doesn’t lay off of the accelerator. A glance at the films 2 ½ hour runtime may result in a bit of anxiety towards the pacing of the film, but Lawrence is able to make the time fly by as the action in District 12 and the arena are handled very well. One major component to this is the addition of several characters that nearly steal the show in their own rights.
The first new star entering the franchise is Sam Claflin, known for his roles in 2011’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman. Playing Capitol darling Finnick Odair, Claflin perfectly embodies the unpredictability of the players in Catching Fire, especially if you have not read the book there is an aura of uncertainty towards what side said character is working with. The same can be said for Johanna Mason, played by a show-stealing Jena Malone. From her memorable first scene with the main characters in an elevator to her experience in the arena embodies the cockiness and anger of Johanna to an immensely strong degree.
Perhaps the best addition to the cast is Philip Seymour Hoffman, who takes on the role of Plutarch Heavensbee. The intensity and class that Heavensbee brings to the role is mind-blowing, as the seasoned acting veteran makes a major splash early on. I will be the first to admit that I did not read the book prior to seeing the film. Not knowing Heavensbee’s role in the primary story arc provided a drastic and great surprise when everything finally fell into place at the end of the story.
All of Catching Fire’s moving parts culminate into the newest arena, which is where the movie really finds its own footing as more than a simple book adaptation. Catching Fire utilizes an immensely strong first two acts to develop into an unbelievably tense, exciting and action-packed third that does not lay off the accelerator until the end of the film.
Again, this goes more for individuals who are less intertwined with the standard canon of the Hunger Games books, but the sole negative part of the film is how it all ends, especially the suddenness of the conclusion. After two and a half hours of non-stop action, more of a resolution would have been an easier way for viewers to let the intensity of Catching Fire go away. The sudden stop to the film is jarring but in several ways, impactful as it leaves you with bated breath waiting for the next installment, set to hit theaters in 2014.
Catching Fire blows the first Hunger Games film out of the water. A more complete cast, headlined once again by the outstanding Jennifer Lawrence along with the intensity and action-packed nature of the story brings everything to a head, creating an absolutely outstanding second installment that is sure to entertain fans and non-converts alike. Definitely worth at least one view but begging for multiple viewings, Catching Fire skyrockets the Hunger Games franchise into the upper echelon of epic blockbuster sagas and will certainly create widespread excitement and expectation for the next chapter of this outstanding saga.