72%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (3 Votes)
70%

When I saw the first installment of The Hunger Games I went with a date. Upon arriving at the theater I was asked what film we were going to see. I responded with, “The Hunger Games.” She replied with, “Is that a weight-loss movie?” A legitimate question if one hadn’t heard of the books or seen a commercial in the three months leading up to its opening. Unfortunately, I can only say that I returned her question with laughter, and I’m sure this made her feel as awkward as our night out became. It ended early and I’m assuming with her forgetting me as quickly as I was hoping to forget the film. I was not a fan, however, the recently released sequel, Catching Fire, left me doubting my premature judgment on the series.

The first two-thirds of the film are quite predictable, but it is the finale that leaves you wanting more. The final third is not executed to perfection mind you, but the strength of the perception shifts are enough to make this film rise above the average clutter of most blockbusters. Jennifer Lawrence makes do with the reluctant and stubborn hero, Katniss Everdeen. After winning the previous year’s Hunger Games, she is forced to conduct a tour with fellow winner and District 12 resident, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Her love interest, Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), is not fond of this situation as Katniss and Peeta won the Hunger Games together by pretending to be in love.

Regardless of the characters’ internal objections to this the show must go on, at least according to President Snow. The leader of the dystopian and futuristic nation of Panem, is played by Donald Sutherland, and he conveys to Katniss that she and Peeta must serve as a distraction to the other districts as revolution is being whispered amongst their citizens. While on the tour, the two fail to impress Snow and under the counsel of his new game-maker, Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), the president decides to make this 75th Hunger Games a Quarter Quell edition. Previous winners from each district are selected, and only naturally Katniss and Peeta are the chosen tributes from District 12. Thus the games begin.

Having over twice the budget from the first film, Catching Fire, relives some of the introductory moments with even more flair. This works in some ways, and not so much in others. The long shots of the scenery and special effects are wonderful in this film, especially in a scene where Katniss’ dress burns up in flames. However, everything in the capitol, including the supporting characters residing in it, seems mostly from a bad Tim Burton film. The costumes and makeup are too eccentric that it made me roll my eyes. However, that isn’t to say those actors in the silly costumes and makeup aren’t exceptional. Elizabeth Banks is wonderful as Effie, and shows her allegiance and fondness towards Peeta and Katniss even behind her masks. Stanley Tucci is again great as the annoying host of a celebrity show that features the Hunger Games participants. Despite being over-the-top in the design categories, there are more pros than cons in Catching Fire.

Hunger Games Catching Fire

Lawrence does well to hold the film together as Katniss, although the range of the role is pretty limited. While the love interests of Peeta and Gale are given more lines and spotlight, the young actors are still not given much to work with. The supporting roles are where this film shines. Woody Harrelson returning as the drunken mentor of Haymitch is again wonderful as he guides us through again the politics of forging alliances and winning public relations battles. Jenna Malone and Sam Clafin are spot on in their performances of fellow tributes Johanna and Finnick.

The real improvement of the film is through the directorial hand of Francis Lawrence. He guides the film smoothly enough in the shaky early goings on of the film that we are left more interested in the politics and relationships built between the characters before than the games themselves. He does well with the action, but some scenes obviously were there to please fans of Suzanne Collins’ novels. The film is two hours and 30 minutes, and should have either been cut down by 20 minutes or shown more attention to the characters instead of the action. The effects during the games are great and it does get the blood pumping, but I found myself wanting to know more about the new characters instead of their martial and survival abilities.

Catching Fire is no doubt a much improved product compared to its predecessor. There were many opportunities where it could have stumbled and suffered the fate many sequels do – not improving upon the original – but the pacing and smooth transition from scene to scene throughout its entirety make it worth seeing. One can only hope that this director can improve even more on this series throughout the final two installments.

Details

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – Lionsgate
Runtime: 146 minutes
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Written by Michael Arndt, Suzanne Collins and Simon Beaufoy

 

About The Author

Nate Davis

Nate Davis is the managing editor for Filmtakeout. Along with overseeing the content that gets posted on the site, Nate contributes a weekly column and review. Nate graduated from the University of Iowa with a B.A. in Journalism and Cinema. He worked for the University of Iowa's Center for Media Production as an intern, production assistant and writer. Nate also writes for a website devoted to covering soccer, and has a blog that includes all his work.