“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” dominated the box office on its opening weekend, earning over ten times more than its runner up, and it’s easy to see why.
Note: If you haven’t yet seen the original “Hunger Games,” this review may contain spoilers.
Taking off from where its predecessor ended, “Catching Fire,” released Nov. 22, continued the story of Katniss and Peeta after their unprecedented dual victory in Panem’s 74th Hunger Games.
But they don’t feel like winners. The dictatorial Capitol still reigns over the twelve poorer districts, and with tensions high after the couple’s act of love and defiance in the arena, the government is more strict than ever. Katniss and Peeta face the struggle of trying to help the impoverished districts without enraging the Capitol and making matters worse.
Expectations for “Catching Fire” started out low. While its forerunner was enjoyable and quite admirably not-terrible, overall it was disappointingly underwhelming. The original “Hunger Games” had bits and pieces of the action, suspense and emotional turmoil of the book, but when director Gary Ross tried to throw them all together, it seemed rather like eating tomato sauce and spices without the pasta: it was alright but lacked any real substance.
With a different team of screenwriters and a new director Francis Lawrence, “Catching Fire” completely revamped the franchise. Simply put, every aspect and nuance the first movie so valiantly tried to capture, “Catching Fire” actually did well.
My general opinion of the books is that while the first book was better written, the second had a much more interesting plot, focusing more on the resistance against the cruel Capitol while the first seemed to focus solely on Katniss and her struggle in the games. In the movie series, “Catching Fire” brought to life the stronger story while also being better put together to boot.
Whereas the first movie strove but failed to effectively convey Katniss’ emotional plight from protecting her family, faking love for Peeta, and simply competing in the games while ruthlessly killing to stay alive, “Catching Fire” plays with your emotions like a caffeinated kid plays with a new teddy bear made of pure sugar. The sacrifices and moral choices each character must make are brilliantly projected onto the audience, and it’s hard to not feel the struggle against the Capitol. Very few movies have touched my emotions, but “Catching Fire” definitely makes the list.
Of course, to project such powerful ethos, a movie needs good acting. Jennifer Lawrence puts on a brilliant performance as Katniss. Lawrence somehow manages to outwardly express the emotional turmoil Katniss feels inside, a feat many actors utterly fail to replicate. Josh Hutcherson as Peeta in my opinion falls into the slightly-less-impressive category, but he pulls his own weight well enough to play the part. The rest of the cast, including Woody Harrelson as Haymitch and Liam Hemsworth as Gale, created on-point portrayals of their characters, and overall the acting in “Catching Fire” is terrific and believable. Many of the characters themselves must act to create their images and reputations for the media, and the cast of Catching Fire are uncannily good at acting as actors. There’s a rather subtle nuance to playing a character who is acting—they must be convincing enough to move the plot, but at the same time slightly off to show the audience that the character is acting. It’s quite difficult to explain, and I’d imagine it’d be much more difficult to actually pull off, but the cast does so splendidly.
To back up the emotional aspects of the movie, “Catching Fire” includes some intense action scenes. Somewhat uncharacteristically in comparison to many modern movies, the action is not created by loud noises and explosions, but quite the opposite. Much of the movie’s intensity comes from the silence. The overall lack of noise enhances the suspense, drawing the audience into the deadly environment before the danger realizes itself. The heavy emphasis on suspense in the action scenes complements the emotional struggle already so well done. The fear, the adrenaline rush and the sense of impending doom created by the action scenes add to the mile-long list of feelings “Catching Fire” invokes.
Overall, “Catching Fire” is fantastic. Both the emotional and action-oriented sides of the story connect and complement each other brilliantly, and, in between all the many feelings, the movie even manages to throw in some humor. “Catching Fire” puts its predecessor to shame. A must-see for the Thanksgiving Break.
“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” runs 146 min. and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation, and language.