Directed by Francis Lawrence
Are you familiar with the phrase ‘never judge a book by its movie’? Movies often have the tendency to deviate from the original work because of the inexplainable minds of some Hollywood directors. They wish to explore themes beyond the given source material and elaborate further on the plot and characters. This trend is nothing new, but looking at recent film adaptations there is an obvious risk of messing up the entire production. Director Thor Freudenthal did it to Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters that is based on the novels by Rick Riordan. Same thing happened this summer to Harald Zwart with the first movie in The Mortal Instruments franchise. It’s good to see that this common mistake has not been made in the second movie in the well-known and highly anticipated The Hunger Games trilogy. Director Francis Lawrence (not in any kind related to JLaw) has managed to take the franchise to a whole new level. Catching Fire is everything a sequel needs to be: more explosiveness, more emotions and an excellent start to a promising two-part finale.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with The Hunger Games, check out my review of the first movie over here. In Catching Fire our heroes, Katniss (Lawrence) and Peeta (Hutcherson), embark on an obligatory ‘Victor’s Tour’ through the dystopian world of Panem. Soon they find themselves in another Hunger Games, even more dangerous than the previous one, with only past victors. Welcome to the Quarter Quell.
Just like many of you, I was very excited to watch the second part of the trilogy. I even traveled to a town nearby so I could enjoy the IMAX version and it gladly paid off, even though my expectations were sky high for this one.
After defying the wishes of the Capitol, Katniss becomes the symbol of hope in many districts. She becomes their mockingjay. Her reluctance and inner conflict to accept this position leads to a threat from President Snow (Sutherland) himself. Lawrence beautifully shows us, the audience, how her character is confined in a power struggle between the rich and the poor, between Snow and the People of Panem, in the first half hour of the movie.
Primrose Everdeen: Since the last games, something is different. I can see it.
Katniss Everdeen: What can you see?
Primrose Everdeen: Hope.
Since there is a huge socio-economic difference between the Capitol and District 12, the director makes good use of that by using an overflow of juxtapositions throughout the story. The vibrant setting of the Capitol is shown against the grim circumstances in other districts. How about for instance a drink that makes you puke so you can taste every dish you want? Those are part of the novel too and that’s what makes the movie even better than part one. By closely sticking to the source material, Catching Fire has resulted into a vibrant and dynamic sequel without the need to become repetitive.
The visuals are an essential supporting factor in making all this come true. There are scenes like the Jabberjays/Katniss scene that have elevated the entire outlook of the story onto a battle of the minds. Let me clarify. Part one primarily focused on the dystopian setting, but this part goes to greater lengths. It also adds the psychology behind a character to full details and by doing so it appeals to the audience’s emotions from a new angle.
One of the newcomers is Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee, the new Head Gamemaker. His overall appeal in one-on-one shots with President Snow are one of the best new additions. However, the supporting actor that steals the show is definitely Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickermann. Let’s just say that his presence won’t go unnoticed: he has this energy that humanizes every aspect of the Games and I absolutely love his killer smile.
Something that didn’t bug me in Catching Fire was the removal of the constant shaky shots that director Gary Ross used in the first part. I did however like how those shaky shots were used in the poorer districts as to show how fragile they are, but I was happy with the wide shots. On the contrary, the scene transitions felt unnatural and forced but that didn’t take away the overall effect of the movie. Also, I initially expected some kind of direct interaction between Peeta and Gale (Hemsworth), but I am glad none of it happened because the movie isn’t about love triangles as it sets straight priorities for its main protagonist Katniss. The girl on fire got more important things on her mind.
In the end, Catching Fire is everything for everyone. It’s entertaining on all levels, but remains consciously aware of important themes like hope and belief. Let’s not overhype it though: it’s got a mediocre story. What sets apart this movie is not the story, but the tremendous acting by an excellent cast that will take your breath away in seconds.