Review - The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013), PG-13, 146 minutes - Followers of my blog know how much I enjoyed the books and the first film in The Hunger Games franchise (those who don't can catch up here).  They also know that I try to be relatively spoiler free but as one could probably guess, that can be hard with sequels.  Especially when they are clearly planned as a multi-installment story.  If you haven't either seen last year's The Hunger Games or read the books, not only do I highly recommend that you do, but I also warn you against reading further as there are just some things that I won't be able to avoid.  Ok, now that that's out of the way...

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire picks up almost a year after Katniss (Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) were declared co-victors of The Hunger Games.  They are about to embark on a Victor's Tour leading up to the next Hunger Games when President Snow (Donald Sutherland) pays Katniss a visit.  He not-so-kindly reminds her that he doesn't believe that she and Peeta are truly in love and that they just played the part to sway public opinion and force the capital's hand in allowing co-victors.  Their victory (and defiance of the Capital) in the last Games has sparked a bit of an uprising in some of the Districts.  Katniss finds herself in an impossible situation: either convincingly prove that she and Peeta are in love and on the side of the Capital or the lives of those closest to her will be taken.  When the Victor's Tour comes to an end, President Snow isn't convinced of their love and announces that the participants of the next Hunger Games (the 75th - known as a Quarter Qwell) will be reaped from the living winners of prior Games.  As the only female victor from District 12, Katniss instantly knows that she'll be thrown back into the arena.  What Katniss doesn't realize is that her actions which she sees on a small scale, have on a greater scale, given the people of Panem something to rally around.  Unknowingly, she has become the symbol of a fledgling revolution and there is much more at stake than just she or Peeta surviving a second Hunger Games (he volunteers as tribute so that Haymitch does not have to return to the arena).

Catching Fire did an excellent job following up The Hunger Games. It didn't waste any time setting up the new status quo in Katniss and Peta's lives, doing so with quite a bit of emotional impact.  More than  I honestly expected.  The love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is believable, and is portrayed without ever feeling sappy, forced, or dominating the overall story.  This is accomplished courtesy of excellent portrayals from Lawrence and Hutcherson.  Her ability to really make us feel and relate to what Katniss is going through is the strength of these films.  Hutcherson's Peeta carries the same type of impact.  I always felt that, while loyal, Peeta was kind of whiney in the books.  In the films, I actually feel for the guy.  Hemsworth's role continues to be smaller than Gale's role in the books, but he's been a good fit in his limited screen time and we know that Gale plays a much larger role in the third book (Mockingjay, which will be split into two movies in 2014 and 2015).  

It isn't often that a franchise with such a successful beginning can pump up its resume from within, but that's what happened to The Hunger Games as soon as Jennifer Lawrence tripped her way into the world's hearts with her acceptance of the Academy Award for Best Actress (Silver Linings Playbook) earlier this year.  Take that and then add Philip Seymour Hoffman (Plutarch Heavensbee) and Jeffrey Wright (Beetee) to an already strong returning cast (Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz), and The Hunger Games found itself only picking up steam heading into this second installment.

It has been a couple of years since I read the series so I'm not really able to nitpick details, but I felt like Catching Fire was every bit as good as its predecessor.  Having enjoyed the books as much as I did, I've been quite pleased with how these films have turned out thus far and am very much looking forward to seeing how the split adaptations of Mockingjay play out.  I have little doubt that the first part of Mockingjay will easily make my Most Anticipated Films of 2014 list.












*****SPOILERS*****

- Stanley Tucci continues to be spectacular as flamboyant Games commentator Caeser Flickerman.  You can't help but smile whenever you see his ridiculously over the top character on screen.

- I never liked Effie in the books, and while I can't say as I like her in the movies either, I do like that throughout this film they did show her becoming more aware of what was going on and the life or death implications of the Games and showing compassion as a result.

- As with the first film, in limited time Lenny Kravitz had an impact as designer Cinna.

- I liked the additions of Sam Claflin (Finnick) and Jena Malone (Johanna) to the cast.  They both fit right in with characterizations of Finnick and Johanna that I had in my head from the books.  Malone's Johanna was a little more un-hinged than the one in my head, but it worked well. 

- The first film showed more outside reaction of what was going on in the arena during the Games than Catching Fire did.  There really wasn't any this time around other than the President and Heavensbee discussing strategy.  

- There were many subtle scenes that I thought were quite effective in planting seeds for the Mockingjay adaptations.  One that immediately comes to mind was when Prim took over taking care of Gale when her mother couldn't keep steady enough to do so herself.  

- It took me half of the film to do so, but I finally figured out where I knew Wiress (Amanda Plummer) from: So I Married an Axe Murderer!

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