Katniss Everdeen has returned home safe after winning the 74th Annual Hunger Games along with fellow tribute Peeta Mellark. Winning means that they must turn around and leave their family and close friends, embarking on a "Victor's Tour" of the districts. Along the way Katniss senses that a rebellion is simmering, but the Capitol is still very much in control as President Snow prepares the 75th Annual Hunger Games (The Quarter Quell) - a competition that could change Panem forever.
Catching Fire had a lot to live up to. The Hunger Games was a huge hit both with audiences and critics and the books have millions of fans expecting the very best from the movie adaptation. There was so much that could go wrong in Catching Fire including the new arena, the expanding love triangle and the introduction of new, key characters. Luckily nothing, well very little, goes wrong and Catching Fire managed to improve on The Hunger Games in every way.
I really liked The Hunger Games, as a movie goer and a fan of the books it ticked most of the boxes for me but the effects were less than amazing and some of the actors were not quite comfortable in their roles. The opening was confusing, especially for those who had not read the books and it could have used a little more polish. Thankfully Catching Fire had all the polish but managed to keep all the great things from The Hunger Games.
Catching Fire picks up not long after the Hunger Games. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are back in District 12 and barely talking to each other, each are struggling to come to terms with what they experienced in the area. They are trying to get on with their lives but the ever present and often drunk Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) is a reminder that the experience of the games doesn’t just fade away. In the capital President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and new game maker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) are trying to stop the start of a revolution that was sparked by Katniss’ actions in The Hunger Games.
Catching Fire is a darker and meaner affair than its predecessor. It pushes the boundaries of its 12 rating and there are moments of awful and menacing violence that surprisingly mainly appear out of the arena, as we get to see how very dangerous and disturbing President Snow’s leadership really is. One moment in particular when Katniss and Peeta visit District 11 the home of their former allies Rue and Thresh is moving and utterly disturbing. Francis Lawrence has delivered a film that is both exciting and touching. The arena is not the only place where people are fighting for their lives and we are constantly reminded that Snow will go to any length to prevent his control from slipping. It is not always an easy watch.
The acting was one of the great triumphs of this movie and is what sets the Hunger Games franchise apart from its other teen counterparts. Jennifer Lawrence seems to get better and better with everything she appears in. Katniss is wounded and defenceless in this and the emotional toll is plain to see in Lawrence’s captivating and surly performance. Other stand outs are Donald Sutherland and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Their conversations about how to ‘end’ Katniss are chilling yet subtle and are some of the best moments in the movie.
Elizabeth Banks’ Effie Trinket is one of the most improved characters from the first movie. Here she is given a little more emotional depth and she handles that brilliantly whilst still being her larger than life ‘that is mahogany’ self. Another improvement came from Josh Hutcherson who has really settled into Peeta’s character. I thought he did alright in the first movie but he looks much more comfortable here and manages to hold his own impressively. Catching Fire is where you really start to see what kind of person Peeta is, you see how he is the good in a world full of bad and that really came across well in the movie.
Out of all the new characters (of which there are many) it is Sam Claflin’s Finnick Odair and Jena Malone’s Johanna Mason that really shine. Finnick and Johanna are my favourite characters from the books so I was nervous that this casting might not work. Claflin is perfect as Finnick, he is devastatingly good looking, charming, yet manages to show off Finnick’s massive vulnerable side. If you think what Katniss and Peeta have been through is bad it is nothing in comparison to Finnick and Sam Claflin did a great job at brining that sadness to the character. Malone is perfect as the potty mouthed and opinionated Johanna and she has some of the best and most humorous moments in the movie.
But it wasn’t all perfect. Gale (Liam Hemsworth) was given very little screen time and you never got to see the evolution of that character. It is in Catching Fire where he begins to come into his own but that was muted in the movie version and he was little more than someone for Jennifer Lawrence to kiss. Also I am still unconvinced that Lenny Kravitz was a great casting choice as Cinna. His performance is a little cardboard and because of that one of the moments that made me ball my eyes in the books had little effect on me whilst watching the movie.
So many sequels fail to live up to the first movie in the series but Catching Fire is not one of them. It is a million times better than The Hunger Games and is a clear indication that this franchise is not going to falter any time soon.
Images & Synopsis from IMDB
Review by Kate Phillips