Catching Fire focuses on the rising resistance inspired by Katniss’ victory (we aren’t giving ANY credit to Peeta) in the Hunger Games and the film is all the better for it. The worst of districts are feeling the call for change the loudest and Katniss is a bit oblivious to the change happening in the expanded world around her. As Peeta and Katniss begin their victory tour of the districts they begin to realize the extent of their influence on the Districts of Panem and their inability to quell their rebellious thoughts puts them in the cross-hairs of The Capital.
From the second shot of the film I knew we were in for a better film than the first. With that one shot Francis Lawrence establishes that he is a far more appropriate director for this type of blockbuster filmmaking and it immediately put a lot of my baggage from the first film to the side. Catching Fire is full of beautiful shot, after beautiful shot and the picture is a gorgeous world to look at unlike the hideous first. Lawrence and his screenwriters also do a fantastic job of establishing characters and their relationships this time around, all while building up tension and capturing the threat of the world as it briskly moves along. This sequel doesn’t expect the viewer to bring in emotion from having read the book, see Rue’s death and knowing what the hell was going on with Katniss and her man crushes, and this film’s biggest carry over from the first.
The romantic triangle and the Hunger Games themselves are the worst parts of these films, but thankfully they are both better handled and severely minimized this time around. Did you loathe Katniss sitting in a tree for an eternity, or Peeta dressing up as a rock, how bout all of that nonsense in the cave? Shit like that is all gone, but the Hunger Games are still the least interesting part of the film. At least this time around it is full of a bunch of interesting characters, that we are actually given time to connect to and care about, and I am ecstatic that this film’s ending promises that we will get to see more of them. The romantic triangle is still a bit confusing and all over the place here, again, but the scenes between the actors feel so much authentic; even if Katniss’ mindset doesn’t make a lick of sense other than the source material’s desire to have some romantic love triangle. It could so easily be excised and that time would be better served to give characters like Peeta some actual depth so we don’t wonder why the hell they don’t just leave Peeta behind to die. Seriously, Peeta is the worst at the Hunger Games.
Francis Lawrence also does a much better job of taking advantage of the talented actors he has at his disposable and brings in a bevy of great new actors. Jennifer Lawrence bests herself over the original film as Katniss is a much broader template for her to play with this time. Watching her turn on the charm is great and her rage in the film’s final shot is palpable through the screen. The returning lover boys, Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson, also show a great amount improvement, it’s not their fault they are saddled with this terrible romance. Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks are also given much better parts to play this time out and they deliver two of the film’s best performances. Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci and Donald Sutherland all stay par for the course and that is for the best.
Being a Hunger Games full of past Victors opens the door to actual actors and not sniveling teenagers to be a part of the film and it makes things so much more tolerable. I was still getting tired of the Hunger Games before the fantastic ending, but it was far more enjoyable getting to watch some great actors play in this world. Jeffery Wright is great, as always, as a techno-savy Victor and he is topped by a fantastic Jena Malone as a crazed axe wielding competitor. The biggest standout is probably Sam Claflin as Finnick who becomes a strong ally to Katniss and Peeta as soon as the Hunger Games begin. Also making strong contributions with very limited roles are Amanda Plummer and Lynn Cohen who convey so much character without barely saying a word. Having Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the new game maker is also a big plus and I am even more excited about his potential going forward into the final film(s).
Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a great dystopian film that is held back by the source material’s YA hooks of romance and the lamest murder competition you will ever see. Forget all of that though, as by the end of the film the series blows half of that up and seems primed to dive head first into the parts of Catching Fire that make it great. A franchise I left for dead after the first film makes a complete 180 here and seems to fully understand where it’s heading and what it’s doing heading forward. Bring on Mockingjay.
Can Francis Lawerence go back and remake the original after they finish Mockingjay?
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a B+