The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

Director: Francis Lawrence

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Claflin, Jeffery Wright, Willow Shields, Jena Malone, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci and Donald Sutherland.

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After their victory in the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss (Lawrence) and Peeta (Hutcherson) adjust to their new lives as Hunger Games Victors.  As they prepare to embark on their Victory Tour, President Snow (Sutherland) pays Katniss a visit, revealing that he knows her relationship with Peeta is fake.  He also warns Katniss that her and Peeta’s act of defiance in the 74th Games is stirring discontent and rebellion in the districts.  Katniss must convince

As the 75th Hunger Games approaches, the Third Quarter Quell, a quarterly competition that is unique from all the other years, Snow and new Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Hoffman) devise a plan to take Katniss down.  The tributes for the 75th Hunger Games will be reaped from the pool of former victors.  Katniss is guaranteed to enter since she is District 12’s only female victor.  Katniss and Peeta must return to the arena against a field of former victors, making the previous years competition “child’s play,” as Haymitch (Harrelson) describes it.

This film really helped The Hunger Games franchise grow up.

I would have put them on the level of a Twilight based solely on The Hunger Games.  The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (hereafter referred to as Catching Fire) has taken this franchise to more on par with say Star Wars or Indiana Jones in terms of script, cinematography, and mass appeal.

Catching Fire really feels like the second act in a three act play, though the third act of this one will be split up into two films.  It does a great job of advancing the story, going into much more detail about the world of Panem through the various districts.  The film also explores the significance and implications of what happened in The Hunger Games in terms of a possible rebellion and The Capital tightening it’s grip on the districts.

Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt wrote an excellent script that made the most of the two and a half hours of film and wrote a number of great lines while wasting very few in their contribution to the larger story.  Additionally, Francis Lawrence did a great job with the film’s cinematography.  There’s a nice balance of communicating and advancing the story either with words or visual cues.

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Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson both do great in this film.  While they did what they needed to do to survive in The Hunger Games, here they’re having to think about their families, close friends, and the Districts and how their words and actions affect those around them.  Since there is a familiarity with their characters, the writers and actors can add so much depth to these characters.  Each has to deal with the fact that they’re having to face the families of those they’ve killed, they have to keep this love charade up despite their real feelings, or lack thereof, for one another.  Their experiences have both made them grow up, and I can’t help but see how much more mature each of them is from the first time they’re on-screen compared to the previous film.

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I was surprised with Elizabeth Banks’ character, Effie Trinket.  She’s so much different having gotten to know Katniss and Peeta, and knowing that they’re going back into the arena and dealing with the emotional ups and downs that go with that.  Though she’s still a member of Capital society, and her dresses were still over the top, I found myself appreciating how Effie saw her tributes as more than just tributes.

Woody Harrelson also does great as Haymitch.  Having also gotten to know Katniss and Peeta in the previous year, he also seems to have somewhat cleaned up his act.  His character won the 50th Hunger Games, and the Second Quarter Quell, and though they go into far more detail with the books on his backstory,  I could potentially see Katniss or Peeta ending up like him had they been a lone victor.

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The big addition to this film was Philip Seymour Hoffman.  Plutarch has a much different relationship with President Snow than Seneca Crane had in The Hunger Games.  I think he brought a more calculated and wise character than the young and somewhat naive character Seneca was.  He was also kind of creepy, but that’s what Hoffman does with all of his roles.

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Catching Fire also benefited from a few great supporting character additions.  Finnick Odair (Claflin) and Johanna Mason (Malone) are both entertaining and strong tributes who add dimensions and layers to the story in the arena.  Mags (Lynn Cohen) and Beetee (Wright) are both interesting characters.  It was interesting to see how Beetee’s character grows in Mockingjay. 

One of my critiques of this film has to do with the translation from book to screen.  There were a couple of things in the book that I wish they’d gone into detail, or at least given some screen time to, in the movie.  There is only a couple of references to District 13 in Catching Fire, yet in the book Katniss encounters two travelers looking for District 13.  Cinna would have had more screen time had they explored Katniss’ fashion design and Peeta’s painting talents they were to showcase.   These are minor things, and while I would have liked to have seen these in the film, it doesn’t necessarily take away from the film at the same time.

Another thing that I’ve gone back and forth about is Jennifer Lawrence.  I think she does great in her role, and I can’t really see someone else doing better, however, I feel like her freak out moments are a little to dramatic at times.  I understand she’s gone through a lot and is haunted by what she’s gone through, but it just seemed like a little much. 

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Catching Fire does a wonderful job of building on The Hunger Games, and was really impressive in terms of acting, script and visual presentation.  It works well in setting up for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 and 2 by introducing some key players and setting the stage for the rebellion of the districts.  I would recommend seeing this film as soon as possible, and if you have the opportunity to see it in an IMAX theater, do it.

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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2 thoughts on “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

  1. Good review John. The first still works a bit better for me, however, there were moments here where I was genuinely involved and interested in seeing what they have planned for us next.

    • Each movie has its own merits, and they’re both well done. I just think Catching Fire was better since they could focus more on world building and character and plot development.

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