I’ve always had a very mixed relationship with The Hunger Games, and outside of the first book, haven’t been able to decide how I really felt about franchise. This carried itself over into the theater when I saw the first movie last year, and really didn’t like it all that much.
However, because of this years Catching Fire, I’ve found that my feelings about the franchise are starting to become somewhat more positive. Not only does this movie improve on the original in almost every way, but it also gives the cast more room to really makes their roles their own, which proves to be the film’s greatest strength.
Catching Fire comes with a lot of hype surrounding it, and with a new director behind the camera, there was a lot riding on this one to succeed. While it’s not perfect, and runs into the same pacing issues that proved problematic for the original, I found myself enjoying Catching Fire a lot more than I ever expected myself too.
The movie takes place a year after the events of the first movie, and Katniss and Peeta are still very much stuck in the spotlight that was placed upon them when they won the 74th Hunger Games. However, much to the distaste of President Snow, their ‘victory’ has begun to inspire the many Districts to stand up and fight against the influence of the Capitol.
In a move that he hopes will end the threat posed by the many Hunger Games Victors, President Snow calls for a Quarter Quell, a new, much more dangerous version of the infamous Hunger Games that pits the Victors against one another in a battle to the death. It’s an intriguing premise to be sure, but one that runs awfully similar to the first movie.
It’s hard not to see feel a sense of déjà vu as the movie follows in the same footsteps of the first movie. Sure, the tone is slightly more grim and emotional as Katniss and Peeta are forced to make appearances in the homes of the tributes they killed just a year ago, but it all feels a little to familiar for my taste.
With that said, I did appreciate how relevant the events of the first film were to our characters. Katniss is struggling to handle the stress of her new life, and it’s refreshing seeing a character actually have to deal with the gravity of their actions. There are even a few especially emotional scenes that really pull at the heartstrings.
Jennifer Lawrence has done a great job taking the role of Katniss and making it her own. I enjoyed her in the first film, but I couldn’t help but feel like something was holding her back, but this time around, she not only felt more natural as The Girl on Fire, but also added her own signature touch that I felt was missing in the past.
Lawrence is obviously one of the best actresses in Hollywood right now, and her infectious screen presence rightfully steals the show. But, in a refreshing turn of events, her many co-stars prove themselves to be just as capable in their own respective roles, with some especially notable performances from Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, and Donald Sutherland.
Even the numerous newcomers perform better than I expected they would, as the few key Victors Katniss teams up with once in the Games all make a lasting impression even with their limited amount of screen time.
Sam Claflin, who I’ve never been impressed with in the past, plays a great Finnick, and captures the spirit of the character incredibly well. Even Jena Malone, who barely gets any attention at all until the end, is fantastically entertaining as the forward, axe-wielding Johanna, and she’s even more amusing here than she ever was in the book.
What Catching Fire does better than anything else is translating the book’s more intense moments onto the screen. And thanks to an increased budget, the visuals really help sell the danger the characters are always in. Even though I knew what was coming, I was still left breathless by some of the key set-pieces that are just as thrilling as they were in the book.
And in a move that I’m sure we’re all very pleased about, new Director Francis Lawrence does entirely away with the obnoxious shaky-cam from the first film and instead directs each and every scene with a steady, focused hand. Even the action scenes, which tend to be fast-paced and gleefully chaotic, are filmed smoothly and without any needless distractions.
While some of the visuals are still overly reliant on CGI, for the most part the special effects have vastly improved since the first film and I absolutely loved seeing the more sci-fi inspired elements reflected in the colorful visuals. Whether it’s the stark, jagged edged Capitol or the urban jungle of the Games, there’s always something pretty for you to look at.
Catching Fire may not be perfect, and feels a little too familiar at times, but it’s a big improvement over the first film and delivers where it matters the most. And in a turn of events that especially surprised me, I walked out of the theater more excited to see where the franchise goes next than I’ve ever been before.