Having seen the movie twice already, I can say that Catching Fire definitely lives up to its title, and I mean that in a good way. Gripping, thought-provoking, and witty, Hunger Games: Catching Fire continues the success of the wildly popular franchise through its in-depth direction and superb acting. Not only does it include more action-packed sequences, but it also further encompasses the absorbing and dynamic themes of its source material. After looking at last year’s high-octane Hunger Games film, things have definitely changed in this year’s sequel.
This is partly due to an actual change in the ever-growing series: Catching Fire director, Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) filled in the seat of last year’s director, Gary Ross (Pleasantville). Although a shift in directing could drastically alter a film series as a whole, this new addition luckily made a huge and effective difference. Unlike Ross, who chose shaky camerawork for the first film, Lawrence used much better filming techniques to create both a steady and engaging visual experience.
Ultimately, this change in directors was not only a benefit for the audience, but for the actors as well. Academy Award-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence, who plays the protagonist Katniss Everdeen, continues to impress with her evocative on-screen presence, as well as her grasp on her character’s moral and emotional complexities. The same can said about her co-stars, which include Liam Hemsworth (Gale) and Josh Hutcherson (Peeta). Both of their characters continue to show sharp chemistry with Lawrence’s Katniss, while providing their own unique acting performances. The addition of new supporting actors was also fun to see. Two of the most memorable performances came from Philip Seymour Hoffman, who played the cunning Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee, and Jeffrey Wright, who played brainiac Hunger Games victor Beetee Latier. The veteran actors were perfect for their roles, and both of their performances built on those of the already prolific cast members, which includes Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson, and Lenny Kravitz.
Consisting of two major acts, Catching Fire starts off almost a year later after the events of The Hunger Games. After winning the Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta are once again reaped into a special, victors-only Quarter Quell. Since the last Games, Katniss and Peeta’s defiance against the government ignited rebellion among the separated Districts of Panem’s dystopian society. Because of this, the conniving President Snow places both Katniss and Peeta into the Games again to instill more fear in the republic, as well as to eliminate Katniss so that Panem won’t erupt in conflict. While most of Act I comprises of this rapidly growing conflict between the citizens of Panem and the government, Act II incorporates the actual Games. To avoid mimicking the last movie’s storyline, like many movie sequels do, director Lawrence’s inclusion of the book’s action sequences made for an unforgettable, breathtaking, and thrilling experience in the film.
Although Catching Fire had many great qualities, one part of the film that I did feel uneasy about was the cliffhanger ending. Because it would be bad to spoil anything, I will say that when the credits were rolling, it left me feeling empty and unsatisfied. I had liked everything that was leading up to that last pivotal scene, but I just felt that it wasn’t the grand ending I was hoping for.
Despite this drawback, Catching Fire improved greatly from its predecessor, both thematically and visually. Even though The Hunger Games did provide a mostly entertaining, 2-and-a-half-hour spectacle, Catching Fire is a much more sensible film, as it leaves you both breathless from the special effects and contemplating its subject matter. The themes in particular, which include totalitarianism, rebellion, survival, differences in social classes, and mass media, held a much greater impact on this movie than the last. These themes gradually pieced together the puzzle of the film’s message, that courage and bravery can inspire others to let their voices be heard and to fight against those who oppress them. Other than currently holding the record for this year’s biggest opening weekend, with a total of $158.1 million, Catching Fire will definitely keep the audience eager for The Hunger Games’ final, two-part chapter, Mockingjay, which will also be directed by Lawrence.
Watch the trailer here: