The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Sam Claflin, Jeffrey Wright, Jena Malone, Stanley Tucci, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Lenny Kravitz, Amanda Plummer, Lynn Cohen, Willow Shields, Alan Ritchson

Written By: Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt

Directed By: Francis Lawrence

I keep thinking what these films must be like for those who have never read the books. I have to put that into perspective when I review these Hunger Games entries, because I have actually read the books. So I notice when things are missing, or things are changed. That being said, I thought this was a better adaptation than the first book was. So, points for that. Also, it benefits a lot from being a sequel, and not needing to introduce you to the world of Panem. You already know what is going on, what the Hunger Games are, and who Katniss is.

This allows the series to move forward with the idea of a revolution, and showing you more of how bad President Snow (Sutherland) is, and how the majority of the people who live in the capitol need a reality check. Also, fresh blood is always welcome, and the characters of Finnick (Claflin), Johanna (Malone), and Plutarch (Hoffman) stand out as being solid established characters contributing to the future of the franchise.

The plot of Catching Fire revolves around what happens to Katniss (Lawrence) and Peeta (Hutcherson) after their win. They are home, but all is not well. There are uprisings in various districts, and President Snow blames Katniss. Katniss tries to quell the rebellion, and keep her friends and family alive by embarking on a publicity tour, but it isn’t enough, and Snow decides that the quarter quell (the 75th Hunger Games) will be comprised entirely of victors. That puts Katniss and Peeta back in danger, and back fighting for their lives.

This time is different though, because the other victors don’t appreciate being called into the arena a second time. A group of them, including Finnick and Johanna, team up with Katniss to try and figure out a way to survive, and essentially stick it to Snow. All will be resolved in the next two films, of course.

Jennifer Lawrence is again fantastic as Katniss. I realize this is a major studio release, and a sequel at that, but I’ve always felt her performance as Katniss was award worthy. She’s given several great moments in this film, and doesn’t disappoint. She is one of the finest actresses working in Hollywood, and her career has just started. Elizabeth Banks is given more to do here, and her range shows as well. I’ve always been a fan of Jena Malone, ever since Stepmom, and I think what she brings to Johanna is perfection. She is angry, pissed off, and has nothing to lost. She is what Katniss would be if Katniss had no family to go home to. A perfect parallel.

The pacing is great, and even though they spend less than half of the movie in the actual games, the movie never feels slow. I suppose, the only problem that I have is that I read the book, and I always think there are things left out that shouldn’t have been. Plus, I continue to believe that Gale (both in the book, and in the movies) is dramatically underused. For a film trying to emphasize this love triangle that Katniss is stuck in, Gale hasn’t had nearly the appropriate screen time to establish his part of the relationship. We’re just supposed to assume there’s a lot of backstory, and that he’s a great guy that Katniss really loves.

Also, they really shafted several of the other tributes this time around. Gloss (Ritchson) and his sister Cashmere were downgraded from their presence in the books. The focus was mainly on Katniss and her crew, and the other tributes lacked in having personality because of this.

A strong sequel, on par with the original for sure. I can’t wait to see the next two films, especially if they continue to be written by the team behind Catching Fire.

FINAL GRADE: B+

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