If you liked “The Hunger Games,” then you will love “Catching Fire” because it is an improvement over the first one in nearly every way.
The film picks up not long after the first movie. Both Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence, and Peeta Mellark, played by Josh Hutcherson, are on a victory tour after winning the Hunger Games. Although it is all smiles on the outside, inside, both characters are conflicted.
Katniss is troubled both by post traumatic stress disorder from the first games along with the fact that her relationship with Peeta is actually fake. She has feelings for the character Gale Hawthorne, played by Liam Hemsworth. Peeta is troubled by the same fact that the relationship doesn’t exist.
The two have to shove this aside, though, as the Capitol, in the charge of President Snow, played by Donald Sutherland, feels the victors have too much power and need to be eliminated before a revolution starts. To get rid of them, he starts a new Hunger Games that will include all of the previous victors.
The first “Hunger Games” felt rushed at some points, with the pacing a little off. “Catching Fire” is a major turnaround. This time, the film builds up to the Hunger Games competition much better, showing the sides of the revolution, the politics, relationships and fleshing out the competitors.
The audience gets the chance to learn about the other competitors, they feel the brutality of the Capitol and have a better understand of the inner workings of how the President operates.
The acting has vastly improved this time, much of it thanks to the young talent getting better. To start, it is apparent that Lawrence is an Oscar-winning actress.
There is a scene near the beginning where Katniss has a heavy, dramatic conversation about acting in front of the cameras with President Snow, and Lawrence nails it. This lets the audience know she is going to deliver through the film, and she does.
The actor who has come the farthest, though, is Hutcherson. He is much more believable this time around as Peeta and his chemistry with Lawrence on screen is great. There are multiple moments where he has to push his feelings behind the scenes, and the emotion is well displayed by Hutcherson.
The other young male lead character, Gale, doesn’t get a lot of screen time, which in turn means Hemsworth doesn’t have much to do. There is supposed to be a love triangle between Peeta, Gale and Katniss, however, in the majority of the film the audience only sees it from two perspectives since Gale simply isn’t around.
In terms of the veteran actors, the performances are all at a high level. Woody Harrelson plays Haymitch and he feels like a true mentor to both Peeta and Katniss.
The connection he has with them is felt on a deeper level this time around. Donald Sutherland also has a good return as President Snow, in fact he might even be better this time around. Sutherland really embodies the entire pompous nature of the Capitol society and the evil the government is committing against the districts.
A great addition to the cast in “Catching Fire” was undoubtedly Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman. His character, Plutarch Heavensbee, the new Hunger Games designer, is cold, menacing, and very real and raw. This character isn’t caught up in all of the grandness of the Capitol, he is focused on his job, and Hoffman portrays that nicely.
In the first film, one of my absolute biggest issues was how the movie was captured through the camera. The first film, directed by Gary Ross, utilized a lot of “shaky cam,” which gives the movie a feeling like it is being shot with a handheld camera. This was used all the time in the first movie during the action moments making it hard to see what was happening.
New director Francis Lawrence thankfully scratches that whole idea and this time captures so much more of the action. The audience can see just about everything that is going on clearly, which allows more of the emotion to be felt. On top of the better camera work, the film also has better special effects.
Toward the end, the final scenes could have been more climactic. However, at the same time, the end of the movie sets up nicely for the next in the series and has a real “Empire Strikes Back” feel to it.
“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is a vast improvement over the first film that can capture someone’s attention for the entire runtime. This one raises the stakes and puts the bar much higher for the whole series. It’s not perfect, but it is very good. High 4 out of 5.
This review was first published in the Nov. 22, 2013 issue of the Wahpeton Daily News.