How do you successfully follow one of the most well-received films of the year? With a continuation of the series obviously! Catching Fire, in theatres today, does not disappoint as either an adaptation of a popular novel or as a follow up to the incredibly successful and well-received Hunger Games.
This review contains mild spoilers but likely nothing you wouldn’t have guessed from the trailers and promotional material.
Despite being declared a victor of the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen certainly does not feel like a winner. Even though she and her family have been moved to Victor’s Village and live a much more comfortable life, she struggles to cope with the horrors of the games and the cold relationship between herself and Peeta after the revelation that she’s not really in love with him certainly isn’t helping. She soon learns that the Games are never truly over when President Snow arrives for a visit. Her act of defiance has stirred up rebellions in some of the districts and she’ll need to start toeing the Capital’s line… or else her family will pay the consequences. Despite her efforts to comply Katniss soon finds herself back in the Hunger Games for the Quarter Quell right alongside other former victors.
Catching Fire does almost everything right. It is just as emotional as the previous film at some points. Don’t expect to see a dry eye in the theatre during certain bits. It’s also an excellent adaptation of the book that tells the story that it needs to and cuts out small, less relevant bits in the name of time. Perhaps my only criticism would be that could’ve spent a little more time building up the wedding subplot but again I can understand the cuts given the time constraints.
This is a film that takes no prisoners when it comes to showing the brutality of the Games and of the Capital. At times, it felt even rougher than the first film and a large part of that is due to the very blunt portrayal of Katniss’s PTSD. The arena scenes are just as twisted as you would expect and the scenes where Peacekeepers try to regain order are even harder to watch than the ones in the first film. This might not be the film you want to take the younger kids to see.
That’s not to say that the film is all dark and gloom. Dragon Con goers will grin when they spot the familiar elevators of the Marriott along with the distinctive stairs of the tenth floor (but not the famously horrible carpeting.) Yet again, one-liners from Haymitch and Effie will undoubtedly amuse especially with the casual reference to mahogany. And, of course, Cesar (played by the irreplaceable Stanley Tucci) never fails to entertain with his coverage of the games and the tributes.
For those worrying that this film will feel like a regurgitation of the first one because of the return to the Hunger Games, don’t. There’s a subplot of rebellion here that wasn’t fully realized in the previous story and the arena is so wildly different from last year’s that nothing feels recycled. In other words, if you’re worried that you’ll be bored, stop fretting because the film is distinct enough to keep almost anyone’s interest even with a running time of almost two and a half hours.
All of the leading and supporting actors turn in solidly good performances. It’s hard to find fault especially with such a stellar cast. However, Jennifer Lawrence unsurprisingly shines as Katniss again as she brings the character to life, flaws and all. Elizabeth Banks’ turn as Effie brings a very human note to the character who is very much of the Capital especially in a few very touching scenes. Another standout is Lynn Cohen who plays Mags and manages to convey all of the old woman’s thoughts and emotions without uttering a single word.
It’s difficult to truly touch on everything that the film does well without going on for ages. The cast is spot on, the story is excellent, the visuals (from the locations to the costumes) are occasionally quite stunning, and it’s just an all-around good movie.
Catching Fire gets a well-deserved 5/5 from me with a whole-hearted recommendation.