The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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Yes, I still do write reviews. It’s been hard to tell lately, but thankfully things are winding down school-wise, giving me some extra time to actually see some films and write about them. But enough whining about how busy I am, on to the film. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the latest young adult dystopian future novel adaptation for the big screen, and while I would usually be one who is very conflicted about this genre and would avoid this like the plague, it has Jennifer Lawrence so I saw the first movie and now I’ve seen the second one. Now, I have to say this going in: I have read all the books but it was like a year ago so I don’t remember them too well. Thus, the book to film comparisons will be down to a minimum, which is just the way I like it! I also haven’t seen the first one since last year so the sequel to original movie comparisons will also be pretty much nonexistent. I liked this film though, and I thought it was pretty good.

I remember before I had read the books being like “what are they going to do for the sequel, put Katniss in the hunger games again?” And that was basically how I thought of the book when I read it, which had me pretty underwhelmed. Whether the book was actually like that or not, I don’t remember, but I can tell you the filmed sequel is not simply more of the same. Yes, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) have to go battle to the death again for the Capitol’s entertainment, but a lot more stuff is going on before, after, and outside of that. I expect this is one reason why it seems to be getting better reception than the first film, not that that got bad reception, this one just seems to be getting better.

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So, after the events of the first film, the Capitol is thinking that Katniss and Peeta are in love and there was nothing at all defiant or subversive going on with the stunt they pulled at the end of the games, but President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and the rest of the districts seem to see right through that. Rebellion is coming, but nevertheless, the show must go on. After a warning from Snow, Katniss, Peeta, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), and Effie (Elizabeth Banks) set out for the Victory Tour, in which Katniss and Peeta have the particularly painful job of facing the families and districts of the fallen tributes. Their stop at district eleven is particularly painful, as they have to confront Rue’s family and see an elderly man beaten and most likely killed after showing a symbol of solidarity. At first, they try to comfort them, which only gives them more hope. That’s a problem, because that’s the exact opposite of what Snow wants them to do, which means he’ll kill everyone they love. So after a few riots, they decide to stick to the cards, but by then the damage is done.

Back home, Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is severely whipped, Katniss considers running away, and the 75th Hunger Games is announced. The plan is to reap from the existing pool of victors, and because there are no more female victors from District 12, there’s no way Katniss is getting out of it. The announcement scene is simultaneously heartbreaking and horrifying, as Katniss realizes she will have to go back to the arena. Peeta volunteers in place of Haymitch and then it’s onto the Capitol. Here we see more of their warped lifestyle and views, as well as really stupid outfits and mascara so heavy that it’s impossible to look anybody in the eye. The outrage over their extravagance grows. We meet some other victors turned back into tributes, including Finnick (Sam Claflin), mechanical geniuses Wiress (Amanda Plummer) and Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), and the outspoken Johanna Mason (Jena Malone). Let me just say right here and now that she is a very interesting character, one who is not afraid to literally flip the Capitol off on TV and rant at them in the arena. She’s pretty great, and Malone kills the part; I hope she will be returning for subsequent films.

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The hunger games themselves take up less of the film, which I think is a good call as we have already had basically an entire film of them after all. They are very well done, with several new horrors. I wish they had showed more of the blood rain but I guess they passed on that for the PG-13 rating. Equally horrific however is the mist that causes your skin to bubble up grotesquely and the birds that are able to imitate the tortured screams of your loved ones. Alliances form, as is natural, and there is a bunch of, “I gotta sacrifice myself to save this person!” Though it’s not as persistently annoying as I remember the book being. The ending is astonishing, I have to say, both from a story standpoint and an effects one. It was just really cool! I’m trying not to give to much away, but suffice it to say the world the Capitol has created tumbles away, foreshadowing bigger things to come in the next two films.

The best part about this film is we get a better sense of the big picture. It’s not just Katniss trying to make it out of the games alive, but an entire society in tumult. I loved seeing the politics of it all, and the examination of how the public perceives Katniss and what she has been doing. Philip Seymour Hoffman is a good addition to the cast as Plutarch Heavensbee, the man in charge of designing the hunger games. His conversations with President Snow about how to deal with Katniss are interesting, even if they aren’t revelatory. They can’t just kill her, because that would piss off the Capitol and just fuel the fire of revolution; they have to discredit her before they can kill her. As Heavensbee points out, once they’ve done that, they may not even need to kill her. That line is chillingly delivered and lets everybody know what Katniss is up against. I also really appreciated the inclusion of President Snow’s granddaughter. She offers the Capitol’s perspective in a way that doesn’t make me want to punch a wall; it’s actually pretty heartbreaking. She’s an adorable little girl who doesn’t know any better.

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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire managed to live up to all of my expectations and still has me eager to see the next installment in the series. They balanced the action of the games themselves with the bigger picture politics very well, and we still have to deal with the young adult love triangle stuff but that comes with territory and it’s been done a lot worse. The performances are all good and the film really benefits from the new faces that are introduced. All around, Catching Fire is a good film worthy of its stars and hype.

“Remember who the real enemy is.”

Long story short: 3/4 stars

For Further Reading:

Dan the Man’s Movie Reviews review

The Cinematic Katzenjammer review

19 responses to “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

  1. Great review! And agreed. On almost every point. Especially on how awesome Jena Malone is.

    As to the second novel’s repetition: I think, in many ways, that is how the book reads. It is very similar to the first, and doesn’t feel as if it breaks new ground. Which is why this movie might be better than it’s source material. The film feels entirely different from the first.

    • Oh my goodness I loved her. She was so great. That scene in the elevator was terrific 🙂

      I was thinking that as well. I remember not being too impressed with Catching Fire when I read it because it seemed like we had been there done that in most respects, but the filmed sequel did a better job of bringing something new to the table. Maybe that’s just because I haven’t seen the first film in a while, and I read all of the books one right after the other, but that still how I felt about it. It could be the director change rather than anything they did with the plot as well, whereas the books obviously all had the same author.

      • I watched the first movie again shortly before viewing this one, and still came away thinking they were very different. But I did the same with the novels (binge reading them in succession), so you could well be right.

        • Oh well, there’s definitely something to that then. I just didn’t want to claim that as true without actually having done it myself.

  2. Good review Hunter. Keeps the story moving, while also still allowing us to care for the people involved no matter what silly mistakes they may, or may not make.

  3. Nice review. I seem to be one of the few not very impressed by the movie. I liked the second half, but felt the first hour dragged the movie down.

    • Thanks! I didn’t really have huge expectations going in, so that could be a reason. I was never really bored by it though, so if it had those pacing problems it really didn’t affect me.

  4. hey man! love the holiday cover photo, are you going to review that? nice review, i think that the movie followed the book to the letter but still made the story it’s own, which is really important. I think thats most of the reason book-movie transitions don’t work very well, but this series is being done really well. One of the things that got me that I hadn’t really thought about in the book was Effie’s reaction to Katniss and Peeta having to go back. It was mentioned, but when I was watching her draw the names you could really see how upset she was. Major props to that actress. I agree with you about the granddaughter too, that was a great addition.

    • Hey! I reviewed Miracle on 34th Street for Christmas last year. It’s a toss up between Love Actually and It’s a Wonderful Life for this year, depends on which one I feel like watching when the time arises.
      I agree. I think the movies are better than the books. I think I mentioned this in the review, but one thing I didn’t like about the books and a lot of young adult fiction in general is the characters always repeating over and over again “I must save this person!” and it gets really melodramatic and really old. Fortunately, on film, you can just have a close up of Lawrence’s face and you’re good to go.
      I agree with you big time about Effie. It really helps to humanize the people from the capitol, because even though you know their ideals are completely insane and warped you can tell they still have feelings. She thinks of it in a way different way than anybody in the districts, but the end reaction ends up being pretty similar, which is interesting. This and the inclusion of the granddaughter is going to help the films as they go further into the story (as long as they continue being generally excellent).

        • Yeah I know. I’ve seen it! But It’s a Wonderful Life is like my all time favorite Christmas movie. It’s for this reason I’m not quite sure if I’m up to reviewing it, so I might do Love Actually for that reason. We’ll see!

  5. I agree with you that we do get a greater sense of the ‘big picture’ of Panem, and that it exceeds the games. I think that’s why I enjoyed this film over the last one, because the reality of this prison REALLY sets in. Great review! I know it’s hard to keep up with reviews…I’m struggling too!

    • Yes, I remember reading the book and being like “oh they’re putting her in the hunger games again, which we have already seen, how boring” but then later being like “but that’s actually the WORST thing the capitol could have done to her, when you think about it.” Or just about the worst thing anyway.
      Thanks! And thanks for commenting! I was able to get in three movies yesterday so hopefully I can at least get one review out of that ha ha 🙂

  6. Hi Hunter, I had just seen this last weekend so it’s still fresh in my mind. Glad you enjoyed it too, I agree w/ a lot of your points, esp. this: “It’s not just Katniss trying to make it out of the games alive, but an entire society in tumult.” I like the political intrigue here and the casting of Hoffman as Plutarch is excellent. I posted my list of what I like about the film and he’s definitely one of them. Can’t wait for Mockingjay!

    • Hey Ruth, sorry for the late reply!
      Yeah I thought Hoffman added a lot to the film, especially the scenes with him and Sutherland scheming; those were great! I’m excited for the next film as well!

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