Movie review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Sometimes stories just work better as a movie. This was the case with the first film adaptation, The Hunger Games, and it is the case again with its sequel, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Following director Gary Ross’s gritty take on the first novel, director Francis Lawrence and screen writers Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt have taken what worked in the first film and delivered an even more action packed and emotional movie.

Now, I’ll admit I wasn’t a fan of the books — I preferred Battle Royale — but I did read them. Of the three, Catching Fire was the strongest.

The first book in Suzanne Collins’s trilogy was a fast paced and engaging read about a society that pits children against one another in a fight to the death, but the book got caught up in the elaborate world surrounding the story and fell short on delivering the emotional complexity of the characters. In a fight to the death it was hard to care very much about anyone who died. The sequel did a much better job of developing the characters and managing to convey the weight of the world they were living in. If the first book was too fanciful and a bit like candy, the sequel left a satisfyingly bitter taste in your mouth.

What comes across as foppish in the first novel was toned back in the first film, though much of the capital city and its citizens were still brightly coloured — still glittering and glimmering. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire does an ever better job of revealing the harsh world underneath the city’s facade. The city is colder and more like an eccentric Roman Empire than Carnival of Venice all day, everyday.

The elaborate ploy to kill Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) by drawing her back into the Hunger Games was the most tedious aspect of the novel (not again!), but in the faster film adaptation of Catching Fire, the despair and inescapable reach of the Capitol and President Snow was well delivered and sufficiently convincing.

Much of what places The Hunger Games: Catching Fire above its predecessor can be distilled down to one thing: Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence’s Katniss in the first film came off as unusually emotionless — something that Lawrence is definitely not. The sequel allowed Lawrence to play with Katniss’s emotions more. While the attraction between Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Katniss and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is still a bit strained, Lawrence’s Katniss looks convincingly weary and pained after the first Hunger Games. While she is cold and murderous when she needs to be, Katniss is still a woman who is barely holding it together underneath.

The special 75th annual Hunger Games Quarter Quell, rigged to drag Katniss back in, could have easily become another excuse to show Katniss as a skilled hunter and now, after her first Hunger Games, more of a killer, but instead it continued a theme of survival from the beginning of the movie until the end, showing very few of the other tributes’ deaths. Whether at home, in the Capitol or fighting in an arena, Katniss is just managing to survive.

The faster pacing of a movie over a book can help the audience suspend their disbelief and the nearly two and a half hour movie moves along very quickly. Time is fairly evenly split between the districts, the Capitol and the arena. Too much time in either of the three — especially the arena at the end — would have been tedious, but instead the movie is consistently engaging.

I’m honestly surprised at how well this movie works. I went into the theatre expecting to come out with mixed feelings. The only mixed feelings I have are whether I’m apprehensive or excited about the third and fourth films. I anticipate being proved wrong once again.

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