The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Written by: Simon Beaufoy (screenplay), Michael Arndt (screenplay) and Suzanne Collins (novel)
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Woody Harrelson
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is an above average sequel, a rare case where the sequel outshines the original. It’s a faithful adaptation of the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy. Everything is bigger and better than the first film. It looks better, the special effects are more spectacular and the ensemble cast gives a more streamlined performance. The production budget has been augmented, and it shows.
Fire starts off where Hunger Games ended. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) commence on a victory tour of the districts of Panem, feigning allegiance to the Capital. At the conclusion of their tour it is announced that there will be an all-star version of The Hunger Games, gleaning past tributes to participate in a more deadly version of their seasons. Katniss and Peeta are forced to represent their district 12, and in a desperate attempt to avoid the melee, Peeta announces that Katniss is pregnant, to no avail. The opportunity to parlay sympathy into a hall pass fails, and so the two embark on their second tour of hell on earth. But the real reason Katniss has been forced to participate in the all-star games is because she has become a threat to the Capital and a symbol of hope to the oppressed and impoverished district inhabitants.
President Snow (Donald Sutherland) wants to ensure Katniss doesn’t survive this time. He recruits Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) as the new games maker, saddled with the task of designing a deadlier, nastier version of the games this time around. And nasty they are. Marauding baboons, bloody rain and poisonous fog are but a few of the obstacles the tributes have to navigate in Fire.
After a sluggish first hour, Fire is well-paced, clocking in at two and a half hours. The first hour is dedicated to the pomp and circumstance of the victory tour, with Katniss dressed in costumes nearly as garish as Effie’s (Elizabeth Banks). The costume design really is quite amazing, and if Fire doesn’t win an Oscar for best costume design it will be an injustice. The opulence of the Capital is put on full display in this segment, contrasted with the poor masses in the audience.
Aside from the bland performance of Hutcherson, the cast does an outstanding job. Lawrence no longer has the anonymity she had in the first film – she’s a bonafide household name now. Somehow she still manages to morph into Katniss with ease. You forget you are watching Jennifer Lawrence, and that is no easy task on her part. Philip Seymour Hoffman is a truly welcome addition as Plutarch, and Woody Harrelson reprises his role as perpetually drunk Haymitch. Harrelson and Stanley Tucci (as tacky television host Caesar Flickerman) provide some strategically placed comic relief. Jena Malone, Amanda Plummer and Jeffrey Wright appear as tributes.
Fire isn’t as consistently paced as it could have been, but it’s fairly action packed once it gets going. It is the book methodically brought to life on the big screen, and fans should be thrilled. That’s not to say you have to have read the books to enjoy Fire. It should suffice as a stand-alone film as well. – Shannon