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on 22 November 2015
Jennifer Lawrence is back as Katniss Everdeen in Catching Fire, the sequel to The Hunger Games also starring Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Stanley Tucci, and Donald Sutherland. A revolution on Panem has begun and Katniss finds herself forced in another tournament called the Quarter Quell. Will the box office odds be ever in the favor of the sequel or will fans disapprove of the adaptation?
Coming off their victory in the 74th annual Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark must now embark on the traditional promotional visit to each of the twelve districts of Panem which in known as the Victory Tour. This is very tough for Katniss as she has brutal nightmares each night as she sees the murders of her allies sometimes even when she is wide awake. Thinking this is all she has to do to fulfill her obligations to President Snow and the Capitol, Katniss agrees to keep up the charade of being star crossed lovers with Peeta.
One person who is not at all happy with Katniss winning the Hunger Games is President Snow. He sees her as defiant and a symbol of hope to the rebellion. Before the Victory Tour starts, He visits Katniss at her home and gives her an ultimatum, either convince him that her love for Peeta is real and be a good spokesperson for the Capitol, or he will make sure she and her loved ones are eliminated. Reluctantly, Katniss agrees to play along.
Along the Victory Tour, Katniss and Peeta do their best to be obedient spokespersons, but they become first hand witnesses to the terror and fear of the districts as Peacekeeper soldiers publicly flog and execute anyone in defiance to the Capitol. Unfortunately they both have to turn a blind eye to the terror as they fear for their own survival.
To prove President Snow is in control, he sends soldiers and a new Commander into District 12 to teach Katniss’ fellow citizens a lesson of fear. After an act of courage that puts Katniss between the whip of the Commander and a loved one, President Snow decides to play one more trump card up his sleeve and that is to change the treaty charter and initiate a new type of tournament known as the Quarter Quell. To Celebrate the 75th Annual Hunger Games, contestants will now be pulled from a pool of all surviving victors. President Snow feels that if he can’t personally kill her, he’ll do it on TV by people who already know how to kill. Being the only female to ever win from District 12, Katniss is once again forced to fight not only for her life but for the safety of her family and loved ones. Will President Snow do everything in his power to destroy the hope that Katniss symbolizes, or will a secret alliance aide an uprising in the districts against the Capitol?
When I initially saw The Hunger Games, I wasn’t a big fan. It by all means wasn’t a horrible film, but I thought it was an over the top budget ripoff of The Running Man and Battle Royale, plus I felt that I didn’t fit into the film’s age demographic. I understood the social commentary of the film, but I thought other movies such as They Live did a much better job at conveying the concept of governmental fear, media brainwashing, and poverty stricken hope. I recently saw The Starving Games parody movie and everything I thought was absurd with the first movie, was perfectly lampooned in the same style and manner of a Mad Magazine satire. I went into Catching Fire with very low expectations, but left thoroughly entertained by the darker and intense tone of the movie and with a better understanding of the idea the author had for her books. I saw so many similarities to real life in media and government that I felt the movie truly was art imitating life.
I think the first thing that makes the sequel such a better improvement to the first is its change of director. This time around, the story of the girl on fire is told by Francis Lawrence (no relation to Jennifer) who brings to the table his action adventure experience with previous films like I Am Legend and Constantine and pacing and tone from work on music videos. He eliminates a ton of nausea inducing shakey cam. I also thought the movie was better shot and used a better color palette of darker colors to portray the more ominous theme. Even little details like changing the outfits for the Peacekeeper soldiers from from riot gear cops to faceless storm troopers made President Snow’s tyranny more diabolical. The director did a great job with pacing. At almost two and a half hours long, I din’t think the movie at all dragged. The movie wasn’t filled with too much filler as the director cut out a lot of the fluff and focused on a more adult film. The books may be directed at a tween female audience, but the director made Catching Fire to a broader audience.
With Catching Fire allowing more character development, I grew to appreciate and understand the backgrounds even more. In the first movie, Haymitch Abernathy portrayed by Woody Harrelson seemed like a drunk pretty boy, but in the sequel you get the sense, that he and other victors never live down the killings they had to endure. Some have nightmares and post traumatic stress disorder that the only way to numb the pain is through self medication. As with the first movie. I thought Harrelson is once again a standout of the cast.
The sequel also gives the characters a larger sense of maturity. Both Peeta portrayed by Josh Hutcherson and Gale portrayed by Liam Hemsworth have grown up. They both see the larger picture. Hutcherson really improves on the role. He’s not a naive and doe eyed boy as in the first. He’s now a diplomatic young man and gives Katniss a better sense of purpose in the arena. While Hemsworth doesn’t have a lot of screen time as the other characters, one particular scene is a pivotal plot point on why the President institutes the Quarter Quell.
The attitude of the characters is completely changed. This is most evident with Effie Trinket played by Elizabeth Banks. Initially she is a public relations groupie totally infatuated with the lifestyle of the Capital, but as the horrific events that occur during the Victory Tour, even she starts to feel that things just aren’t right.
Other returning actors are Stanley Tucci as Hunger Games play by play announcer Caesar Flickerman and Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, Katniss’ fashion designer. Tucci is the absolute brilliant personification of a television talk show celebrity. He is gaudy with his ridiculous colored hair, orange spray tan, and bleached white teeth. Kravitz doesn’t have a lot of screentime, but I enjoyed his performance.
Of course the star of the show is Oscar winner, Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. In real life interviews she has expressed how uncomfortable she is with stardom and fame. This makes her absolutely perfect to play Katniss because the humble character just wants to be at home with family, but is violently thrust back into the spotlight. Lawrence has taken the character to a whole new level and made it her own. With movies like Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, X-Men: First Class, and the Hunger Games franchise, Lawrence is proving what a well rounded and versatile young actress she is becoming.
But for all her purity and strength, it wouldn’t even be showcased without the tremendous villains of President Snow played by Donald Sutherland and new games master, Plutarch Heavensbee portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman. I’d compare Sutherland and Hoffman’s characters to that of the Emperor and Darth Vader from Star Wars. I know that analogy may be a bit of a stretch, but the goal of the two is to manipulate the citizens with fear and desperation, yet mask it all with gladiatorial games like Roman Caesars. To me this was another key factor on why I liked the sequel more. You can’t have a fantastic hero to root for unless there is a diabolical villain to despise. Catching Fire has both.
Newcomers to the franchise who I really liked were Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair and Jena Malone as Johanna Mason. Initially Finnick is cocky and arrogant, but you see his heart immediately at the Arena’s cornucopia as he takes care of the elderly tribute from his district. But who I think stole the show was Jana Malone. She not only was gorgeous, but had the best lines in the whole movie. She was defiant and honest, especially in front of the live television audience. She said the things I felt Katniss was afraid to.
My biggest critique of the whole film is the battle arena itself. While I felt the movie did an amazing job elevating the importance of the political tyranny and media brainwashing, the tournament itself still sort of dragged. To best describe the Quarter Quell would be describe it as CBS’s Survivor All-Stars. It should be more intense with champions battling it out. Now to me I would have liked more of the tributes killing each other that is hinted by even Haymitch that these are the best killers in the land. Instead Katniss and her allies must battle against poison mist, sharp toothed baboons, and Alfred Hitchcock’s birds. The tournament bad guys barely had any screentime and most deaths occurred off screen. Most of the time, you only knew there was a death because of the trademarked boom which signaled that a tribute lost their life. For this reasons I still feel Battle Royale does a better job at portraying the contestants’ depravity for survival.
All in all, I feel Catching Fire is such a better film than its predecessor. So much so that as I was writing this review, I had The Hunger Games playing on Netflix to help me compare the two films. I hope it’s not odd to say, but the sequel made the first movie so much better that I noticed more details in the first that now makes the movie a better experience for me. This is normally the problem with trilogies. You can’t just make the judgement on the first movie, because there are two more segments to the story. Catching Fire is a fantastic continuation that now I am actually looking forward to Mockingjay. I only hate that the studio decided to split it into two movies like what Twilight and Harry Potter did with their final books. I hope it wasn’t for financial reasons but to really get indepth with the story. I guess we shall see when the two movies are released in 2014 and 2015 respectively.
While the first movie wasn’t horrible, I wasn’t a big fan of it, so I went into Catching Fire with little expectations. I still feel the first was a bit of an amalgamation of Battle Royale and The Running Man, but Catching Fire does a lot better job at explaining the plight of the districts and who the real enemy is. With the new director at the helm, I felt this movie was more darker and intense that I feel fans of the books will really like. If you are a fan of the books, you will love the sequel. If your opinion of the first was on the fence like mine, then I think you should definitely check it out as it may convert you into appreciating the franchise a lot more.