The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth
The first film of the franchise surpassed all expectations, so it’s not a surprise that the same cast, with a good story and an increase in budget can deliver the goods once again. Directed by Francis Lawrence (Constantine, I Am Legend) the pace is a lot better than the first installment, which at times was sluggish but with movies like this it’s impossible not to spend half the movie displaying the rules and the world the characters live in. Gary Ross did a very good job with The Hunger Games, but Catching Fire is certainly an upgrade.
Led by Jennifer Lawrence, her Katniss is the hope for a better future in the world of Panem. Fresh off her victory with fellow District 12 resident Peeta, they’re preparing for their victory tour where they will visit every district and face the families of those who died during the battle royale. But the conflict between Katniss and her best friend Gale has never been more complicated because of the love-for-show with Peeta. While it’s not surprising that Katniss and Peeta are forced back into the death arena, the real mystery throughout is where Katniss’ heart lies.
The love triangle isn’t a distraction like it is in the Twilight franchise. This works in The Hunger Games because there are much larger things at stake for Katniss, which involves leading a potential uprising against the evil empire and also trying to stay alive in the fight to the death. But it’s the romance story that you can relate too, along root for or against. These layers in the plot are what makes The Hunger Games compelling for tweens to adults.
Throwing away a lot of the shaky cam that made the original dizzying, the action scenes are handled with a lot more precision (of course, the budget helped too). What’s most impressive about Lawrence’s direction in Catching Fire is how he made 146 minutes pass by so quickly. Sure, the action and violence during the second half passed by like we all expected, but even the first half with the tour, the focus on the families, Katniss’ relationship to District 12 and the pre-game shows passed by like a breeze. And this all stems from what you need from the beginning for a good movie, which is a good story.
There aren’t certain performances that really stand out in Catching Fire, but that’s not a bad thing because the plot-heavy production should be the thing that takes first priority. In fact, if a movie can make actors like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson, and Stanley Tucci seem hidden, it’s done with great focus on the story. Even the Oscar-winning Jennifer Lawrence can’t match up to the power of the world of Panem, though she is able to handle her scenes the best.
While the film concludes rather abruptly, it stays true to the books and that will make most fans happy. It’s also a cliffhanger that’ll have you wishing the next sequel was already completed so you wouldn’t have to wait another year to see what happens. Two films down and two films to go. So far, The Hunger Games is doing everything right.