'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' Review: Peeta Steps Up, Jennifer Lawrence Doesn't Disappoint
One of the most anticipated films of the year, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire satisfies in every way. This sequel to last year's The Hunger Games, and the second in Suzanne Collins' bestselling YA trilogy, offers an exhilarating and entrancing movie-going experience. A stellar cast, excellent acting, edge-of-your-seat action and true to the novel script make Catching Fire a sure-fire win for every fan.
Catching Fire takes off right where the first movie and novel left off. Katniss (the perfect Jennifer Lawrence) and her faux-love Peeta (a much improved Josh Hutcherson) have successfully won the Hunger Games together after threatening to commit joint suicide by swallowing poisonous berries. Rather than stir the citizens of Panem to anger by having no winner at all, the game was stopped and Katniss and Peeta were declared a winning pair. They have now returned home, wealthy victors suffering from post-traumatic episodes and confusion and upset over their new roles as Capitol pawns.
The movie opens with Katniss in her favorite solitary environment, the District 12 forest, alone with her bow and arrows. Viewers are instantly entranced by Lawrence's portrayal of incredible strength, quiet intensity and beauty. Gale (Liam Hemsworth) joins her, and they discuss how parts of Panem are in uproar and how Katniss' defiance in the games has turned her into a symbol of challenging the Capitol. Revolution is on the horizon. But Katniss doesn’t want to be involved in any revolution; she just wants her family and friends to be safe and left alone. Unfortunately, her Victor's tour begins today, sending her, Peeta and their mentor Haymitch (a wonderful Woody Harrelson) on a publicity tour to make speeches in every District.
A good portion of the movie's first half focuses on the Victory Tour, allowing the audience to reunite with the characters and get into their heads. The audience can fully feel the frustration Katniss and Peeta endure while being used as puppets in the Capitol's game of manipulating district citizens into submission. They must smile and act as though they are happy and thrilled to be part of it all. Despite the entire charade, the citizens continue to view Katniss as a symbol of rebellion, which the Capital cannot risk. They must eliminate her. The new Gamemaker, played with frighteningly calm affect by Philip Seymour Hoffman, develops a special Hunger Games that lands Katniss and Peeta back in the competition.
Once the next Hunger Games training begins, the movie picks up speed, introducing the audience to new tributes – both thrilling and intimidating. These new tributes feature inspired casting choices in Jena Malone, as the outspoken, nimble, ax-wielding Johanna Mason, Sam Claflin as golden boy Finnick Odair and Jeffrey Wright as the stoic, electrical genius Beetee. Each character is exhilarating to watch as they navigate inside the games, keeping the audience on their toes every second, trying to figure out which ones are allies to Katniss and Peeta.
Catching Fire does a superb job manifesting the second novel's unnerving, daunting arena with spine-chilling special effects that have you feeling as though you are standing right there next to the tributes. These effects have been refined since the first movie, Exhibit A being the difference between the first movie's shabby-looking wolf mutations and Catching Fire's fearsome man-eating monkeys.
President Snow's role is bigger in this movie, embodying the looming threat of the Capitol to Katniss and the revolution she represents. The awesomely wicked Donald Sutherland plays Snow to a tee, with an evil glimmer in his eye every time he is on screen.
One of the most unexpected and appreciated improvements in Catching Fire, compared to the first movie, is Hutcherson's transformation. In the first movie, many did not feel Hutcherson looked the part, and Peeta, as a character, came off as a helpless mess. He had no pizzazz, no dynamite, nothing that would have drawn Katniss to him as she is in the books. In this second go-round, Hutcherson not only transformed physically into a more studly version of Peeta, but Peeta is also written as more outspoken and competent, making him much more attractive to the audience and Katniss. With Catching Fire, the book's love triangle (Team Peeta vs. Team Gale) becomes much more believable.
Lovers of the books and/or the trilogy's first movie installment will be very pleased with Catching Fire. It seems like everyone on Earth wants to spend as much time as they can with Jennifer Lawrence and she carries the movie beautifully, with the help of amazing costars and a mesmerizing, electrifying story. The only disappointment you will feel is when thinking about waiting another year or so until the next installment.