After a solid series opener and an even stronger sequel, The Hunger Games movie franchise has officially secured its place in movie history as an incredibly powerful example of a book-to-movie translation done right. That sequel, Catching Fire, once again forces viewers into a country torn between stagnation and rebellion, with Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark caught in the middle of it all. One side, the Capitol, struggles to quiet the whispers of revolt while the other side seeks justice for the heinous crimes committed against them. Shockingly raw and horrifyingly real, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire will have viewers prepped and ready for war.
After defying the Capitol and winning the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen(Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark(Josh Hutcherson) find themselves facing the rage of President Cornelius Snow(Donald Sutherland). Desperate to cripple the inevitable uprising before it even happens, Snow seeks to eliminate Katniss and her squeeze by forcing them to compete in the 75th Hunger Games, also known as the 3rd Quarter Quell. This time, though, the competitors are former winners and ruthless killers, prompting Katniss to forge alliances that will not only guarantee her survival, but also ignite the fire of rebellion.
If Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen didn’t win you over in the first film, she certainly will here. Plucky, witty, and compassionate, Katniss is the perfect protagonist, and Lawrence shines in the role. But let’s not forget Peeta Mellark, who, thanks to Josh Hutcherson’s outstanding performance, brings out the courage in Katniss and gives her yet another reason to fight. Lawrence and Hutcherson share a chemistry that single-handedly carries the movie, giving viewers a romance that is constantly threatened but never taken for granted. Add Liam Hemsworth’s Gale Hawthorne into the mix, and you’ve got a love triangle that trumps the Bella/Edward/Jacob shit fest any day. Donald Sutherland turns in another solid performance as the cunning Cornelius Snow, and it’ll be interesting to see how his role will expand in the next film. Sam Claflin steps into the role of the cocky, skilled Finnick Odair, who proves to be a valuable ally to both Katniss and Peeta. Woody Harrelson reprises his role as the smart but constantly inebriated Haymitch Abernathy, who has a much bigger role this time around. Harrelson is more than up for the challenge, and eats up every second he’s on screen. As I watched, I swear I could see a huge grin pushing against his grim expression, threatening to take over as his dominant facial expression if he let up even a little bit. The supporting cast members hold their own against the talented leads, with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Elizabeth Banks standing out as two of the better characters.
Director Francis Lawrence handles the sequel with extreme care, holding to the source material while injecting his own style into the overall look and feel of the film. The first hour or so is spent re-acquainting viewers with the characters and establishing the film’s atmosphere, both of which are incredibly important aspects to pay attention to. As the film hurtles toward its conclusion, it becomes increasingly clear that this director knows what he’s doing. Pulse-pounding action sequences are punctuated by short, sweet character moments that connect us with the two charismatic leads on a deeper level. Horrifying moments of violence are interrupted by heartfelt acts of compassion. And by the end of the movie, viewers will be screaming for the next installment.
The film feels stuffed at times, packed tight with characters and concepts that will no doubt be revisited in the next film. However, it still feels bloated and overcrowded, which may or may not discourage multiple viewings.
Aside from that minor quibble, Catching Fire excels on almost every level, delivering a moviegoing experience that should be enjoyed and celebrated.
4.5 out of 5 stars