The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Review: Game On!

Despite its overwhelming popularity, The Hunger Games is born and bred for intellectual discussion. Though its agenda is ever present throughout the series, its success is based on a core love of ingenious material and though-provoking ideas. Suzanne Collin’s satirical and allegorical young adult series exposes young people as primary sources of power and intelligence. Despite mean-spirited preconceptions about youth, the books and movies are grasping an impressive array of followers. The second instalment, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, like its main character, swiftly and assuredly hits its targets. It’s a kinetic and awe-inspiring slice of family-friendly entertainment (so long as each family member overcomes the societal torture and brutal murders). Despite the heaviness, its intriguing style and characters will push viewers toward this undying quest’s resolution.

The Hunger Games

This instalment, striving for a more mature audience this time around, delves into the darkness to reveal sinister secrets and treacherous obstacles. This gripping and impactful sequel, outclassing the original in every respect, allows us to ask, then answers, the series’ most important question – what is the Hunger Games’ true purpose? This sequel continues the agonising adventures of caring sister/daughter and skilled bow-woman Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence). Stranded in the apocalyptic wasteland called Panem, Katniss must outlive her brethren in one of twelve decrepit districts. District 12, the poorest and most violent zone, houses Katniss’ family and fellow Hunger Games victor Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Spending quality time with old friend and mining labourer Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Katniss strives to keep her district from death’s door. Unfortunately, the towering cityscape known as The Capitol looks down upon each district. Its malicious and deceptive leader, President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland), keeps Katniss and Peeta in line to avoid a rebellion. When their ‘romance’ fails to win over the masses, Katniss and Peeta, aided by Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), Effie (Elizabeth Banks), and Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), look for an alternative solution to Panem’s societal issues. Snow, aided by Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), organises a distinct version of the Hunger Games known as the Quarter Quell. Organised every 25 years, the Quell places previous victors against each other in a sprawling and dangerous habitat.

The Hunger GamesAs the Empire Strikes Back of this all-important series, Catching Fire is a gutsy and vibrant sensory assault. Adaptations like The Host and Twilight (having given young adult fiction a bad name) are wholly eclipsed (pun intended) by The Hunger Games franchise. Unlike the aforementioned soapy book series’, The Hunger Games has an engaging premise and unique ideas. Despite the cliffhanger ending and unanswered questions, Catching Fire explores concepts and themes only lightly touched upon in the original. The original, despite its surprising charm and revelatory performances, contains gaping holes and unavoidable flaws. Here, director Francis Lawrence (Constantine, I Am Legend) throws the audience into this visceral story. Staring them down for its 2-hour run-time, we are invited to share in their pain and rebelliousness. With the original ignorantly cramming plot-points and concepts into its exhaustive run-time, Catching Fire smoothens out the rough edges whilst pleasing die-hard fans and average moviegoers alike. Despite picking up from the original’s convoluted story, newcomers could still easily become immersed in this punishing tale. Despite its potential to depress adults and terrify children, Catching Fire reaches for its most eagerly awaited concepts. Viewers pining to see certain characters, plot-strands, and symbols from the labyrinthine novels will be delighted with this instalment. The plot, following the original’s evolving and inter-twining structure, discusses the societal, cultural, and political aspects of this peculiar premise. The first third is spent with twelve districts’ grime-covered and frustrated inhabitants. Describing the gravity of their situation, Katniss and Peeta’s motivational speeches elevate some of Catching Fire‘s most potent and informative scenes. Their conflict, defined by the two leads ignoring one another, over-acting for the cameras, and building affection, is more important here than in the original. The movie then turns up the heat, and the aptly titled ‘Girl on Fire’ must fight for survival. Despite Catching Fire‘s laboured pacing within the first half, the moral and political questions make for a powerful blockbuster. I, normally losing interest before the kinetic action sequences begin, was surprisingly enraptured by the story’s familiar strands and engaging standoffs.

However, the story doesn’t rest on moral dilemmas and murderous characters alone. Despite becoming heavy-handed by the second half, the movie touches on relevant issues yielding familiar consequences. This pressing situation, capped off by aggressive military leaders calling themselves ‘peacekeepers’, is made worse by The Capitol’s stranglehold. Acting like irritable Republican Party politicians, President Snow and Heavensbee relish in each district’s demise. Like Children of Men and V for Vendetta, the movie ably discusses lower class oppression and rebellion. Despite the obvious symbolism and exposition, we are shown graphic details and vital intricacies. As a symbol, Katniss is depicted as a weakened yet focused role model. With Katniss and Peeta brashly labeled as ‘celebrities’, symbols describing tabloid media, big-budget entertainment, and rehab-hopping A-listers come think and fast. Despite Katniss being adored by President Snow’s young relative, the vengeful leader pushes Katniss, the victors, and Panem’s citizens to breaking point. Each link, illustrating atrocities like slavery, Nazism, and the 99% vs. 1% conflict, is greatly developed. From the opening scenes, District 12 is displayed as a mining town choked by poverty. Thankfully, the startling attention to detail and expansive direction bring the elaborate settings, action set-pieces, and costumes to life. This grimy world, creating a stark contrast between the rich and poor citizens, is elevated by the significant production design. Each district, defined by dirt-covered vistas and cluttered spaces, is chillingly effective. Boosting the debilitating narrative, The Capitol is a remarkable sight. A concoction of Lady Gaga wet dream, Anime, and Paris Fashion Week, The Capitol bursts with bright colours and awe-inspiring cityscapes. Thankfully, the game itself also elevates this action-adventure. Here, the dome is more detailed and engaging than the original’s arena. Ruled over by Heavensbee, the dome is fit with such deadly forces as tidal waves, baboons, and poisonous gasses. Here, the jungle setting allows or several creative and intensifying moments. With force-fields, traps, and competitors around every corner, each action sequence keeps the movie’s tempo going.

The Hunger GamesLike with the original, the narrative is made whole by its cast of wondrous and zany characters. Defined by wacky names and aesthetic choices, each character in Catching Fire has something to prove. Many characters return from the original, with strengths and burdens to bare. Unlike the original, Catching Fire illuminates every beloved character. The heavy-handed plot-line, despite the source material’s vagueness and familiarity, is saved by the engaging and sickening character arcs. Defined by each character’s love-lives, losses, deaths, and impulsive actions, this sequel’s consistently dour tone hits hard. Like the Truman Show and Battle Royale, the reality TV-esque premise hurriedly draws characters and audiences in. Here, we are swept up by physical, political, and moral conflicts making for empathetic and definitive characters. This dystopian drama, unlike the Harry Potter series’ final instalments, justifies its startling moodiness and urgency. Also, the young lead characters overshadow the supporting players. Katniss is an efficient and fascinating creation. Unlike many female characters in young adult fiction (guess who I’m referring to), Katniss understands and adapts to the ever-changing world around her. Her unique attributes throw her into each pressing situation. Pushed by President Snow and The Capitol’s alluring hierarchal system, her actions create ripples hitting every important character. Katniss and Peeta’s awkward yet intensifying friendship brings gravitas and poignancy to this gothic material. Their antics, defined by cutesy interactions and revelations, emphasise their traumatic behind-the-scenes experiences. Lawrence, launching into the A-list with the original, takes control of every frame. Lawrence’s endless charisma and charm, blissfully injected into the movie’s most engrossing sequences, help her carry this mega-popular franchise. Thankfully, everyone in Catching Fire‘s starry cast does a commendable job. Hutcherson and Hemsworth bring gravitas to their vital roles. Harrelson, Kravitz, and Banks deliver enlightening performances for our two leads to bounce off of. Sutherland, Hoffman, and Tucci become interesting antagonists. Meanwhile, Jena Malone, Sam Claflin, and Jeffery Wright provide impressive turns as popular Quarter Quell competitors.

Thankfully, this much-anticipated sequel lives up to ridiculous expectations whilst eclipsing the original. Despite young adult fiction’s stranglehold over pop-culture, Catching Fire is a stand out adaptation fit for all family members. This series, now preparing for Mockingjay Parts 1 and 2, is on the right track to continue its baffling success. Surprisingly, this lively, sickening, and pulsating sequel is one of 2013’s best blockbusters.

Rating:

Verdict: An engaging, impactful, and moody sequel for the holidays. 

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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Hi, I'm Tom Munday. I'm a Journalism graduate from Perth's Curtin University who's passionate about film, TV, music, theatre, and sport. Happy reading, folks!

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34 Comments

  1. Castillo
    0

    Jennifer Lawrence was brilliant throughout this movie. Actually all of them, even the extras seemed to convince you the whole Hunger Games world was real.

  2. i was really sleepy when it finally start and i finally i fell asleep at the end.. its only a prequel to the next one.. and the ending cuts really harsh just in the middle of the story..

  3. I have read the series twice and had forgotten bits and pieces of what had happened but the film brought everything to life exactly as I had imagined. I’d give it 5 stars.

  4. Joan Goodwin
    0

    I am literally fan-girling my ass off.

    I am bookophiliac and for the first time in my life I have no comments whatsoever about the major plot line. The only details they missed were the things they screwed up in the first movie.

    Props to the new directors and the amazing cast.

  5. Cecil R...
    0

    I honestly think that nobody could play Katniss like Jennifer Lawrence. And the director, Francis Lawrence, seemed to really understand the books, unlike the previous director, who seemed to miss some key symbolism.

  6. Michelle Webb

    You make me very excited to take a good look at this movie – and I wasn’t even interested in seeing the first Hunger Games, so I think its time I start, and compare your review! Great writing.

  7. Catching Fire is definitely an improvement over the previous film but it still has it’s flaws that prevent it from being an excellent film. With that said, this is a great mainstream film worth paying for.

  8. camielle j.
    0

    This very satisfying sequel. Rarely do we see sequels that surpass the first instalment. Very happy to hear the same director is involved in the upcoming instalments.

  9. DISTANCE
    0

    I do NOT see how anyone can give this movie a bad review! The first thing I said after walking out of the movie theater with my husband is that I’ve never seen a movie done so close to the book before. I mean ya, they had to cuz some minor parts out otherwise it would’ve been too long of a movie but I think they put in all of the major points that shouldve been in there and did them justice. Acted them out exactly as the book has them written. This movie is spectacular.

  10. Kevin Licht

    I felt like the first film was one of those rare occasions where the film version surpassed any vision of the book (didn’t necessarily think the first book was all that great so I haven’t read the others), and this film was an improvement on the first film.

    Also love Philip Seymour Hoffman who I think may have perfected acting and can now just do whatever he wants and make it good.

  11. Jordan

    The movie remained extremely faithful to the book. I was extremely happy with it. I’m surprised they’re splitting Mockingjay into 2 movies, because it seemed like they cut a good quater of the next book out by the last scene of the movie?? I don’t think it needs 2 movies…….
    but alas…. the show must go on.
    Really detailed well written review too 🙂

  12. Lachlan Vass

    Always preferred the Hunger Games movies to the books. Especially love me some Phillip Seymour Hoffman action and Jeffrey Wright as Beetee was a great surprise

  13. Jennifer Carr

    Loved this movie. It just felt so much richer and complex and exciting than the first one. First one is still good, but it starts to slip when the Hunger Games actually start. But here, it just felt like a non-stop adrenaline rush. Great job cast and crew!

  14. Jessica Koroll

    I was completely blown away by how well Francis Lawrence managed to adapt Catching Fire for the big screen. Given that the novels are written in first person, and Katniss is a very introverted character, adapting them into a form that is wholly visual can be difficult. It’s the main reason why I thought the first film didn’t quite reach the level of greatness it was striving for. While I thought Catching Fire suffered from this as well, Lawrence displayed a great command over atmosphere and the symbolism of the capitol. I was particularly amazed at how well he was able to show the true horror of some of the events occurring. I’m thinking particularly of the jabberjay scene in the arena, which I thought really intensified what is already a stressful scene and really conveyed what a sickening experience that is for Katniss and Finnick.

    Although I was a little dismayed over the fact that some of the more gut-wrenching scenes in the books didn’t quite carry the same emotional punch in film (the ending in particular), I am so thankful that the franchise has managed to get such a talented, sprawling cast to work with. JLaw is simply perfect in her performance. I always feel as though I can imagine the exact thoughts that book!Katniss was thinking during a scene just by looking at her face. The rest of the cast, also, have such a great understanding of their characters that I can easily forgive the film’s flaws. While I personally prefer Catching Fire over Mockingjay, I’m excited to see how the next two movies play out and what Francis Lawrence does with them. This franchise seems to be in good hands.

  15. Siobhan Calafiore

    I agree that Catching Fire is on a whole other level in terms of depth compared to the previous one. The film’s exploration of the political conflict, the messages communicated to its audience and character development is much more stronger and powerful. I think most people agree that the film’s greatest strength comes from the high calibre of actors, especially Jennifer Lawrence.

  16. Arlinka Larissa

    Have watched this movie twice since it came out. It was definitely better than the first Hunger Games and the book. I didn’t care much for Beetee in the books but Jeffrey Wright breathed so much life into the character. It was a great experience!

  17. Sonia Charlotta Reini

    I’ve never read the books, so I can only go by what I see on screen, but overall it was pretty good. One of the best elements of this films (and its predecessor) is the costume design and the role that fashion plays in the story. Quite clever.

  18. I agree, although the film is characteristically Hollywood in terms in of aesthetics (which isn’t a bad thing). The way it approaches the narrative is refreshing; focusing on the character relationship and the development of these relationships and the characters themselves instead of just throwing action in your face (which it could of easily done). Although some may argue that this is just a ploy to deepen audience involvement in preparation for the final film, it doesn’t feel like a narrative ploy. The film genuinely seems interested in addressing the themes of the story that a lot of Hollywood made productions would avoid.

  19. Dennis Fulton

    This was definitely better than the first movie, without question. however, the biggest flaw I have with this movie, and the series in general, is how fucking fragile the whole government is. Are we seriously expecting to believe that the one act of defiance at the end of The Hunger Games is enough to cause widespread revolt against the system that has proven itself to be completely without mercy and eager to deal out punishment? Katniss said it best in this movie when she said, “it must be a pretty fragile government for it to fall because of a couple berries.” (something like that.) Absolutely! It’s preposterous!

    Also, President Snow is too evil. Every choice he makes lacks all common sense just to maximize on the cruelty. He is too hammy and unbelievable. Even Stalin ruled his nation with more finesse and reason.

  20. Fantastic review

  21. I am personally more interested in the movie ‘Divergent’ (more sci-fi) which will be release next March ! But i should check out Hunger Games though…

  22. I really enjoyed this review! I agree with everything, but as a fan of the books – I was upset that Gale wasn’t given a tad more sympathy for his seemingly unrequited love. When they missed out “you only kiss me when I’m in pain”…that was not a good moment in the cinema.

  23. I really enjoyed Catching Fire. The review was well written highlighting how well the film is acted, adapted and made all together

  24. Such a great movie in so many ways. What was your opinion of the scene in District 11 – the shooting? The support for Katniss? The uncanny resemblance to Morgan Freeman (kidding)?

  25. Nicola Kahler

    Loved the review 🙂 I haven’t gotten around to seeing the movie yet (so disappointed in myself!!) but everyone is blown away by it ! I loved the books and as of yet the film adaptations have proved highly complementary

  26. the hunger games and catching fire were so awesome!

  27. I have to whole-heartedly agree with the first sentence of this article: “Despite its overwhelming popularity, The Hunger Games is born and bred for intellectual discussion.” I’ve heard many intellectual folks sort of mock its popularity and suggest that its plot is tired. But, I think what’s truly great about it is that it appeals to an audience of intellectuals looking at the myriad of issues it addresses, and it appeals to the average audience just looking for entertainment. Even better than that, though, it forces many of those just looking for entertainment to face and think about the issues it brings to light.

  28. After reading all the books and watching both films I am a HUGE fan. Catching fire without doubt overshadows Hunger Games, but what I am concerned with is how they are going to divide Mockingjay into two films…in my opinion it was the worst book, and I really don’t think having it divided into two films will improve it much. I know altering the ending would be terrible, however a small part of me really hopes they will! Just a smidge!

  29. I finally saw Catching Fire last night and I thought that it was both a stunning film and a great adaptation of the film. This is a great review of the film.

  30. I agree that this took a very Hollywood approach to movie making, but I would even go so far as to call it a typical Blockbuster movie. Quite showy, and with occasions that seemed to declare beauty a more important trait than clarity some aspects of the movie were not so inspiring. This is an adaptation of a book which I have never read, so perhaps some plot holes are not so much the movies error as they are the authors. However, even if I ignore the ridiculous coincidences which magically heal them from poisonous gas clouds (for example) this movie has some inexcusable flaws. Take for instance the SGI of the Baboons, which was unrealistic and at times barely resembled a monkeys anatomy at all. (I still have issues with the only real fighting in this movie being against monkeys, but-) If you are going to make this the climax of physical combat, the least you can do is make the monkeys realistic!

    Furthermore, whilst I believe that Jennifer Lawrence is a spectacular actress, her performance in this feel flat. I wouldn’t rate it Kristen Stewart, but at the same time, it’s not that much better. My evidence for such a bold and controversial claim? Literally the last scene. It’s a close-up of her face as she (very shoddily) experiences what, I assume, is supposed to be: grieving, dismay, anger, determination to seek revenge. However, whilst I could identify what her ridiculously quick character development was supposed to be composed of, it did come across very much as her just being constipated. Throughout the film, even when protecting her loved ones, she looks like a child sulking, not an overburdened 17 year old who’s coping with having murdered people, have her younger-sister figure die and have to go against everything she believes in to protect everyone she loves. The weight of her responsibilities and
    emotional baggage is in no way properly portrayed.

    This article, however, is very good, though that you reference the Truman Show and Battle Royale in a way which suggests the two have a similar theme which is contestable. The Truman Show is more of a critique on the intrusiveness of television and the media nowadays, whilst The Hunger Games has OTT tv presentation that does make it similar in any way. Battle Royale is a socio-political commentary and The Hunger Games is basically a water-downed version of this; using romance, and bubblegum horror to separate the viewer/reader from the real nitty-gritty morals at play.

    I’d hesitate to give this movie 4 1/2 stars. At most it warrants 3 1/2: It’s not a jaw dropper visually, or conceptually and the acting is average at best.

  31. Oh man. When I saw The Hunger Games in theaters (after reading the trilogy), I was thoroughly disappointed. I never plan to compare the movies to the novels, because I know they won’t add up (exception: Harry Potter series), but for me it’s inevitable. So when my friend asked me to see this with her, I was hesitant. However, I left the theater in shock. Words cannot describe how absolutely amazing this film was! All I can say is that Catching Fire is perfect, including, but not limited to, in every way that The Hunger Games was not. Also, I’m not a very emotional person, but I cried at least five times while watching this film. It had many heart-wrenching scenes. Overall, I would say it’s one of the best films I’ve ever seen.

  32. Fully agree with your comments on the sequel being a far cry from the rush of the first film. I also think that the casting choices and performances in these films surpass any of the first, and that they all really ‘got’ the concept of the books and the social issues at play within Panem.

  33. Sam Thorogood

    Sounds fantastic – I loved the first film, so will have to check this out ASAP.

  34. Great review! Unlike most book-to-movie adaptations I’ve seen, Catching Fire seemed to add to the book. After watching it, I feel like I have a new understanding of these characters I’ve been reading about, instead of leaving the theatre screaming about plot points the script neglected.

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