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The Filmaholic Reviews: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

Posted on the 26 November 2013 by Filmaholic Reviews @FilmaholicRvews

The Filmaholic Reviews: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

Let the games begin. 

The Lowdown: The Hunger Games is, without a doubt, a phenomenon. To be specific, it is a young-adult-book-series-made-into-films kind of phenomenon, though the Battle Royale-esque context set it apart from the more lighthearted wizards and vampires. The first Hunger Games film was solid, functioning more like a companion to the novel but still remaining largely faithful all the same. Pacing and tonal inconsistency weakened the film, but fine performances saved it. That brings us to The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (from here on, Catching Fire) the second film in the series that manages to be better than the first film, despite being based on weaker source material.
1. The Plot: Picking up right where the first film left off, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are celebrated as the victors of the Hunger Games, but find that it is impossible for them to return to their normal lives. Their victory unintentionally sparked uprisings across Panem, and the sinister President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is convinced that Katniss has become a symbol of the resistance and wants her eliminated. Meanwhile, Katniss struggles to keep up with the superficial life she leads; being a victor of the Hunger Games, she is now expected to keep up her fake love affair with Peeta for everyone in the nation to see. Of course, this leads to tension with Gale (Liam Hemsworth), her childhood friend, who also has feelings for her. To make matters worse, this year marks the 75th anniversary of the Hunger Games; every 25 years, there is a special Hunger Games called a Quarter Quell. President Snow changes up the rules by revealing that those being selected for the Quarter Quell will be past victors from each district. Since District 12 has only had three victors ever, Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), it goes without saying that Katniss and Peeta must compete in the Hunger Games yet again. Will the odds be ever in their favor yet again?
2. The Characters:    Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) returns as Katniss Everdeen, “the girl on fire” and poster girl for badass female protagonists. Fresh out of winning an Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook, Lawrence delivers a stronger performance here than in The Hunger Games. Katniss has matured a bit since the first film, but since so much has changed since she won the games, she finds it difficult to readjust. With that, Katniss is still a naïve and vulnerable character, and Lawrence plays her to a tee.    The same can be said for Josh Hutcherson (Detention), returning as Peeta, Katniss’ love interest who may or may not be faking his feelings for her. Less time is devoted to Peeta than Katniss, which makes sense given that the books are told from Katniss’ point of view, but Hutcherson still makes an impression. Peeta’s skill is knowing how to play the game; he knows how to put on an act for the cameras, how to say the right things at the right time, such as during interviews on Caesar Flickerman’s talk show. These are things that Katniss has trouble with, since she is still uncomfortable about keeping up the act after the games are over.

The Filmaholic Reviews: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

Well, the fancy clothing does all the talking, really. It's called a fashion statement. 

   Liam Hemsworth (Paranoia) returns as Gale, Katniss’ childhood friend who also has feelings for her. Gale never makes much of an impression since he is barely in the book and in the film. It almost seems like his character was shoehorned in to create the love triangle so ubiquitous in young adult fiction these days. But enough cynicism. Gale’s purpose in Catching Fire was to show defiance against the Capitol, which resulted in him getting a public flogging, which demonstrated the brutality of the government. Perhaps he will play a bigger part in the upcoming films.    Donald Sutherland (JFK) returns as President Snow, as sinister as ever. Woody Harrelson (Now You See Me) returns as Haymitch, the first Hunger Games victor for District 12. He is still great comic relief, and he has his share of dramatic moments, such as promising Katniss that he will do anything to save Peeta’s life. Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect) also returns to ham it up as Effie Trinket, Katniss and Peeta’s overly-made-up and super prim and proper Hunger Games escort. If you thought she was annoying in the first film, then this film will not change your mind. Speaking of hamming it up, Stanley Tucci (The Fifth Estate) steals the show once again as flamboyant and hilariously superficial talk show host Caesar Flickerman. His performance is epic overacting at its finest, but hey, he’s good at it.

The Filmaholic Reviews: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

I'd watch his show. 

   New characters include Philip Seymour Hoffman (Doubt) as the awesomely-named Plutarch Heavensbee, the new Hunger Games Head Gamemaker. Hoffman’s performance is relegated to meetings with President Snow where they discuss how to eliminate Katniss. However, Hoffman doesn’t make a real impression; it seems like Hoffman phoned his performance in, which is rare for him. There is also Sam Claflin (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) as Finnick Odair, the pretty-boy participant in the Hunger Games this time. Looking at the guy, it’s clear how he got the role, but fortunately he isn’t nearly as smarmy as he could have been. Jena Malone (Sucker Punch) delivers an intense performance as Johanna Mason, another fierce participant in the games who, appropriately, despises the Capitol for making her play again.
3. Better Than the Book:    You heard me correctly. While the first film worked as a compliment to the book, I think that the film of Catching Fire may actually be better than the book overall. Just think how rare that is.    The biggest problem that the filmmakers had to face was, without a doubt, the first-person narrative in the books. The books are told entirely from Katniss’ point of view, and it is nearly impossible to do that in film. The problem with this method of storytelling is that it limits our view of the big picture. Things happening outside of the main character’s point of view, such as other characters’ thoughts and motivations aren’t developed as well because they are being seen through the eyes of another character, which can distort them. That is part of what made Catching Firesomewhat of a weak book. The Hunger Gamesbenefited from a first-person narrative because it was a tale of survival more-or-less. Catching Firecomplicates the narrative with political insurgency, a love triangle, and the superficial lifestyle of the rich and famous, and has the Hunger Games on top of all that. Basically, Catching Fire’s narrative is cluttered enough, and telling it all in first person isn’t the best idea.    The film fixes this problem by not being inside Katniss’ mind the entire time. The film features scenes where President Snow and Plutarch Heavensbee discuss removing Katniss from the picture, which helps build their characters. There are scenes featuring Capitol guards destroying and burning property and killing innocent civilians, which establish the brutality of the corrupt Capitol and provide justification for the rebellion. Small scenes like this are missing from the books, but by adding them to the film, it bolsters the narrative and the characters.    The film also tightens the narrative by removing a lot of the fluff and filler from the book. Many gripe about the huge focus on Katniss’ stylists and all of the scenes describing the eight-trillion dresses she wears, or all of Katniss’ internal monologues about how she feels about Peeta and Gale. The book definitely has a lot of this stuff, and trimming some of it would have made the book feel more focused. The film removes most of it, instead only inserting it when it is a pivotal part of the plot. The elaborate and gorgeous wedding dress featured in the film, for example, is critical to the narrative. Katniss and Peeta sharing a kiss or saying loving things to each other are only done sparingly; it gets the point across effectively without overdoing it.

The Filmaholic Reviews: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

Improbably handsome and shirtless guys are still present though. 

The Bottom Line:Basically, Catching Fire is a rare example of a film that surpasses the book on which it was based. I was honestly worried that this film would be disappointing given that the book was a bit of a letdown, but thankfully it wasn’t. The acting is as good as it ever was, the production is better, and the narrative is much more solid and focused than it was in the book. If the filmmakers can keep this up, then I’ll be looking forward to Mockingjay, which may also surpass the book. I just don’t like how it’s going to be split into two films.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is property of Lionsgate and Color Force. This review was written by me.
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Copyright © Filmaholic Reviews, 2013

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