‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ Review

Published 11 months ago by , Updated October 17th, 2014 at 9:30 pm,

The Hunger Games Catching Fire Reviews starring Jennifer Lawerence Josh Hutcherson Liam Hemsworth and Woody Harrelson The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Review

Lawrence and Lawrence prove to be winning team, and like Panem itself, this franchise is just now catching fire.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire transports us back to the near-future world of Panem and the saga of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence). At the end of the first film, Katniss and her teammate/love interest, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), made groundbreaking history by defying the rules of the deadly Hunger Games to emerge as the first-ever dual victors of the tournament. Now living in luxury within the dystopian District 12, all would seem well for Katniss and those close to her; but in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

The tyrannical President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has not forgotten Katniss’s open defiance – nor will he ignore the tiny spark of hope Katniss and Peeta have ignited amongst the downtrodden citizens of the various districts. Under the advisement of new game master Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), President Snow coerces Katniss and Peeta to use their victory tour as a propaganda campaign, all while hatching a truly insidious plan to use the 75th anniversary of the Hunger Games to get rid of the famed District 12 lovers – and other Hunger Games victors who may stand in the way of the capitol.

Jennifer Lawerence and Josh Hutcherson in The Hunger Games Catching Fire1 The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Review

The first Hunger Games was an inspired (if flawed) adaptation of Suzanne Collins’s bestselling novel; however, with a bigger budget and a switch in directorial approach (Seabiscuit‘s Gary Ross being replaced by Constantine director Francis Lawrence), the result is a bigger and better blockbuster movie experience. Everything a sequel should be.

Former music video director Francis Lawrence is known for delivering vividly-realized and solid movie adaptations (Constantine, I Am LegendWater for Elephants) but it’s fair to say that his work has been under-appreciated, thus far. That trend will officially change with this film. As if adhering to a playbook that was drawn from every negative comment about the first film, Lawrence does major technical course-correction in just about every area of the film possible. First and foremost: gone is the hand-held “shaky cam” perspective, replaced by more traditional mis-en-scene framing and blocking (thank god for steady-cam shots at medium distances).

The set pieces are better, the cinematography and overall tone feel more grounded and balanced – something the first film failed at, while trying to bring a world of 19th century poverty, futuristic splendor and a video game-style death arena all together in one world. Simply put: Lawrence nails it on all fronts and creates cohesiveness where the first film had disparity – though again, obviously a bigger budget helps when it comes to visual effects and such…

Liam Hemsworth as Gale in The Hunger Games Catching Fire The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Review

Liam Hemsworth in ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’

Having Oscar-winning writers penning your script also makes a big difference, and Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3) and Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) certainly live up to their prestige. Catching Fire‘s first half is a  compelling and even deeply touching elevation of Collins’s material; free of the simple survival tale of the first installment (and all its Battle Royal comparisons), Arndt and Beaufoy go right to the heart of the story – Katniss’s hardline survival instinct giving way to realization of the worldly issues surrounding her – creating sequences and scenes that push the drama to heights one does not expect from this sort of genre fare.

There is more wit, spacial awareness and movement – and most importantly, this time around the writers make smart use of a film’s widened perspective, giving us scenes the book never did (but probably should have), that nonetheless feel natural and logical in the narrative of a film. That understanding and confidence – that film is not the same as book – makes all the difference. There are plenty of Easter eggs and hod nods for hardcore fans, but this is first and foremost treated as a movie experience, and is that much better for it.

Woody Harrelson and Phillip Seymour Hoffman in The Hunger Games Catching Fire The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Review

Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Woody Harrelson in ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’

The downside is that this time around, the second half of the movie (the actual death tournament) pales in comparison to the political drama that preceded it, causing time to feel long (and at nearly 2.5 hours, it can feel very long) and interest to wane. This is not entirely the fault of the screenwriters, however; Catching Fire is the middling installment of a three-book set, and like so many middling chapters, its climatic hook is actually disguise for an unresolved narrative.

In this film, the Hunger Games feel more like a Hunger Games scrimmage, before the intricate and subtly woven story dumps things at a cliffhanger that feels like it was torn straight from The Matrix Reloaded. Still, even with a lukewarm finish, Catching Fire successfully sets the stage for the two-part finale to come, selling the audience on the political theater that is slowly but surely becoming the dominant story thread of the series. Less video game gimmick, more earnest character study and socio-political commentary; this film pays the toll for crossing that bridge.

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games Catching Fire The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Review

Jennifer Lawrence in ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’

Jennifer Lawrence now has blockbuster franchise filmmaking under her belt (and an Oscar, to boot), and she is clearly more at ease in the skin of the iconic Katniss Everdeen – this time getting some much deeper and complicated character material to work with (psychological trauma, raw panic, moral and philosophical quandary) – all of which she knocks out, seemingly effortlessly. By her side is Hutcherson as Peeta, trusty as ever with his boy-next-door charm, while Liam Hemsworth’s Gale is sure to give young ladies (or older ones, who knows) the exact kind of heart0-swell they paid for.

Other returning players like Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci and Tobi Jones are equally settled into their roles, and can therefore have more ownership and fun with their performances. Lenny Kravitz’ Cinna makes a brief (but effective) appearance as well. The gang is back together and better than ever.

Jeffrey Wright in The Hunger Games Catching Fire The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Review

Jeffrey Wright in ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’

Catching Fire no doubt benefits from shedding the fresh-faced child actor roster in favor of a more adult lineup of good character actors in supporting roles. Jeffrey Wright (Boardwalk Empire), Amanda Plummer (Pulp Fiction), Lynn Cohen (Damages) and Phillip Seymour Hoffman (The Master) – all of them are strong in their own right, and all of them are welcome additions that bring quality acting to ground a lot of the more fantastical and silly elements of the film. Even the fresher faces of Sam Caflin (Snow White and the Huntsmen) and Jena Malone (Sucker Punch) are well-suited to their respective roles of fan-favorite characters Finnick Odair and Johanna Mason. With strong support and returning vets working at top form, Catching Fire delivers as much on the human level as it does the spectacle level.

In the end, this is a much-improved sequel whose only real drawback is that it’s a middle chapter with a somewhat thin payoff – but that’s often the nature of the beast in a post-Empire Strikes Back world. Thankfully there’s more substance to care about, characters who are easier to care about, and a better-constructed world to draw us in. Lawrence and Lawrence prove to be winning team, and like Panem itself, this franchise is just now catching fire.

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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is now in theaters. It is 146 minutes long, and is Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language.

Want to discuss the movie without SPOILING it for others? Go to our Catching Fire Spoilers Discussion. The Screen Rant editors will also be discussing the film – check out the latest episode(s) of our Screen Rant Underground Podcast.

Want to know more about the next film in the series? Check out our coverage of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay

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Our Rating:

4 out of 5
(Excellent)

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  1. Really good film, entertaining, action is not as great as in the first film. Sam Clafin’s Finnick Odair was the best unoffical audition of Aquaman that I have seen! If Aquaman is included in the Justice League! What do people think as Jennifer Lawrence starring as Wonder Woman?

  2. This movie was a million times better than the first. I couldn’t agree more that its not just a survival piece now, and the storyline has way more depth and twist which made it so much more of a story line I could get lost in. Great movie.

  3. In all honesty, ever since the 1st movie came out, I’ve dislike gale. I don’t care if he dies or not. yes i’ve read the trilogy books, but even in the books, before the movies, i didn’t care much about him. He wasn’t as dislikeable in the books. the problem is i blame the promotions since the 1st movie’s promotion. they were promoting a character that wasn’t even important. as a whole in the entire trilogy, gale is not one of the major character. to me, he’s just a side character. i’m frustrated and sad about girls who pull for gale when he is in fact doesn’t do much. Collins doesn’t provide much source materials from gale and if he did, i would have at least care about him. sorry for ranting out here. i have to bring this up sooner or later. this is driving me nuts. no offense to people who like the actor, i don’t dislike the actor, i dislike the character. which again brings up a major problem in the movies, the love triangle. it’s stupid and i’ve been in a similar situation like this. It’s not all lovely dovey when you the person in the middle has to chose, you’re are force to chose. when in fact the entire trilogy is mostly about oppression, control, and resistance. I know there are other important themes through out the trilogy, but this is what i got to the end. again, sorry for going all out, i had to get this off my chest.

    • I agree

  4. ummmm…. “Lord of the Files”? Anyone? Aww, this poor book and original movie is being completely forgotten.”Lord of the Files” is really the book that started whole concept of kids killing kids and good people doing bad things to one another. don’t get me wrong, love Battle Royale and the Hunger Games, equally. they both have their shares of flaws and goods in both of them. in a very funny way, all these adaptations is like comparing to which soda product is better than another soda product.

  5. Watch Hunger Games -CAtching Fire on http://watchcatchingfireonline.com/?p=4…AMAZING MOVIE !!!

  6. I love catching the first 5 mins were amazing and when it got more in the movie I was amazed I can’t wait intlil mocking and when katness spread her wings were amazing and I totally think the peeta and katness are such a perfect match but gale and katness is just not ment to be and peeta is heart broken by katness and gale it’s just messed up in the first movie they were so in love and woulld die for eatch other and now they just fake for the capital I think the hunger games are way better then twilight, harry potter ect….

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