US Release Date: 11-22-2013
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
- Jennifer Lawrence, as
- Katniss Everdeen
- Josh Hutcherson, as
- Peeta Mellark
- Liam Hemsworth, as
- Gale Hawthorne
- Jena Malone, as
- Johanna Mason
- Sam Claflin, as
- Finnick Odair
- Woody Harrelson, as
- Haymitch Abernathy
- Donald Sutherland, as
- President Snow
- Philip Seymour Hoffman, as
- Plutarch Heavensbee
- Elizabeth Banks, as
- Effie Trinket
- Lenny Kravitz, as
- Stanley Tucci, as
- Caesar Flickerman
- Paula Malcomson, as
- Katniss' Mother
- Willow Shields, as
- Primrose Everdeen
- Jeffrey Wright, as
- Amanda Plummer, as
- Lynn Cohen, as
- Toby Jones as
- Claudius Templesmith
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
In Catching Fire, the red hot Jennifer Lawrence returns in the second installment of the very popular Hunger Games franchise based upon the books by Suzanne Collins. With an increased budget, the film has a slicker look and a cast filled with familiar faces and a few a-list stars. Its biggest flaw is its overly long running time, but this is unlikely to deter its rabid fanbase, who are more likely to be left clamoring for more rather than complaining of a surfeit.
The story retains the grim tone of the original and continues almost directly where the first ended. Katniss (Lawrence) and Peeta (Hutcherson) having just won the Hunger Games, are preparing to depart for a propaganda filled victory tour of the Districts of Pan-Am. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is wary of the effect Katniss is having on the downtrodden masses and he warns her to toe the line. Unfortunately, it only takes the appearance of Katniss to fan the flames of rebellion. In order to hopefully silence her forever, the President, with the help of his new Games Master, decides to stage an All-Star version of the Hunger Games wherein all contestants are previous Victors, including, of course, Peeta and Katniss. But will it all go according to his sinister plan or will Katniss be able to shoot an arrow into the works?
Jennifer Lawrence, the girl whose career is on fire right now, gives her all to this part. This may never be a franchise that wins acting awards, but that doesn't stop her from acting her guts out as if it was. Her intensity is set to 11 and she sets the tone for the rest of the cast, who do their best to keep up with her. When she cries in anguish, fighting for her life, she demands the audience feel her pain right along with her. There is very little comedy relief in the film and none of it comes from Lawrence. Her character is a strong one. She's hot headed at times and doesn't always know what to do, but she's never just a passive presence in her own life. It's this trait that makes her such a terrific role model and is in sharp contrast to too many female characters in films today.
Although there are a few minor changes from page to screen, the story does remain very faithful to the source material. Perhaps too faithful. At 2 and a half hours, there is definitely room for trimming. Ironically, the biggest change in the film is also cause for an increased running time. In the books, every scene is from Katniss's point of view. We only see what she sees. In the film however, we often see scenes from President Snow's point of view. This does give the villain of the story a larger presence, but isn't really needed. Although Sutherland does a good job, he's not the most nuanced, or subtle of characters and doesn't really need much exposition. For those looking for action, they will have to wait until the final hour of the film as that is how long it takes before Katniss and Peeta are thrust back into the arena. From there the pace really picks up as the political plotting is replaced by action.
There are several new characters introduced, several of whom will play a bigger part in the final installments. Jena Malone brings a spark and some life to the proceedings as the hot headed Johanna. Fan favorite Finnick Odair is played by Sam Claflin, but the things he brings are mainly a winning smile and a ripped physique. Acting heavyweight Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the new Games Master, Plutarch Heavensbee, who may or may not have more to him than is seen on screen.
Visually the movie is a step up over the first. This is hardly surprising given that following the success of the original, the budget for this installment was doubled. There were a few dodgy special effects in the first film, but here everything is top notch. It's not a movie that depends heavily on obvious CGI, but where it is needed, it is fairly seamless. This is particularly true in the arena during such scenes as the monkey attack or the killer fog.
Obviously, given its fanbase, this is a critic-proof movie and it wouldn't matter what was written about it. Either way, it would still be a success. It's nice to see though that despite that, the filmmakers still seem determined to put on a quality show rather than just rely on the franchise name recognition and its built in fans.
Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks, and Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
Unlike Scott, I have not read Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy. Also unlike Scott, I didn't really care much for the first movie. I went into this sequel hoping to enjoy it more, since clearly I'm in the minority in my negative opinion of the first one. After that movie became such a huge hit I began to think I was missing something. But Catching Fire confirmed my earlier opinion. It turns out to be a bigger budgeted version of the same thing. All the things I disliked about the first movie are here again.
Like its predecessor it starts off at a snail's pace. The first hour lacks any real action and there is a lot of talking and plotting going on. It's all very bleak. There is also a complete lack of subtlety to this world. Everything is presented morally in stark black and white, villains are villains and heroes are heroes. None of this would matter if so much time wasn't spent showing us the inner workings of President Snow's world. Too much time is wasted on what is essentially a one note character. He's evil, period.
I do agree with Scott about Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen. In fact I added half a star to my review just for her. It's a perfect marriage of actress and role. She is a great feminist character, sort of like a fantasy version of Lee Dolly, the young woman she played in Winter's Bone. After that movie and the Hunger Games franchise, Lawrence has cornered the market on strong rural females. But Hunger Games goes one step farther than Winter's Bone. In the relationship between Katniss and Peeta it completely turns traditional gender roles on their heads. She's the strong protector while he's the nurturing bridge builder. And it's usually the male star that gets to romance several different women, whereas here Katniss has a long-suffering boyfriend back home in District Twelve as well as her ongoing Hunger Games show-mance with Peeta, that may or may not be morphing into the real thing.
I did enjoy the supporting cast more this time. They bring a bit of levity to offset the relentlessly somber Katniss. Stanley Tucci hits all the right notes as the snarky, flamboyant television host, and Elizabeth Banks is terrific as Effie, constantly prompting her Tributes, “Chins up, smiles on!” Of the new characters Jena Malone is easily the stand out. It's too bad that most of the other previous Victors aren't given much to do. There is less fighting between the contestants than in the first movie.
Catching Fire ends with several big revelations. It sets things up for the big finale of the story. I will see the final two movies when they come out but I don't think I'll ever be a fan of the franchise. To my tastes these Hunger Games lack flavor.
Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Like Scott, I enjoy this franchise but I agree with Patrick’s point about a complete lack of subtlety to this world. All of the poor are revolting as President Snow treats them so horribly. As in the real world, a complacent media creates meaningless distractions to help keep the people ignorant of real issues. President Snow’s problem is that he does not understand the value of a Government welfare system. As Democrats have done for decades, all President Snow had to do to control the masses was give them just enough welfare for them to get by and not only would they have not revolted but eagerly supported him.
The totalitarian government of Pan Am is painted black and white but, as my brothers also mentioned, Jennifer Lawrence raises the film’s quality with her sincere performance. Katniss is caught in a love triangle that she had no part in creating. She genuinely cares for both Peeta and Gale. You are never sure who she truly loves. She grew up with Gale but her forced time spent with Peeta has forged a very strong and unique bond. Katniss wants neither man to get hurt but if Twilight taught us anything, it is that no love triangle can last forever, even though the one in Twilight seemed to.
Unlike the Twilight films, The Hunger Games generates actual tension. Katniss and Peeta are pawns in a political game. One minute they are valuable propaganda tools and the next they are a threat to the powers that be. I actually care that Katniss and Peeta survive. Their relationship is larger than themselves.
Bella Swan is a self-centered bore while Katniss concerns herself with the welfare of others, putting their safety above her own. It is that quality that earns the audience's interest and respect. She is a genuine heroine. She wants to love and be loved but she is ready and willing to sacrifice her own happiness and safety for those she loves.
This installment adds a few characters. I have no idea where their storyline is going or how it will affect Katniss and Peeta . I get the feeling though, that someone is going to become a traitor. Although the politics of Pan Am are black and white and the characters are a bit gooey sweet, I look forward to seeing the outcome of their story.
Photos © Copyright Lionsgate (2013)