Catching Fire picks up right after the end of the first Hunger Games film and the first half mostly sets up the world the Hunger Games inhabits with some very impressive world building and character development. As before, Jennifer Lawrence's performance as Katniss Everdeen is the star of the show and she reminds us again why she is one of the best actresses in the business. Seriously though, who does not love J-Law? Then we are introduced to new characters and a lot of stuff happens. Basically, watch the movie to see what happens next because it is worth it. If you were not a fan of the first Hunger Games like myself, you might be pleasantly surprised by Catching Fire by how well executed the film is under Francis Lawrence's direction. Compared to the low-budget shaky-cam fest of the first Hunger Games, all of the camera work is steady and the cinematography is quite excellent though out. You can clearly see that the budget is twice as much as the original because everything looks fantastic. The movie as a whole is significantly different than I had expected. The tone is much improved being dark and more violent, which is something I will go into more detail in the action section. Even though the movie was darker, it was also funnier with a few hilarious scenes.
Catching Fire adds several new characters, most of which are great and memorable. I always like crazy chicks in fiction and Jena Malone as Johanna Mason is one of my new favorites. She is crazy, and I love it; best new character in the franchise. Fan favorite, Finnick Odair, is surprisingly a cool character, and one of the better aspects of the film. *Minor Spoiler* Some of the best parts of the movie in general was any scene where the Tributes did kind of a "screw the government and President Snow" type line or demonstration, particularly Johanna’s scene. *Spoiler*
However, most of the characters in the film that die are not particularly memorable and their deaths lack weight, unless you are a fan of the book.
My biggest problem with Catching Fire is the love triangle. Even though Catching Fire executed it a lot better than most, a couple of scenes did feel like a dumb teen romance movie. While those scenes are not prevalent, they can be annoying. The romance element in general is inconsistent, and it does seem cheesy at times.
One of my biggest problems with the first Hunger Games is how weird the people of the Capital look, particularly the men. Every time one of those weird looking characters were on screen in the first Hunger Games it took me right out of the movie, and while Catching Fire still contains the weird looking people, their screen time fortunately limited.
Another mostly minor problem with Catching Fire is that some of the more serious and, supposedly, "emotional" scenes almost made me laugh. Sorry, but a couple of scenes early on in the film were unintentionally over-dramatic, however I am probably the only person that thinks that about those scenes. Also some of the more serious themes trying to be explored were not conveyed as well as they could have been If you read the book, I am sure the subtext is better conveyed. However, that is not really a problem since the movie is at its best when it is about the characters. *Spoilers* The scene were the people are holding up the three fingers is the scene I was referring to that was unintentionally over-dramatic. *End Spoiler* But I will say that the Stormtrooper ripoffs (aka Peacekeepers) were generally menacing, and had cool armor designs.
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Genre: Sci-Fi, Action Thriller, Dystopian Future, Action,
Release Date: November 22, 2013
Running Time: 146 minutes
MMPA rating: PG-13
The Good: No shaky-cam, Jennifer Lawrence is her usual awesome self, Great new characters, Jena Malone as Johanna Mason is crazy good, Unexpected plot twists, Well filmed action scene, Some really great moments, Social commentary actually works, Josh Hutcherson is not nearly as bad this time, Interesting character choices, Excellent directing, Far superior sequel, Ending was unexpected, Darker and more violent, Engrossing experience, Faithful adaptation (according to a fan), Surprisingly good villains,
The Bad: Love triangle (nuff said, but executed better than most), Beginning is slightly bloated, Most deaths were not compelling, A few things left unexplained (again),
Plot: The following plot summary is copied from Wikipedia.com.
After surviving the 74th Hunger Games, "tributes" Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark return home to District 12. They now are required to take a victory tour throughout the country. President Coriolanus Snow visits Katniss and tells her she inspired rebellions in the districts when she and Peeta threatened suicide so both might survive the games. He orders Katniss to convince the country her and Peeta's love was real and the reason for their actions, and to convince Snow himself.
The tour first visits District 11, home of Rue, the young girl Katniss tried to protect in the Games. Katniss and Peeta voice their personal thoughts regarding both districts' fallen tributes. A man in the crowd whistles the tune Katniss and Rue used to signal each other, and makes the three-finger salute of District 12. Everyone in the crowd follows suit until a Peacekeeper shoots the man dead, shocking Katniss. Their mentor, Haymitch Abernathy, tells Katniss and Peeta the "show" of their relationship must continue for the rest of their lives. Katniss suggests a public engagement between herself and Peeta, which is carried out and celebrated at Snow's home in the Capitol.
Watch the movie to see what happens next.
Plot: 9.2/10- Catching Fire's plot is, for the most part, smartly written, and it does a good job of balancing the main characters, even if a few side characters are left out. The pacing is a little slow at times, however for a movie that is almost two and a half hours, it is one of the quickest two and a half hour experiences I have had in the theater since the Hobbit and Avengers. The darker themes and darker story in general works very well in the film. One plot twist is unexpected and well setup; it really made the movie for me. The ending of Catching Fire is a bit abrupt and at first I was thinking the ending was not effective, but at the same time, the jarring conclusion was probably the best way to end the film, because the audience feels more like Katniss. The effects of winning the first Hunger Games and the post traumatic stress disorder that Katniss has is shown very well in Catching Fire, and her character is generally well developed during the movie. Also, in general, the film is rather engrossing and once you are in the Hunger Games, you feel like you are in the movie, especially during the more intense scenes. As stated above, the romance was not particularly great and the deaths lacked weight. Some small parts of the plot were left unexplained, albeit to a much lesser degree than the first film, fortunately however, my friend, who has read the books, whispered a few important details to clarify things for me, which made the experience more enjoyable.
Action: 8.3/10- Even though Catching Fire's action is not the best ever, it was so incredibly superior to the shaky-cam fest of terribleness that was the first Hunger Games. The action scenes are more intense and easier to follow. In general, Catching Fire is more violent, which is what the franchise needed to produce the dark dystopian future, and it works this time. The weapons and how the Tributes use them was great to see, as well as the training room scenes that used the really cool hologram technology.
Acting: 9.3/10- Jennifer Lawrence is the best. Everyone loves her and she does not disappoint returning as Katniss. While sometimes she reacted more like J-Law than Katniss, her facial expression during a scene involving Johanna Mason and an elevator is positively priceless! Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark is vastly improved compared to his incredibly dull performance in the first Hunger Games. For the first time ever, Hutcherson actually proves that he can, in fact, act.
Donald Sutherland as the villainous President Coriolanus Snow gives a fantastic performance, and Philip Seymour Hoffman is equally villainous as Snow's right-hand-man of sorts, and game-master of the Hunger Games.
Jena Malone as Johanna Mason steals every scene she is in, and her introduction is one of the more memorable character introductions in a long time. She had the perfect amount of snarky attitude, combined with a sense that the character has deeper troubles. Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair starts out as a character that you would expect to be a jerk, but he actually turns out to be a very cool character.
Liam Hemsworth as Gale has not bad by any means, but he was kind of flat and one dimensional. He lacks the charisma that his real life brother, Chris, has. Also Patrick St. Esprit as Romulus Thread, the Peacekeeper leader, played a very intimidating Clint Eastwood like character. There are too many actors to list here, but they were mostly decent.
Special effects: 8.2/10- For the most part, there were few cheap looking effects during the film. The CGI rendering for the baboons is not the best by today's standards of how realistic CGI animals can be in the movies, but it still looks great. The sets were mostly well made and the location shooting in my home state of Georgia and Hawaii (obviously not my home state) work well to convey the world Catching Fire is presenting.
Soundtrack: 7.9/10- James Newton Howard's score is the only somewhat weaker part of the film. While the music for Panem's anthem is excellent and the most memorable piece during the film, few of the other tracks are noticeable during the film. After listening to the soundtrack a couple of times, it was good but not great.
Comedy: 8.0/10- Even though Catching Fire is a generally serious movie, there are several memorably hilarious scenes. The most memorable *minor spoiler* being an elevator scene with Johanna Mason. *end spoiler* Lawrence also had several humorous quips throughout.
Would I Watch This Again: Yes, Catching Fire is a movie that I wanted to watch again a few days after seeing it the first time.
Overall: 9.0/10- Overall, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a fantastic film that succeeds in telling an intriguing story with likable new characters and a darker tone. Coming from someone who did not like the first Hunger Games, Catching Fire was worth my trip to the theater and it is a film that surprised me in more ways than one.
Closing comments: Saying that Catching Fire is better than the first Hunger Games is kind of an understatement. Since my best friend is a major fan of the franchise, I really wanted to like the first Hunger Games, but it just did not deliver on the fascinating premise. However, Catching Fire has actually made me a fan of fan of the franchise and I will definitely be seeing Mockingjay parts one and two in theaters.
Recommended for: Sci-Fi fans, Fans of the first movie or book, Action fans, Dystopian fans,
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