After surviving the Hunger Games with not only her own life, but against all unfavorable odds with that of her district partner's as well, Katniss Everdeen figures she's won, but the best anyone can do in the Games is only survive them -- and what she did to save their lives she saw as simply survival, but the people of the Capitol saw it as love, and, even worse, people of the Districts saw it as rebellion. To appease the President and calm the people, Katniss continues her charade with Peeta on their Victory Tour, but too little too late; the fire of rebellion has been lit, with Katniss unwillingly at the front. The 75th Hunger Games arrives, and this time they are going to be very different.
|Ladies and gentlemen... the victors of the 74th Hunger Games!|
With the new leader -- aka director Francis Lawrence -- and an obvious budget upgrade, the world of Panem was upgraded as well, and the franchise soars to new and extraordinary heights. The style of the Capitol and its people are the same, but much, much more richly done, and in the Districts there's more to be seen, plus we see more of the other Districts than is absolutely necessary, which was nice.
The special and digital effects have all jumped up to the highest quality, and fight scenes are cleanly choreographed and still very realistic feeling. The filming style was unobtrusive -- no more dizzying shaky-cam -- but not so much to be called generic. There were some very bold and memorable, and even beautiful shots, all adding a considerable amount to, but never overshadowing the dramatic impact of the story.
|Here's an example for the effects and the filming artistry.|
And that story is adapted flawlessly from its book source. Not word-for-word-precisely, but so impressively close to it that I could count on one hand the deviations from the book I noticed immediately, and all were only details. Few things were left out and even fewer were changed, and all, I believe, with the commendable reasons of creating a more concise storyline, a tolerable length for the movie, and a natural feel and flow -- as if it wasn't adapted from a book at all.
On the acting side, Jennifer Lawrence continues to blow me away. I have never before seen any actor leave so many consistently poignant performances in their wake, but for her there is no end in sight. As Katniss she is immaculate -- we see how Katniss' being tirelessly rash and cynical gets on other character's nerves, but she effortlessly wins our affection, and leads the movie with power and a huge, albeit masked heart.
|She's Jennifer Lawrence -- of course she's going to blow us away.|
But this time, and to their credit, the supporting cast is able to step out of Lawrence's talented shadow, and hold their own next to her.
Josh Hutcherson's Peeta gets more real attention a few minute tweaks and is a stronger and more compelling character this time around. Even though he's not a survivor-at-all-cost like Katniss, he has a strength (to quote Pippin) of a different kind, and here we begin to see his merits that make him the moral center of the franchise. And he is actually helpful in fights now as well. Hutcherson takes all the character improvement and deepening in stride and ups his game to match.
|And Peeta is a pretty impressive actor himself. Also, Stanley Tucci returns as Caesar, complete with his over-the-top hair, teeth and personality.|
Liam Hemsworth does the same for Gale; even though Gale still isn't as much of a main character as characters that are included throughout the plot, he still shows improvement from the first, feels more comfortable in the part, and is primed and ready for his giant role increase in Mockingjay.
|He may be the lesser Hemsworth, but he's still pretty great. Katniss agrees.|
As for the new characters, the only casting I was wary of was Sam Claflin as Finnick (which I'm sure you understand if you've seen Pirates 4 or Snow White and the Huntsman) but as soon as he spoke, all my worries flew away. He adopts a natural sounding American accent and displays the cool, sultry charm and hidden pain of Finnick perfectly. Turns out he's a fine actor, and completely deserves this beloved role that will likely help him land more parts that require slightly more than a pretty face.
|Mags and Finnick. Does anything get more adorable than this? No, no it does not.|
Jena Malone as Johanna, though, I knew would be great from the beginning, based on her being one of very few impressive things in the '05 Pride and Prejudice (as Lydia). She did not disappoint, and completely embodied the snide, rude, and angry character so well that I've already completely forgotten how I'd originally imagined her. Not that she was much removed from my imagination anyway.
|Oh the intensity. Yikes.|
All other new editions also hit their mark exceptionally -- Havensbee, Beetee, Wiress, Mags, etc. right down to the new head Peacekeeper were adapted, cast, and characterized with care and attention, and it shows. As for the returning supporting cast, still great, and still getting their share of development. I was especially impressed with Donald Sutherland's President Snow, who could not have been creepier.
|Newbie, Plutarch Havensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and returning old (but awesome) grump, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson).|
With the plot splitting so dramatically into two distinct sections, there was dangerous potential for uneven pacing, but even at two hours and twenty minutes, the pace never faltered, and the amount of details from the book that were packed in is amazing. Some of my favorites: firstly, Buttercup is actually orange. Cheers! The way they introduced Snow's... breath problem, was pretty genius too -- perfectly subtle. They also stepped up Prim's development, simply and effectively. Finnick and Mags' relationship was very, very sweet to see too. Katniss' speech at Eleven about Thresh and Rue was straight from the book (as were many lines) and doubly moving coming from Jennifer.
|They even kept the drinks that make you sick in this scene. Also, as you can see, Effie's (Elizabeth Banks) style has been taken to the next level of flamboyancy.|
But even with all the little details and fine performances, this movie could've still disappointed, if it hadn't kept the deep themes of the book. In a time where violence is more often than not played either for laughs, the "cool" factor, or tossed aside carelessly, it is wonderfully refreshing when death in entertainment is treated with weight. And I find it disturbing yet amazing seeing the similarities between the Capitol and our modern world and government. How this franchise is so equally good at being a sci-fi thriller, a "teen romance" and a thoughtful commentary on society is simply incredible. Catching Fire isn't as dramatically controversial as The Hunger Games, but it's still extremely thought-provoking, and a very far cry from anything that could possibly be considered mindless. It's so entertaining, but not hypocritical with its cautionary message. The deeper side is why I adore it, but as even as pure entertainment this movie is just about as thrilling as it can be, and astonishingly well-made.
|In short, another victory for Katniss Everdeen.|
For the entire two-and-a-half hours, I was completely immersed in the unique world, characters, and themes that make up this brilliant adaptation, and I didn't want it to end. The Hunger Games was a great movie, but its book was better; with Catching Fire, the film and book are equally great, and probably the best of the series. However, if the pattern and the movie's quality continues as it is, the Mockingjay movies will be even better than their book counterpart, and the idea of that is making me very, very excited. This franchise... is on fire.