The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins burst out onto the scene in 2008 and was a huge success among young readers (and, eventually adults). The movie last year also was a big hit, and the sequel has understandably been one of the most anticipated films of the year.
Since the first Hunger Games, star Jennifer Lawrence has become an Oscar winner for her stellar performance in Silver Linings Playbook. Catching Fire is another great display of Lawrence’s talent.
For those not familiar with the series, The Hunger Games takes place in the post-apocalyptic land of Panem (formerly North America), a dystopian society with a totalitarian government. As part of the punishment for the rebellion, citizens of the 12 districts live in poverty and are forced to participate in the annual Hunger Games, in which 24 “tributes” (one boy and one girl from each district, between 12 and 17 years of age) are randomly selected and shipped off to The Capitol, where only one will return home victorious.
Directed by Francis Lawrence (taking over from Gary Ross), Catching Fire begins as our heroine Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) has returned home safe after winning the 74th Annual Hunger Games along with fellow tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Katniss and Peeta reluctantly embark on a victory tour of the districts where they learn a rebellion is brewing in the districts thanks to the way they took a stand and won the games together.
President Snow (Donald Sutherland), unhappy at the way Katniss and Peeta won the games, is looking for a way to make them (especially Katniss) suffer. Snow and Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) come up with the idea to make winning tributes return to the games for the 75th anniversary (The Quarter Quell).
This time around, the games make up much less of the movie, and that’s OK with me. Too much of the games would have made it more of a rehashing of the first flick. Still, The Quarter Quell brings the drama and some interesting new tributes, including Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) and Johanna Mason (Jena Malone).
The brewing rebellion is an intriguing added plot device. The love triangle between Katniss, Peta and Gale (Katniss’ friend back at home) is still a part of the plot, though not really my favorite. There is one scene in particular between Katniss and Peta that was bordering on soap opera material for me, but, thankfully, it’s the only one. Gale also doesn’t really have enough to do.
If you haven’t read the book, the movie’s ending may come as somewhat of an unwelcome surprise, but it certainly does build anticipation for the next movie. Unfortunately, book three, Mockingjay, is being given the Hollywood treatment and will be split into two movies.
Just last week, in my review for The Book Thief, I lamented how the book is usually better than the movie. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is one of those rare cases where the movie is as good, or maybe even better, than the book. ••
Movie Grade: A-