Many films have tread this uncertain path of releasing a second installment to an amazingly successful predecessor film, and The Hunger Games joins these ranks with its much-anticipated sequel in the series releasing nationwide this weekend. Having seen the first film and having read the books these films are based on, I was excited to see "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" earlier this week. What I found was an enjoyable, action-packed, emotional, and heart-pounding adventure that features an entertaining cast that will not disappoint you with a repeat.
Based on the novel from Suzanne Collins, "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" takes place in a dystopian future within the nation of Panem and focuses on the heroic characters, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), the recent victors of the 74th Hunger Games. Following these games, a rebellion begins to spark amongst the 12 Districts of Panem, and Katniss and Peeta are the ones President Snow and the Capitol seem to blame. As a result, the Capitol steps up security in the districts, increases executions and public beatings, and finally decides to enact a Quarter Quell, a glorified version of the Hunger Games held every 25 years on the games’ anniversary. Each Quarter Quell, something unique has been done for the Games, and this time, it will be an extra-special game that no one will ever forget and that will put multiple lives at risk.
Like many sequels, Catching Fire steps up a notch with a clearly bigger-budget, Hollywood hat. From increasingly better quality special effects, to more detail and character development, Catching Fire creates a completely different experience than the first film, "The Hunger Games," while still maintaining great similarities. The film simply goes larger scale on everything – the scenery, the Capitol, the Districts, the Games, the characters. Everything is expanded. Additionally, it has a much darker, more intense, faster-paced tone, and there are increasingly more violent scenes than the first installment. However, the audience is spared many of the potentially more gruesome scenes, which take place off screen as the camera pans away just before a killing or execution.
The movie starts out in a feverish sprint as Katniss and company are dealing with the aftermath of the recent games and experiencing a rich and new, yet intimidating, life. From the first moment, the audience can instantly feel the tension building towards something, as it is apparent that the stakes have been raised and the consequences of the characters’ actions have never been more ominous. The first part of the film feels extremely rushed, but finally slows down midway through, and from then on, is exceptionally compelling to watch.
As in the first film, Catching Fire is filled with a familiar cast that includes Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Josh Hutcherson, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Hemsworth, Toby Jones, Lenny Kravitz, and more, but this time, fresh performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, and countless others enhance the screen. The displays from The Hunger Games veterans like Lawrence, Hutcherson, Harrelson, Banks, and Tucci is just as memorable as the first film, and the cast add-ons like Hoffman, Wright, Claflin, Malone, and more are most welcome. In addition, there is plenty of humor that lightens the film.
The developing relationships, emotional encounters, and complicated entanglements between characters is what powers the film. From the vengefulness of President Snow towards Katniss, to the love and protection the characters feel towards each other, to the districts' struggle for a better life, Catching Fire is driven by emotion. Not all of these moments resonate as much as they should, but it is still a dramatic and powerful movie.
Similar to other book-to-film adaptations, there are minor details from the source material that are glossed over, combined together, or left out completely. That being said, this was one of the better adaptions I have seen. As a reader myself, it was very simulating to see the second book in this series come to the big screen. Whether you read the books or assume that the main characters won’t die (right away), the film does a great job of creating suspense and surprise. When films are as successful as "The Hunger Games," audiences will tend to leap and follow the masses, but if you are considering seeing "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," I would encourage you to see the first film if you haven’t read the book.
"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language. Running time is 2 hours and 26 minutes.
Hayden Pittman is a special contributor to WFAA.com and a freelance film critic and entertainment blogger out of Dallas. More of his content can be found on YouPlusDallas.com and his author archive here. He is a film, TV, and sports enthusiast, and hopes to pursue a future in filmmaking and screenwriting.
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