It doesn't seem like it would be a holiday season anymore without the latest installment in some young adult franchise. This year, the latest Hunger Games movie, Catching Fire dominated the box office with its anxious continuation of the distopian story.
Catching Fire picks up several months after the end of The Hunger Games, with Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) getting ready to go on the customary tour that the victor of the Hunger Games takes around the twelve districts of Panem. Katniss receives a surprise visit from President Snow (Donald Sutherland), letting her know that he knows that the star-crossed lovers act she and Peeta used to get out of the Games was just an act. Hoping that her compliance will prevent further rebellion in the increasingly volatile districts, he threatens the lives of her family and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) if she doesn't convince the people that she and Peeta are really in love. On tour, Katniss and Peeta discover that the country is on the precipice of revolution as Katniss's act of rebellion at the end of the last Hunger Games gave people hope and a hero to believe in. It's not until the next Hunger Games, however, that she, Peeta, and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) realize how far the Capital will go to retain their power, even reaping the past victors to fight to the death again. No one is too strong or too smart for the Capital, or so they'd have the people believe.
One of the aspects of this film that I think works really well is the stark contrast drawn between the extravagant culture of the Capital and the poverty of the districts. While The Hunger Games also dwelled on this disparity, in Catching Fire, Katniss and Peeta now have wealth also. The way they are dressed and made-up during the tour looks very much like celebrities in our own culture, perhaps highlighted by Lawrence's own star quality. While their style is not as flamboyant as Effie's (Elizabeth Banks) or Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), they still look pretty glamorous. This contrast visually gestures toward the difficult position Katniss and Peeta inhabit, as decidedly not part of the Capitol, but also wealthy enough that they are no longer fully part of their district.
In the face of all the fancy clothes and bright makeup, Catching Fire occupies itself mostly with trauma. Katniss and Peeta suffer from post-traumatic stress, as many victors do, and their nightmares are only heightened by the threat posed by President Snow and the looming revolution. Jennifer Lawrence proves time and again that she's able and willing to go to the difficult places with her characters, and with Katniss she has a handful of gut-wrenching moments of terror, anger, and grief. Similarly, many of the victors brought in for the 75th Hunger Games have their own battle wounds to tend to. The ensemble cast, featuring Jena Malone, Amanda Plummer, Jeffrey Wright, Sam Clafin, and others each portray unique reactions to the Capitol's betrayal, merging the strengths that made them victors with different responses to trauma. In this way, the cast brings important emotional depth to the characters, helping to draw the audience into a difficult situation in which it would be easy just to care about the main stars.
Like any adaptation, there are parts of the film that pale in comparison to the novel. For example, the Avoxes, which were an important part of the book, are just a vaguely disturbing presence in the background of a couple scenes. The section featuring the Hunger Games themselves also seems edited for time, but I never really felt that the plot was missing anything. Rather, despite its long runtime, I was engrossed in the film from start to finish.
For excellent acting, interesting art direction, and a compelling story, I rate The Hunger Games: Catching Fire 4/5 stars.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was written by Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt based on the novel by Suzanne Colins. It was directed by Francis Lawrence and runs 146 minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language.