Directed by Francis Lawrence and the second adaptation in Suzanne Collins‘ The Hunger Games trilogy of novels, Catching Fire continues with the story of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), as she returns home after winning the 74th Annual Hunger Games with fellow tribute, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). But it doesn’t take Katniss long to learn that surviving the games doesn’t mean that she has won, especially as President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is angry with her for breaking the rules and defying the Capitol at the end of the last Games. Sensing that a rebellion is simmering, the Capitol make a point to prove their control as they prepare for the 75th Annual Hunger Games, The Quarter Quell, a competition that could change Panem forever.
The following post is a review of the film only. You can read my review of the book on its own here or my comparison of the film to the book here.
As soon as it was revealed that Francis Lawrence was set to direct this sequel to 2012’s The Hunger Games, I had hopes about this adaptation. I loved the first film, so there was no doubt in my mind that Catching Fire wasn’t going to be anything less than a four-star film. What I didn’t expect, however, was that it would convert non-fans of the first instalment, so I’m quite pleased that this will be a film in many people’s Top 10 list of this year.
Many of the reviews I read before watching the film adaptation warned viewers of an excruciatingly dragged out first hour, but I think this is needed in The Hunger Games franchise. Personally, I don’t think it was an unnecessary opening hour or that it affected the film negatively in any way, as it sufficiently told the audience how the story had progressed, as the book did in almost the first half. This introduction successfully showed the threat and the power of the government in Panem, as well as the fear of its citizens; it’s how well this dystopian society is set up and developed that I admire most about these adaptations.
The Hunger Games novels do follow a dark story, with Catching Fire being even bleaker than its predecessor. To skip over how terrifying the society of Panem is would lose the film its impact and downgrade the novels themselves, which is why the films are such good adaptations as they aren’t afraid to show this grittiness.
The film may not use blood or graphic violence, though there is slightly more in this latest instalment, but the many deaths aren’t sugar-coated either. These adaptations certainly take a risk with trying to appeal to a younger audience at the same time, but whilst it is an exciting adventure to follow, it doesn’t come across as one big game without consequences either. Instead, these risks always pay off, which is what has made many viewers realise that this is a franchise worth following.
As for improvements over the first film, the most notable qualities are that the characters are better developed and their relationships are better explored. The love triangle at the heart of the story was badly dealt with in the first story and is what ruined the film for many viewers, but it was much better handled this time around.
With all of the cast from the first film reprising their roles, as well, we see the return of some of my favourite performances from Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, and Stanley Tucci. But there are some great additions to the cast, too, especially with the addition of Philip Seymour Hoffman. This fantastic cast really does bring the story to life, with the new tributes (including Lynn Cohen as Mags, Jena Malone as Johanna, and Jeffrey Wright as Beetee) each being exactly as I pictured them when reading the novel.
This is a film adaptation that will please fans of the books, fans of the first film, and new fans alike. With all the entertainment of the first film, everything changes with the end of Catching Fire, and there’s so much more to look forward to.