Katniss Everdeen and her competitors do not disappoint in Catching Fire, the second installment of the Hunger Games trilogy, but the film doesn’t burn much brighter than any other flashy book-to-movie adaptation. In Catching Fire Katniss is forced to face the horrors of what she experienced on a tour through each of Panem’s 12 districts. She has earned food and wealth for her family at the cost of the death of other tributes. President Snow, dictator of Panem, realizes Katniss’ act of defiance is the previous film – attempting suicide with her fellow competitor Peeta to skew the games – has sparked revolution among the districts. A special anniversary games is set in place called the Quarter Quell to squash the hope of freedom from the capital, and Katniss, Peeta and a group of other previous victors are forced to fight one another for survival.
These films are clearly crafted to be adaptations of the novel rather than offshoots or reinterpretations, and Catching Fire proves to be a better movie than the first. The franchise continues to expand the Hunger Games universe cleverly by giving the audience perspective outside Katniss’ point of view that is missing from the book. This film should be the standard for novel adaptations.
The initial shots of the film are nearly gorgeous. Dialogue-focused shots rapidly cut not only the shots but also the tension, reducing the impact of the scene. Other elements such as special effects or impressive scenery make up for this deficiency.
The Capital contrasts the quiet and dreary nature of the districts, which does wonders for creating and often expanding the world of the novels. Costumes paint the portrait of Capital culture colorfully just as the first film did.
Nearly each role is properly cast; Jennifer Lawrence makes a convincing Katniss. Both Peeta and Gale return for the more-complex-than-usual love triangle, and both deliver a compelling but not overly impressive performance. One scene with Gale and Katniss when she leaves the district borders on trashy romance, but Liam Hemsworth makes for a convincing stubborn and headstrong Gale, as Josh Hutcherson makes for a vulnerable and conflicted Peeta.
Minor characters carry the movie. Effie continues to be a fan favorite with outrageous behavior and an almost campy level of comic relief for the audience. Caesar functions as a horrific satire of popular reality TV hosts, glamorizing and obscuring human suffering and the death of children in favor of functional celebrity gossip.
Unfortunately, Finnick Odair’s character is drastically miscast. In the novel, he is a tragic, emotionally vulnerable Romeo-like persona with a softer, boyish appeal.
The film portrays him physically and emotionally as a hardened, macho tough guy, which is problematic for future plot points and exposition let alone composition in the present film.
The tragic moments of the film are the strongest. The audience relives the horror of the reaping. The scene in which Katniss apologizes to Rue’s family and district is the most powerful and poignant in the franchise so far as a holographic floating effigy of Rue brings forth all the pain from the first film to get the audience back in the headspace of the characters.
This sequel is likely to be the best of the films in the series, for its compelling emotional appeal and lore related expansions. The greater moments in the film remind us that the technical elements could have much more finesse. Overall, Catching Fire is only slightly above average, sprinkled with a few compelling moments, as a two-and-a-half-hour blockbuster.