Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.

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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Film #409

THE PLOT

Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark become targets of the Capitol after their victory in the 74th Hunger Games sparks a rebellion in the Districts of Panem.

Year 2, Film #44

THE REVIEW: Welcome to the 75th Hunger Games, or the Third Quarter Quell. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the sequel to last year’s The Hunger Games, builds off the original in many new and interesting ways. The exhilaration of survival during the Hunger Games themselves is still present, but the bigger focus of Catching Fire is the rebellion that’s beginning to take place outside the Games in the twelve Districts. For the first time (as someone who hasn’t read the books), we get to see what this universe is like and explore the lives these characters live in a way that’s not just an overly dramatized television event to pacify audiences.

Catching Fire clocks in at 146 minutes but it isn’t until about 100 minutes that the games begin. The first two-thirds of the movie take place in District 12, Katniss Everdeen’s (Jennifer Lawrence) home district, and the other districts along her and Peeta Mellark’s (Josh Hutcherson) victory tour. It has the same look and feel that was seen in the first film — a very distopic society with run-down houses, starving and overworked people who look enslaved — but this time we get to see more of it and learn more about how things became like this to begin with. We learn of District 13 (the district that is no more), we learn little tidbits about why the people rebelled before and how the Capitol defeated them, and we learn of the dissent rising now and what President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and his Peacekeepers are doing to suppress it.

Katniss is serving as a beacon of hope for the people of Panem. Her defiance during the 74th Hunger Games inspired others to do the same and gave them the courage to start standing up against the Capitol. While Katniss is traumatized with the memories of killing others and resents Snow and the rest of the Capitol, she is also faced with an impending war and the safety of her mother and sister. Catching Fire is a struggle between doing what’s right and what Katniss feels she must do to protect those she loves. Even during the Third Quarter Quell — which is a special reaping in that all tributes are victors of previous Hunger Games — the focus isn’t really on the action and survival (which is even more intense than the previous year), it’s on what’s going on outside of their game dome. Director Francis Lawrence strikes a wonderful balance between the politics and drama, and the arrow-piercing, axe-wielding action.

However, there are some parts that feel left out or just not focus on enough. The most glaring example is the relationship between Katniss and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and between Katniss and Peeta. While the love triangle was seen in the first film, it seems out of place here. Out of place might be the wrong phrase to use but the general idea stands. I think it’s a good part of the story and it grows in importance as the film progresses, but where the relationships are in Catching Fire is much different than how we left off in The Hunger Games. I could try and describe the whole situation, but it’d probably end up sounding a bit like this. My gripe though is with the fact that it feels like years have passed between the films based on how the characters act with each other when only a couple of months have passed and it feels like this because the movie is assuming prior knowledge. When the film starts, Katniss and Peeta aren’t really talking to each other which doesn’t match up with how we last saw them. I’m not trying to say that any of what’s going on is hard to figure out, just that you shouldn’t have to figure it out in the first place; it should just make sense.

Much like in the first film, Catching Fire is filled with a bunch of great characters and performances. Starting with performances, Jennifer Lawrence has two of the best moments in the film and really shows why everyone loves her so much. Her facial expressions during the elevator scene and during a scene in the jungle are absolutely priceless. Not only are the hilarious and perfect, but more importantly they portray the emotion of the moment extraordinarily well. As for characters, of which the performances are also a big part, we have some great returning characters like Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) and Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), a decent amount of time with President Snow (compared with the few minutes we got to see him last time), and one of my favorite new characters, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a very worthy sequel to The Hunger Games. It expands upon the old and brings in some new. The distopic feel of the first remains and we’re introduced to much more of the world of Panem. As a non book-reader, Catching Fire does a fantastic job of giving me the sense of what’s going on and where it’s all coming from. It’s a lot richer and fuller than the first movie whose main focus was on the survival during the Games. Catching Fire retains some of that gritty action but deals more with constructing the universe which I always find more entertaining. Fans of the first film will definitely like this and I’ve also heard from fans of the books who enjoyed Catching Fire. If you haven’t read the books or seen the movies, I suggest you get on that right away.

THE RATING: 4 out of 5