Perhaps the best book-to-movie in some time (and putting efforts like ‘Twilight’ to shame), the second installment of ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy written by Suzanne Collins, ‘Catching Fire,’ not only credits the acclaimed book, but puts forth a collaboration of detail and performance that makes even the non-readers addicted.
With ‘The Hunger Games’ an introduction to our characters and the unfairness of the bloody competition set by the Capitol of Panem, ‘Catching Fire’ fuels the powers against it. After Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) win their games together out of their indignation for the Capitol that would have claimed them both, they enter their tribute tour to each district where gradually they find that rebellion is brewing. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) seeks to extinguish the flames of hope that the fake couple have started, so in the Quarter Quell that marks the 75th games, he changes the rules to set previous victors against each other in the arena. Katniss, tied in dedication to Peeta and affection for Gale (Liam Hemsworth), The Girl on Fire has not just her own threatened family to lose. En route to their new deadly arena Peeta and Katniss both gain knowledge and allies to survive, and with more tricks up the Capitol’s sleeves, Katniss learns to gain a few of her own.
Under the new direction of Francis Lawrence, already in the swing of filming the two-part ‘Mockingjay,’ the change could have only been a good choice. The story of Katniss and Peeta is taken to a new level, not just because of the heightened stakes of the book, but this film reflects the greater issues the book values without exaggerating the point of romance for instance to detract from them. Director Lawrence and writers Sam Beaufoy and Michael Arndt are able to incorporate and filter what can’t be ignored, picking wisely.
True to the book more than many adaptations these days, the games are a main factor, but these ideas of rebellion, hope, loyalty, love, anger, and injustice are themes evident in the film that run before the tour even begins and through the arena. Katniss suffers from nightmares of her first games, Gale and Katniss contemplate running away with their families, she and Peeta defy the Capitol in their skill exhibition in training, and they make allies with the likes of Johanna Mason (Jena Malone) in the arena who hates the Capitol for putting her in there and isn’t afraid to show it. Signs are everywhere and the film layers them like a pro.
Adding newcomers like Jena Malone and Sam Claflin as Finnick for victors and allies, as well as Philip Seymour Hoffman to play Plutarch Heavensbee, the new Head Gamemaker following the execution of Seneca Crane, gives the film edge in many directions. Malone captures the attitude that Jena oozes and makes her distinct, and Claflin can toy with emotions in a way that actually develops his pretty boy, yet intelligent character. Hoffman holds strong like a steady hand, who you can tell holds secrets, someone intriguing to peek curiosity. These particular performances, and how they play for and against Lawrence and Hutcherson, make for a successfully dynamic cast. With Lawrence at an awesome high in her career and skill, Hutcherson maturing in the acting community, and Woody Harrelson returning as the gritty but smart mentor Haymitch, the entire film’s cast is evolving, surely surpassing the first film’s result.
It’s impossible to ignore the imagery of ‘Catching Fire,’ mainly because, coming from a reader, it can easily resemble what’s imagined while grasped by the book. Not only does Collins excel in describing the world of Panem that she’s created, but also the strong quality of it is taken so much to heart that you can nearly sense the cold as Katniss moves through her home of District 12 during winter. The wardrobe created for victors and elaborate Capitol residents, like escort Effie for instance (the perky Elizabeth Banks), are bold and colorful to compliment the story, just maybe not our everyday world. The domed arena, from the beach and jungle to the circular segmented center, makes you want to re-read the book because it really is that incredible. It’s hard to believe the scenes created from a page could look so right.
Although, of course, some pieces of the plot are missing, they are small in comparison to what makes it to the screen. ‘Catching Fire’ not just breathes but gusts a greater sense of life into Panem and the main figures that shake its structure. The cast has only grown and improved from ‘The Hunger Games’ and Francis Lawrence seems to truly know how to capture what’s important from both book and screenplay. The main disappointment is that we must wait now two years to see the finale in ‘Mockingjay: Part 2.’ In the meantime, ‘Catching Fire’ may be worth two watches on the big screen before making room for the next exciting chapter.