I know I'm a little late to the party but I finally got the chance to take my wife to see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. She is a huge fan of the books and of the first movie so she was excited when this was released. However, the fear of having to deal with an overcrowded theater full of annoying teenagers kept us away for a couple weeks. But we managed to get around that by going to the first showing on Thanksgiving day when the place was mostly empty.
Catching Fire picks up six months after the events of The Hunger Games. Katniss and Peeta have gone back to District 12 to try and regain some sort of semblance of normalcy in their lives but everything is different. Their homes. Their pastimes. Try as they might, nothing will be the same. The film does a good job off the bat of establishing the trouble Katniss is having adjusting after taking part in the Games. She is not the same after what she went through, the emotional scars of being forced to murder someone are evident. She sees the face of her victim as she's out hunting in the woods, reliving his final moments she lets loose an arrow on some unsuspecting turkeys.
This reaction to the Games also sheds light onto Haymitch and his lifestyle. The first film didn't go into his past to show viewers why he's a degenerate alcoholic. And even though he's not much a role model in the second movie, seeing how different Katniss is after her ordeal, you can't help but forgive Haymitch. He's trying to bury the events that he's dealt with, having to murder who knows how many children in order to survive. Films of this nature don't ever bother to shed a light on this type of aftermath so it's a good change of pace to finally see a movie that does.
The driving force behind Catching Fire is the defiant act Katniss commits at the end of the Hunger Games, with her willingness to eat the poison berries along with Peeta and thus invalidating the Games themselves. This act spurs the people of the other districts to see that the Capitol, the place where the rule makers live, are infallible, despite the fact that Katniss had no intentions of sending such a message. This makes the president unhappy and he begins to view Katniss as an enemy that needs to be silenced.
What I love most about this movie is the tone; that permeating feeling of hope. The way it's portrayed and how it spreads throughout the countryside. A few people side with her from the start, accepting her as a voice of freedom through the oppression but quite a few others are not convinced. However, their change comes easily as seemingly each action Katniss makes shines a brighter light on the dictatorial regime in which they all live. And it works out wonderfully; Katniss is far too fearful for the safety of her family that she doesn't intentionally try to stir the pot, but everything she does sparks more hope in people. They already view her as a beacon of change and whatever the Capitol wants her to do barely changes that.
I haven't even touched on the entire second half of the movie; the Hunger Games themselves. It plays out mostly the same as the first film: the entrance parade, public introduction of the contenders, the judgement of skills. It's sped up for brevity's sake but then again, the Games are only half of the movie's focus. They spend a bit of time showing the Games themselves but the brutality of the event takes a backseat to friendships that are forged in the heat of the fires. Katniss and Peeta makes alliances, using the help of others to stay alive.
Jennifer Lawrence was amazing in this movie. She exuded emotion at every moment, able to easily switch between frightened, angry, and stoic at a twist. Being the driving force behind the film, Katniss is a necessary character to get right and Lawrence hits every note the way she needed to. She didn't play the role over the top or too close to her chest; every moment you watch her, you admire her for her strength and courage but also understand the pain and fear she's going through.
Unfortunately, being Katniss's story, everyone else takes a back seat to her so no one else really gets a chance to shine. Gale, Katniss's real love interest, gets a little more screen time than in the first movie, allowing Liam Hemsworth to flesh him out a bit. He does well enough, I have to say; he's overly protective of Katniss and the people in his district but we get a good sense as to why.
Woody Harrelson's Haymitch is fun to watch. As I said before, pre-Games, he's a degenerate, but he manages to sober up long enough to show off a shred of integrity. I like Haymitch, despite all of his flaws, and most of that is because of Harrelson.
Peeta, however, I like less so. His love-lorn, puppy dog act got old during the first movie and is really just done with here. Josh Hutcherson is OK with the character but overall he's fairly forgettable. If he wasn't the second main character of the series, I would be rooting for his demise. Yeah, I know that's pretty harsh, but I just don't think the character is strong enough to really matter in a book like this.
I did enjoy the secondary cast, though. Catching Fire introduces a new set of characters (understandably since much of the cast of the first film were murdered), most of whom add an entirely new level to the film. Sam Claflin plays Finnick, the District 4 tribute and the first to join an alliance with Katniss and Peeta. Claflin exudes charisma the entire time he's fighting for his life in the Games. he's cocky and self-sure, traits that Claflin brings to life believably, but he's not a dick, which is important. He offers his compassion and energy to Katniss and brings a lot to a supporting role.
Along the same lines we have Johanna from District 7, played by Jena Malone. Johanna is characterized by her anger over the Games and toward the Capitol and Malone plays this anger to a T. At all times she has a chip on her shoulder about being forced to fight for her life for a second time and is willing to do what it takes to get back at the people who put her in that position, even if it means making unwanted alliances.
I never read The Hunger Games before seeing the movie, nor did I read Catching Fire. However, even though I wasn't a fan going into the movie, I was amazed with it. I loved the emotional tone of the film and was blown away by the pacing and the characterizations. Everything. Though I wasn't thrilled with how the movie ended, I am able to accept it as it made sense in the long run. After all, there's another entire book shouldn't have expected the story to resolve so easily.
And I will go on record as saying, against the popular vote, that I much prefer the films to the books. Hunger Games the novel just didn't quite live up the the way the story was portrayed on film. Since seeing Catching Fire, I have begun the book and I feel much the same toward that. I'm not saying the books are bad but I think the scripts and direction of the movies are a lot tighter and more focused than Suzanne Collins's writing. Regardless of that, movies or books, The Hunger Games series is proving to be a unique experience which I am glad to undertake.