by Josh Batchelder
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire had a lot to live up to. As the sequel to one of the most profitable films of 2012, many were unsure if Catching Fire would live up to the hype surrounding the series. When Francis Lawrence replaced Gary Ross as director, fans waited with baited breath to find out how this installment would fare. I can safely say that Catching Fire is the perfect sequel to the first movie and in numerous ways tops The Hunger Games around every bend.
If you don’t already know the story, basically Catching Fire follows winners of the 74th annual Hunger Games, Katniss Everndeen and Peeta Mellark, as they go on a Victory Tour through each district of Panem. Without spoiling anything, something very pivotal occurs once they reach the end of their Victory Tour, an event that pushes Panem even further to the brink of sparking a war.
Central to any film like this, the casting is impeccable and could not have been more flawless. We all know how amazing Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson were the first time around, but this time especially they really bring their A-game. Lawrence especially is given some really difficult material, and you can feel every ache and pain in the way she conveys her emotions. While barely in the movie, Liam Hemsworth also makes a great impression as Gale, but if you’ve read the books, you know that Gale doesn’t truly become central until Mockingjay (the next movie.) Elizabeth Banks gives Effie something that was missing a bit from the novels: a heart. Donald Sutherland’s President Snow is even more creepy and menacing this time around. Sam Claflin was the biggest surprise for me out of the newcomers: he wasn’t precisely how I imagined Finnick when reading the books, but somehow he was perfect. Everyone else is great as well, notably Jena Malone as Johanna, Lenny Kravitz’s Cinna, and Stanley Tucci’s hilariously lavish portrayal of Caesar Flickerman. The cast is so large and expansive but literally everyone pulls their weight, adding to the whole.
The film benefits immensely by sticking much closer to the source material than the first Hunger Games, but this time the tiny changes are made for the better and make for an extremely pleasant viewing experience. The pacing is smooth and the direction stellar, truly breaking the mold of that pesky “young adult adaption” label. The story feels more personal and the stakes much higher, upping the suspense especially in the third act. The best part about the 2-and-a-half hour runtime is that it never drags at all. If anything, the cliffhanger ending will leave you begging for more. The cinematography is also a big step up this time around, with lots of stunning shots of Hawaii and a plethora of lush visuals.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is that rare young adult adaption that manages to shed the label and instead find a new one: blockbuster. This is a movie that will be remembered for years to come with its incredible attention to detail, fantastic performances, and intense battle scenes. If you haven’t had the experience of seeing Catching Fire in the theater, what are you waiting for? / A+