Four years ago, I was having a conversation with some of my high school students regarding what books they like to read. One fairly astute young man, whom I held in high regard, told me he was reading a book called The Hunger Games. He said it was about a supposed utopian North American society that holds annual organized battles to the death to maintain order throughout the numerous districts. It sounded interesting, but I was not that impressed as my critical mind, still reeling from the absurdity that was (and still is) the Twilight “saga,” began its prejudicial routine of condemning most young-adult literature as being dumbed down versions of classics in order to make cash grabs at an increasingly illiterate reader-population. However, this one particular student’s recommendation obliged me to forgo my rant about Brave New World, The Giver, 1984, and the host of other “Big Brother is watching you…” examples and give this one a try. Now, as the adaptation of the book series’ second novel comes to the big screen, I confess myself as a fan awaiting the return, with millions of others, of Katniss Everdean to the big screen.
2012’s The Hunger Games was a tremendous hit automatically green lighting the entire film franchise and splitting its final entry, Mockingjay, into two separate films. This year’s film, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (or Hunger Games: Fire by some people – you know who you are) is based on perhaps the best book of the trilogy and finds our heroine, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) back home in District 12 awaiting the annual victory tour that follows the 74th Hunger Games and precedes the 75th. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) remains none too pleased as Katniss and Peeta’s (Josh Hutcherson) risky move in the previous games showed an unexpected weakness in his control and has sparked a sort of uprising in some of the poorer districts. The 75th Hunger Games offers Snow an opportunity, as every 25 years marks a quarter-quell, a special competition that gives Snow and his new Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) a chance to even the score.
Much of what makes The Hunger Games: Catching Fire work comes from the source material. This entry in the series has many more tricks up its sleeve than the previous film. That being said, the trio of screen writers (including author Suzanne Collins herself) and new director, Francis Lawrence have noticeably shifted the film’s focus away from the characters and more to the atmosphere, themes, and events set in action from the first film. In fact, the writing is bit edgier leading to some extra spirited dialogue especially from Peeta and Heavensbee. Accordingly, this film has a different feel and agenda, which keeps the series fresh, but also may disquiet fans who want more Katniss. That is not to say, Ms. Everdeen is not the film’s shining star, she is, and her love triangle between Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta continues to be provocative rather than stale and arbitrary. Lawrence continues down her path to being the most beloved starlet of her generation by authentically representing Katniss’s struggle between newfound fame and inherent defiance. Furthermore, she is supported by a very recognizable A-List cast. However, saying much more about the cast or plot would ruin some of the film’s best surprises.
One surprise worth ruining is Jena Malone’s role in the film. It should come as no surprise that there is another reeping, and there is another host of tributes. Malone plays the highly anticipated Johanna Mason from District 7, and she steals every scene she’s a part of – possibly making her the best new element of the film.
Altogether, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a fine adaptation of Collins’s novel, and it is a highly entertaining film as well, ascetically edging out its predecessor. The film’s nearly doubled budget from the original is obvious – the costumes pop, the effects are much better, the acting continues to be strong, and the ambitiousness of the film is far more evident. A-
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 26 minutes. It is a superior follow up to The Hunger Games and a phenomenal set-up to the series’ two-part conclusion.