Written by Logan Sharp
I normally steer clear of anything that has a small army of teenage girls as it’s fan base. If it isn’t some boy band, it is usually something far worse. I unfortunately sat through the Twilight movies, something you can look forward to when/if you get married, and wondered why it was so popular. Two years ago, the first Hunger Games movie released and I took my then-fiancé-now-wife to see it. I remember being thoroughly disappointed in it because it’s the one book favored among teens that I actually read, along with the other two in the trilogy, and had a difficult time putting down. Due to poor editing, unnecessary shaky-cam and a molasses-style pacing, I left the theatre with no more than a mere, “meh”. Catching Fire, the second installment in the trilogy, is out today and I got to see it before anyone (because 7:30 pm showings is where it’s at). Does this create the spark, setting the series on fire or does it reduce it to ashes?
The first thing you’ll notice, or at least one, is this movie clips along at a faster pace. It’s nice because they’ve removed all of the filler from the book, although I still don’t know why they haven’t introduced the Avox yet, and we get to meeting the past victors and into the new arena very quickly. It certainly held my attention more as we moved from one set-piece to the next and witnessed this revolution slowly begin to build and explode.
This was one of the flaws for the movie, however. With such a quick pacing, I didn’t have time to care about certain characters or events. I also never really felt the urgency in the beginning like I did the book. Spoiler: Katniss never really gave the impression she had to convince Snow she was in love with Peeta. Apart from a mild panic attack, she never gave off the “I have to make Snow believe or everyone I know dies”. I don’t think this is Jennifer Lawrence’s fault but the fault of the director as he hurriedly got us to the next scene. It definitely affected it when a certain character sacrificed themself to save the group. While it gave me that mixture of emotions the characters surely felt, trying to process it but unable to given the circumstances, it didn’t quite have the impact like it did in the book.
The second thing you’ll notice is the budget. Every area in Panem looks marginally better than the pieces we saw in the first movie. Every district looked how I pictured it’d be in the book and it was pleasant to see them able to recreate them so well. The Capitol looks more alive than in the first movie as well. The entrance way into Snow’s address looks better as well, sporting thousands upon thousands of people in stands, cheering for their favorite actors. While CGI, it certainly helped to believe that this was an actual city, rather than just the folks who would show up at Comic-Con or go trick or treating on Halloween in their favorite Lady Gaga inspired outfit.
Speaking of outfits, they nailed the District 12 outfits. This is something I do not want to spoil for those who have never read the books, though you really should have. They are every bit as fitting of the source material as they are stunning. Just wait until you see Katniss’ white dress.
And while we are on the subject of things looking better: the Quarter Quell arena. Frighteningly gorgeous. I won’t delve too much into it because I personally feel it to be something that must be seen but if you’ve read the book, it does not disappoint. Tick. Tock.
I also appreciated the new cast of characters as well. The victors from days past were interesting and definitely played the role in superb fashion. They also brought something into the movie that the first lacked: humor. Despite the dark tone of the story, these new characters helped liven things a little and made the time sitting through this film enjoyable. Whether it’s Finnick Odair flirting with Katniss with sugar cubes or Joanna Jameson in the elevator with Haymitch and his recruits, it was refreshing to see this movie have fun, while keeping in line with the book. Considering how long ago it was that I read Catching Fire, my memory could not aid me in picking out what they left out and what they didn’t. Until someone releases a YouTube video of some sorts, I can’t say with full confidence everything in the book made it into the film. Then again, when does a film ever include every detail from the book?
Which is a disadvantage to those who have read the book: those of us who have see events coming and when they hit, for some it’s just kind of a “meh” moment. Not to downplay a character’s death or a district being oppressed but it’s like having the events of Star Wars spoiled before watching the films. Darth Vader’s reveal of Luke being his son just is not quite the same after you’ve seen it on t-shirts all your life.
Segue into this little bit I’d like to point out: this movie has a feel to it akin to the Empire Strikes Back. Now before any of my fellow Ewok-loving fans beat me to death, let me explain. You witness the Capitol desperately trying to contain a rebellion, taking our heroes and putting them in places that they are unfamiliar and the odds are against them that leads up to an ending of our main hero, who is sure to come back from the mental and/or physical beat-down they received, burning with a fire that will consume the one it is directed at. While I will not say these movies/books are on the same level as Star Wars (the original 3), this one definitely did have an “Empire Strikes Back” vibe.
Overall, Catching Fire was a lot more fun to sit through than the first Hunger Games. Improved in almost every single way, it definitely left me with the desire to go back and read Mockingjay before a teaser trailer drops. Despite the better but not perfect pacing and moments where I just did not buy Katniss’ love for Peeta, it was still an enjoyable film. If you did not like the first film, I don’t really see this one winning you over, if you decide to even give it a try. Not as good as the book, as all book to film movies are, it certainly tries it’s best and lights enough of a spark to make me want to see the final film.
I give Hunger Games: Catching Fire a 7.5 out of 10.