The Hunger Games: Catching Fire follows Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark targets of the Capitol after their victory in the 74th Hunger Games sparks a rebellion in the Districts of Panem. Structurally “Catching Fires” sticks too closely to “The Hunger Games”. We go from District 12 to the Capitol and the training period and then into the Games. The “been here, done that” vibe is inevitable, but improved upon its predecessor is in character development. Characterization strengthen the film structure from what’s already a tale of love, faith, strength, and humanity against the system into a compelling tight narrative. Spending time building its world to understand why this future is in constant conflict and seeing the effect our characters actions have on the world. Touching on the difficulty of being a living symbol through Katniss; who has greatness thrust upon her uncertain on what exactly to do with that power. It’s this conflict that makes Katniss a dynamic protagonist fighting what she believes is right versus what is seen as being right. Not only are major characters given more depths, but minor characters leave an impression including those specifically designated to be plot points. Some scenes are specifically written as comedy relief to ease the drama before the hunger games. While the film ending does only serves as buildup what came before is more than satisfactory for a complete narrative.
As for its political side the film lacked subtlety. Its in your face with moments designated to discussing Katniss position as a symbol in a revolution, a public execution of a revolutionary, what’s at stake defying the government, what previous freedom was lost, and many aspect are constantly present throughout the film. It does so without shoving down any sort of message down its viewer throat. Thought provoking it is not barely exploring the government sides of politics beyond wanting more and maintaining that power. A missed opportunity no doubt, but nothing noticeably damaging to the film narrative. The undertone romance between Peeta and Katniss which no longer remains underdeveloped is an undertone political one. Controlling the image of influential figures while in context subtly hides its intention with a double meaning. One might simply past the romance aspect of being nothing more than a romance, but doing so is missing another layer of added humanity. Katniss love interest are more than just guys she likes, they are metaphor; choosing temptation to live in a bubble away from the world problem with lip service versus being part of the world taking position in its conflicts.
Francis Lawrence direction borders on if its isn’t broke, don’t fix it mentality to the material. Rather than recreate everything Francis Lawrence merely expands on all ideas and makes them clearer and more concise. There is continuity from a change in style, tone, and authentic that doesn’t alienate it from it predecessors. A large part of continuity also works is because James Newton Howard music utilizes all of his prior thematic material to bring you back into the world. With Howard’s score, and Francis Lawrence’s direction, it makes the film feel familiar both aurally, and visually. The action scenes themselves work narratively, but the set pieces are empty of any creativity and ferocity. Once a promising setup is in place for an action scene the film falls victim to a standard execution of them playing like a straight cliche; playing around the idea one of our heroes drowned, the sacrifice after carrying someone destine not to survive for long distances, shooting a lethal projectile (in this case an arrow) pointed at an ally to hit an enemy behind ally, protagonist losing grip against a strong uncontrollable force, sharp object narrowly avoiding hitting someone’s head, everything needed for a generic action scene are here visibly clear.
Jennifer Lawrence (the only reason I’m seeing this series) exudes the spirit of Katniss in every breath and pulse of the film. Controlling every single emotional nerve of the audience with vacant stares and dimpled smiles breaking every stereotypical mold attached to her. Josh Hutcherson balances the sensitivity of love and charm with the emotional conflict of a ravaged heart with effortless poise. The interactions between Hutcherson and his merry company form the highlights of the film, filled with the cackling chemistry. Woody Harrelson delivers a matured and restrained performance while Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne blends in simplicity. Donald Sutherland is exceptional as President Snow in his mannerisms lends a third dimension. Supporting cast includes Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee. Malone in particular sets into this role that is so eccentric, so over-the-top, and manages to make Johanna somewhat relatable and real.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire improves on its predecessor even if it sticks too closely to its structure. Strong characterizations raises the stakes as well as expanding what came before it without alienating newcomers nor fans. Supported by a strong, tightly woven script, and a confident direction it improves upon the predecessor foundation refining old tricks that work better the second time around.