Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire review

I remember when my friend introduced The Hunger Games book series to me. I was in sixth grade, and I pretty much ended up devouring the books. I absolutely loved them. Little did I know that they would end up being the phenomenon that they were. I knew that a movie adaptation was in the works and I knew that the series was popular, but I never could have guessed the full pop culture impact of The Hunger Games series. The first film was a juggernaut at the box office and now, a year later, the second film in the series, Catching Fire, has been released. Catching Fire is my favorite of the book series. It's packed with detail, and it is paced extremely well. I had high expectations for Catching Fire and the film met them. It's an entertaining political sci-fi action film that rises above its predecessor, but never to the levels of the best entertainment of the year.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire continues the story of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). The two victors of the last Hunger Games are now living in the victor village in District 12, happily ignoring each other. When President Snow (Donald Sutherland) warns of rebellion in the districts and threatens Katniss, the two victors must put on a show for the districts and prove that would they did in the arena was real. However, the districts are sick of Snow's rule and are ready to fight. For Snow's great nation to survive, Katniss and her friends must be eliminated. And the perfect way to do it: a Hunger Games between former victors. 

There's not a doubt in my mind that Catching Fire is a step up from The Hunger Games. It's a better story, and new director Francis Lawrence adds several cinematic flourishes and emotional touches to make The Hunger Games: Catching Fire a more complete experience. But the second installment still has its fair share of shortcomings. The arena action is still too frenetic, quick and frenzied, and the pacing goes kaput in the third act. But overall, I really felt that this was a step above The Hunger Games, and a cleaner and more complete film. 

The ensemble that these films have assembled is truly amazing. Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Clafin, Jeffrey Wright, Donald Sutherland, and more. The list is truly amazing and the ensemble is great in this film. Of course, these films would not be the same without Jennifer Lawrence. She gives another fantastic performance as Katniss in this film, and is really enjoyable to watch. Clafin gives a good performance as Finnick, a tribute from District 4, and Wright is pretty good as Beetee. Sutherland continues his good work as President Snow in this film as well. 

The pacing and direction is pretty fantastic in this film for most of the run time. The first two-thirds of the film are packed with details, and are very enjoyable. I was never bored during the film's nearly two and a half hour run time. Francis Lawrence knows how to pace this film and does it impeccably well for most of the film. The only problem is that when the action moves to the arena, all that steady pacing dissolves, and Lawrence delivers frightening chase after frightening chase and gives you way too much in too short of a time. That's the main problem with the film. And while it might seem minor, it actually matters quite a bit. Some of the most memorable moments from the book come from the arena, and the arena scenes in the film just don't have the same impact. It just moves too fast. 

However, despite the fact that Lawrence doesn't allow you to soak in all the action in the arena with the super-fast pacing, the film still tells the compelling story that the book told in a very entertaining way. This film is less about survival and more about a rebellion. I love movies that make you hate the enemy so much that you want them to get what they deserve. This movie had several moments where I felt like that. I really cared about the characters, despised the villains, and wanted the rebellion to succeed. That's a testament to the director's skill and is definitely one of the best things about this movie. 

On the technical side of things, Catching Fire is much better than its predecessor. While The Hunger Games felt like an independent production at times, Catching Fire feels like a big-budget, spare-no-expense production. It looks amazing while still maintaining the high quality story and acting. The arena looks stunning, the special effects are quite amazing and the camerawork is more fluid. 

All in all, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a very good adaptation of the book. It features some good action, great acting and a well-written story. It's anchored by a pretty spectacular performance from Jennifer Lawrence. The only setback it faces is a final act that moves way too fast and doesn't allow you to fully enjoy some great moments. But still, with Lawrence at the helm, I'm confident in Mockingjay. There's suspense and drama in the action, even if the pacing of the scenes is off. My excitement for Mockingjay is high and that just proves that the filmmakers did their job quite well with this installment. 

THE FINAL GRADE:  A-                                           (8.4/10)


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