Is the rough economy getting you down? Frustrated with taxes? Do you hate the government? Are the feelings mutual? If this is you, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire just might be the feel-good movie of the year. It shows the audience that as bad things are for some today, it's nothing compared to what could happen in the future.
For those unfamiliar with the Hunger Games universe, there are 12 Districts, and once a year, one boy and one girl from each district are selected randomly to compete in the "Hunger Games." The Hunger Games are a barbaric fight to the death, where the lone survivor is the victor. Previous victor Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark showed some daring defiance during their year in the Hunger Games, which the Capitol is not pleased with. They are threatened by the ominous President Snow, as Snow realizes that the rebellion of Katniss Everdee could cause a massive uprising.
For those who can't take a joke, Catching Fire is NOT the feel-good movie of the year. Far from it; it's dark- much darker than the first- and we witness the brutal deaths and punishments of many individuals. Those unfamiliar with the books will almost certainly be shocked at many intervals.
While the first movie focused primarily on the Games themselves, as well as the effect it has on those in the 12 Districts, Catching Fire is more about the politics of the Hunger Games universe. And while that may not sound especially exciting, Catching Fire is never less than entertaining, and it's rarely anything but gripping. The thought-provoking themes of the original are greatly expanded, and Catching Fire treats audiences with surprising intelligence. This is especially impressive for a YA film adaption; a genre that rarely reaches this degree of intellect.
Just like the first film, there's some killer social commentary, and yes, there is another Hunger Games which puts previous victors in the Games- including Katniss. But this new set of games isn't quite what you would expect if you've seen the first film.
The build-up to the Hunger Games is strong, but not nearly as strong as that witnessed in the original. The original had me on the edge of my seat before the Hunger Games even started. This time around, I was very much intrigued before the Games, but rarely in much suspense.
And even when the Games start, they're not as savage and frantic as the Games in the original. Most of the time, competitors are running from obstacles in the environment, rather than other competitors. (At the end of the day, there are reasons for this, but I don't want to reveal any spoilers).
Catching Fire embraces various elements that weren't in the first film, or weren't as evident. For instance, Catching Fire can be very funny at times. The original film had some laughs as well, but not as many as this one (likely due to the extended amount of social commentary). There are also some wonderfully creepy and just plain weird bits. And no, I'm not referring to the goofy makeup on the Capitol members- though while we're talking about it, Hair and Makeup, and the Costumes are very much worthy of Oscar nominations, though it's a coin toss to predict if it will get them.
Also noteworthy is that the cinematography is much improved from the original. It reaches a compromise between those who liked the raw look of the shaky cam, and those seeking a more clear and less dizzying effect. The shaky cam is gone, but the camera still moves around slightly, like it's a home video, therefore giving you the best of each. Though there is one dancing scene that, while technically proficient, made me a bit dizzy.
The biggest issue with Catching Fire is the same as it was for the original- the romance. For 90% of the film, Catching Fire treats the audience with respect and intelligence. The script is good, and the acting is great. But both of these things falter when the romance takes stage. Just like in the first film, it's very poorly written- though there are no lines quite as cringe-worthy as some of the dialogue in the first ("I watched you going home everyday. Everyday."). Still, these scenes drag the movie down, and they're the only thing that stops Catching Fire (and the first film for that matter) from becoming a film that audiences can watch and say they enjoyed without guilt. The romance is simply unbelievable, and immensely hammy.
The cast is excellent. Jennifer Lawrence (who some people are calling the main reason to see this film) is phenomenal as Katniss Everdeen- as she was in the original. The torment she's in- both physically, and psychologically- is totally believable. Donald Sutherland is back as the chilling President Snow, and Woody Harrelson is in fine form as Haymitch. The hilarious comic relief (with even more screentime than in the original) comes courtesy of Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks as Caesar Flickerman and Effie Trinket respectively.
James Newton Howard's score improves on his work in the original. There are many extensions of themes from the first film (most notably the "Horn of Plenty" theme), and the mildly creepy violin theme for Wiress and Betee is exceptional- I only wish it was used more!
While I don't think Catching Fire is better than the original- it's simply not as savagely intense, nor as heartbreaking as the first- this is still a superb win for the Hunger Games franchise, and will leave audiences starving for the sequel(s). The very ending- in fact- will leave fans of the book with a knowing smile, whilst those unexposed to the source material will feel like they were punched in the stomach (in a good way), and they'll be scrambling to get their hands on the third book.