“Hunger Games: Catching Fire” Review

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Let me preface this review with the fact that I am a huge fan of the Hunger Games series. I started the first book when I caught word the movies were going into production. Two and a half weeks later, only because of work and sleep, I finished all three books. I was completely drained. Mentally, physically, and emotionally this series took everything I had from me. It renewed my love of literature. So naturally, when the movies came out, I had high expectations. The first movie was very well done, it did the book justice, but it never completely captured the aesthetic of the book.

Now comes the second movie, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. The trailers were epic and set up a different feeling than the first movie. They were sleek, exciting and dramatic. Something that the series needed and the books deserved. This isn’t to say that I wasn’t nervous leading up to the premiere of the movie. The first movie was good, but not great, and the new director, Francis Lawrence, gave me pause.

Catching Fire picks up right where Hunger Games left off. Katniss and Peeta have returned to District 12 and are living in Victor’s Village. The movie begins as they are preparing to go on tour to all the districts before they end at the Capital for a celebratory ball. We learn that President Snow is not happy with how the previous games ended and that he thinks Katniss and Peeta’s relationship is a sham. He threatens her friends and family unless she convinces him that their sham love is real, at least in front of the districts. While on tour Katniss and Peeta end up inciting riots and learn that their actions in the games had started a revolution. In response to this outbreak President Snow decides to have the Quarter Quell participants be reaped from previous victors, thus forcing Katniss to enter the games. Madness ensues, as Katniss has to fend for her life once more but this time against the only other people who too have survived the games.

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Katniss is going through a lot at this point. She is dealing with PTSD from the first games and now she has to go through it all again. This is a lot easier to understand in the book because it is written in first person perspective and we get to learn every thought that Katniss has. But the movie provides a third person perspective and we only know what Katniss is feeling based on what we are shown and told. Enter Jennifer Lawrence’s amazing portrayal of Katniss. She is dynamic and awe inspiring. Besides the fact that I want to marry her, she may be the greatest actress of our generation. This comes through in the scenes where her PTSD takes over her every move. She makes you feel every bit of pain she is experiencing and its incredible. Her talent is only emphasized more by the fantastic cast that surrounds her.

Josh Hutcherson reprises his role as Peeta and has evolved beyond even what was written in the book. The trilogy portrayed him as a romantic but more as a weak and helpless romantic. The movie keeps the romantic part of the character but removes the helpless part. Peeta actually is capable of fighting and defending himself and Katniss. The movie also chose to remove the fact that Peeta can’t swim and him having a hurt leg as a means of avoid this “weak” Peeta and also streamlining the plot. This allows Josh Hutcherson to portray Peeta as the character needed to support Katniss on the big screen instead of as her supporting him.

One part of the book that I enjoyed but that the movie pushed aside was Haymitch’s backstory. Woody Harrelson does an impeccable portrayal, but the film version removes his history and the influence that it has on him and the games. In the book we find out that Haymitch was the Second Quarter Quell winner, where there were twice as many competitors. He won mostly by waiting out the completion and using just a little bit of wit: Haymitch defeats the last tribute by using the force field surrounding the arena to his advantage. Katniss does the same at the end of Catching Fire to destroy the arena as a means to help the rebellion rescue the tributes and escape. The movie bypasses Haymitch’s past and just introduces this plot through Beetee, which functions well enough.

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Jenna Malone was a casting that I was a bit confused by and I wasn’t sure if I would like her. Johanna is an intense character who is crucial to the story. I knew nothing of Jenna Malone going in to Catching Fire and everyone seemed surprised she was cast. Naturally, I jumped on the bandwagon of disapproval. But then she made her on screen entrance and I was hooked. Besides the very sexy and hilarious first impression we get, Jenna Malone gave me everything I wanted from Johanna Mason. If I have a critique at all about her portrayal, then it’s that she came off a bit softer than she was in the book. In the book I constantly thought that Johanna was gonna stab everyone in the back. I didn’t get that feeling in the movie, but that may also be because I know Johanna from the books. Despite this, I loved every moment Jenna Malone was on screen and I cant wait to see her in the next movie.

The same goes for Donald Sutherland and his approach to President Snow. In the book the character is quiet, eloquent, and calculating. The first movie made him out to be a bit boring and more of a prop in his scenes than an influence on the plot. But in Catching Fire he was just as cold, dark, sinister, and diabolical as the character in the book. He sent chills through my body every time he interacted with Katniss. And I must thank the writers for putting in the small bit of blood in his champagne glass during the party. It was great foreshadowing and such a subtle but beautiful detail.

Let’s take a quick second for the amazing casting that is Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee. He brings depth to the story and only enhances every scene with Donald Sutherland.

Everything that the screenwriters left out from the book seemed to streamline and enhance the plot. For instance, we never see Plutarch’s Mockingjay pocket-watch when he first meets Katniss. This was a good omission because the Plutarch in the movie came off as a villain, despite his true allegiance as suggested by the pocket-watch. Everyone looked at him as a bad guy who was head game-maker and Snow’s go to guy. This was a great approach and I think it made me like the character even more.

Let’s see… I feel like I am grasping at straws. The cast was fantastic, the direction was fantastic, the editing was fantastic, the writing was fantastic, THE MOVIE WAS FANTASTIC. One of the best book-to-screen adaptions I have ever seen. I cannot wait for the next two movies and now all I want is to see it again.

Be sure to check out our other Hunger Games related coverage:

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