Movies aren’t books… and books aren’t movies. Books invoke a sense of imagination and involve gritty details that no other form of media can match. Movies give us scope and intense visuals that no other form of media can match. Thus, comparing Catching Fire to its source material isn’t fair. Instead, we’ll just review the movie just as it is… a movie.
If you haven’t seen the first Hunger Games movie, then stop reading this review right now and go do yourself a favor by watching Part 1. Catching Fire brings us right back to the world of Panem, a world where cities must annually sacrifice their teenage children for a fight to the death. We pick up with most recent Hunger Games victor Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a girl as dull as she is strong, trying to cope with Post-traumatic stress and trying to navigate her love triangle between bff Gale (Liam Hemsworth aka Thor’s little brother) and games ally Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). Alcoholic mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), eccentric and bubbly tour guide Effie (Elizabeth Banks), and suave stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) are all back as well.
Donald Sutherland returns as the creepy, villainous President Snow who seeks to damper the tides of rebellion by whisking Katniss, Peeta, and other former victors back into a special games known as The Quarter Quell. And while that may seem to be the forefront of the plot to non-familiars, it isn’t really. This time around there is a much different feel and much more at stake then the problems of lil old Katniss. Gone is the suspense and mystery of wondering if Katniss will survive in the games. The new intrigue revolves around just how a victor of such a ruthless contest is supposed to carry on with life. How does the world of Panem react to someone defying the rules by managing to outsmart the system? How do the naïve people of the Capitol, who up to this point see the games as nothing more than reality TV, react to seeing their favorite victors back in harms way amidst a world in revolution?
With this greater scope, the ante is upped all around. The games are more in depth (the arena itself is perhaps the greatest adversary). Alliances are formed (newcomers Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Claflin, Jeffrey Wright, Jenna Malone, and Lynn Cohen are all welcomingly solid). Characters must question their motives and choose sides. And because of that heightened sense of urgency, Catching Fire can’t help but feel a tad more alive than its predecessor.
Yes, there are little nuggets that didn’t make it in from the book. But is it really necessary to the overall story to know little things like Haymitch being the Quarter Quells last victor? Not really. And are there a few plot points that are made too convenient in the film due to a few glossed over details from the novel? Sure… but the movie is already two and a half hours. In the end, familiars should like it enough, newcomers should love it, and at the conclusion… everyone should feel excited about Part 3.
FINAL GRADE: A-