Review: Is the ‘Hunger Games’ really ‘Catching Fire?’

Amanda Carlsson and Cathy Rong

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Jennifer Lawrence returns as Katniss Everdeen in the second installment of the Hunger Games. Photo by Lionsgate.

Jennifer Lawrence returns as Katniss Everdeen in the second installment of the Hunger Games. Photo by Lionsgate.

It’s a rare moment in movie history when a film’s sequel actually manages to upstage its predecessor. Impressively, director Francis Lawrence (‘I Am Legend,’ ‘Water for Elephants’) accomplishes just this in his newest film, ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.’ The second installment in the Hunger Games trilogy, ‘Catching Fire’ follows Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) after her triumph in her first Hunger Games. Unknowingly and unintentionally, Katniss becomes a symbol of the people’s rebellion against the Capitol while still trying to protect her family and attempting to return to normality. Whereas the first film explored Katniss’ will to survive in the 74th Hunger Games arena, the dark sequel is more of a struggle between Katniss and President Snow (Donald Sutherland) veiled by revolution in costumes and secrets.

If there was any question Lawrence could correctly portray Katniss, all doubt is obliterated with this sequel. Lawrence throws herself into the character, evoking genuine emotion with a sense of commitment that is extremely evident in her acting. Lawrence is compelling, and her subtle shifts in character only add more depth and dimension to Katniss, something that’s lacking in many characters these days.

Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), charming and heartwarming as ever, continues to prove his love for the girl on fire. Gale (Liam Hemsworth) can finally actively participate in the storyline and not just sit on the sideline bathing in his newfound publicity. Their triangle romance, although misleading from the book, remained interesting in the film as their relationships are further explored.

The movie’s most shining quality, however, is how closely it sticks to the original novel by Suzanne Collins. Not much is left out, mostly due to the unusual length: 143 minutes. However, some notable scenes are missing (the Avoxes, Haymitch’s tapes, and the runaways from District 8). But those minutes are hardly felt amid the flurry of eye-catching costumes, makeup, and plot development. The various departments manage to capture both the grandiose party scene of the Capitol as well as the grim situation of the suppressed districts, immersing the audience completely in the injustice of Panem.

Newcomer Sam Claflin contributes a spot-on portrayal of spear-throwing Finnick O’Dair, sugar cubes and all. Johanna Mason (Jena Malone), sarcastic victor from District 7, delivers her lines in a snarky mean behavior that is hard not to like. Effie returns with big hair and even bigger costumes. However, Woody Harrelson falls flat in his depiction of mentor Haymitch.

The much anticipated sequel in the Hunger Games franchise did not only surprise, but upstaged the first film. With a star-studded cast of both returning and debuting actors, Francis Lawrence’s smooth direction outshines that of previous director Gary Ross. The film explores thought-provoking themes that will haunt audiences long after their first viewing, and this movie, if nothing else, will only attract more audience members and movie enthusiasts to jump on the Hunger Games band wagon.

The Hunger Games

2 hours, 26 minutes

Release Date: November 22, 2013

Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, thematic elements, frightening images, suggestive language

Directed by Francis Lawrence

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Sam Claflin, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks