Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

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It becomes apparent pretty quickly in Catching Fire, that this trilogy of pills are not meant to be swallowed out of sequence. If you didn't see the first Hunger Games film, you can still see this one if you want. You can do whatever you feel like. But you'll be lost. 
Catching Fire takes place immediately after the events of the first film, and while there is a lot of exposition in it, particularly in the first half, it's constantly referencing the first films plot. The last time I saw the first was in the theatre. I remember liking it and I remember the basic plot, but the finer details escape me (I didn't even remember what the three finger salute meant). 
This film is also much slower than I remember the other one being, spending the first hour and a half on story with no real action until the second games begin somewhat late in the film. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, there's enough narrative drama and character conflict to keep the interest train a-chugging, but without remembering enough about the last chapter, I felt a step behind the plot much of the time. I also felt again, as I did with the last movie, that this was written for fans of the books. That's all well and fine, but what about those of us who didn't read the books? If these films weren't book adaptations, people watching them would be wondering where the rest of the story is. As it is, they are adapted and the rest of the story is in the novels. I've no doubt that complaint will stand for the next film as well. 

I don't think it's a spoiler to say that when last we saw Katniss Everdeen, she had just won The Hunger Games, a brutal bloodsport where people are picked at random to fight each other to the death. Last one standing gets to live and go on to be a pampered celebrity, travelling the country and spewing praise for the people who placed them in the arena in the first place. 
Catching Fire finds Katniss (and a few tag along supporting characters) in the midst of this new life, despite the fact that she hates the government she's being paraded about for. 
When the president smells the threat of rebellion in the air thanks to Katniss' ability to inspire people to fight back, he devises, with the help of Philip Seymour Hoffman's Game Maker, a plan to have her snuffed out by tossing her into another Hunger Games. 

Jennifer Lawrence has definitely made a name for her Oscar winning self since she appeared in the first film. You can tell in Catching Fire that she made the movie when she was younger, possibly back to back with the first. She looks younger and her acting, while in no way poor, doesn't have the level of depth it has now. 
The other supporting roles are rehashes from the last movie. Woody, Banks, Tucci, Jack Quaid, Liam Hemsworth. They all do decent work, I wouldn't say there's a standout performance in the group though. 

But nobody goes to Hunger Games to see Daniel Day-Lewis-like displays of acting skill. They go to see if this girl's going to make it to the end of the film, and what fresh hell she'll have to endure to get there. As there are three books and all three movies were greenlit at the same time, it will come as no surprise or spoiling to say she does make it to the end of the film and she does go through some hellish patches to get there. Although, despite one character warning that this film's games makes the last film's look like child's play (the concept, not the movie), I didn't find this one as gritty, intense or as fraught with danger. Maybe because it took so long for the movie to get going. 
There are definitely some interesting booby traps and deadly surprises waiting in the wings though that are always (perhaps somewhat ironically) fun to watch.

Despite minor plotting grumbles and moments of heavy cheese, by the time you reach the last, cliffhanging scene of Catching Fire, you've been hooked. You want to stay in the theatre and watch the next instalment (although sitting in a theatre for eighteen months would probably give you a hell of a backache). And that's what hangs about inside the thick walls of your cranium as you leave the theatre, not the little bumps you experienced along the way.

Verdict: Catching Fire features more plot than action this time around, but all the elements (and the characters) that made the first one work so well are here and on fine form. Can't wait for the finale. 

Rating: ****


  1. Hey Dustin,
    something that you wrote made me think that this series of movies must be among the worst book adaptation movies ever.
    It was your line "...when last we saw Katniss Everdeen, she had just won The Hunger Games, a brutal bloodsport where people are picked at random to fight each other to the death." "People" really? The books are set in a distopian world where a totalitarian government randomly picks children to fight each other to the death. It is about the systemic exploitation and abuse of children. Katniss, is a young teen in the first novel, and by the end of the stories is 16 or, at most, 17.
    If the movie misses out on that basic fact from the books, how does it manage to communicate the theme of self sacrificial love's transformative power?

  2. No the movie doesn't miss out on that. Based on your description, I think it dumbs it down a little, but I just decided to go with a Coles Notes version of the plot in the interest of keeping things moving in the review.

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