Second ‘Hunger Games’ installment gains momentum, catches fire at box office
When the first installment of “The Hunger Games” film series was released in 2012 with a PG-13 rating, reception from fans and critics was mixed. Some thought director Gary Ross had done a good job of making an adaptation of a book about children battling each other to the death in highly publicized, gladiator-style games without sacrificing the book’s integrity. Others cried foul in regards to Ross’s heavy usage of “shaky-cam” techniques to obscure much of the film’s violence, thus avoiding a dreaded R-rating. More of the same arrived when it was announced that Ross would not be returning to make the second film, which would instead be directed by Francis Lawrence of “I Am Legend” fame. But with “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” finally released, it seems silly to think that anyone ever doubted Lawrence given the caliber of his previous films. This is because “Catching Fire” succeeds on virtually every level that its predecessor failed, and the result is one of the best movies of the year.
One of the areas many found weakest in “The Hunger Games” was the acting. While the film was overflowing with a number of big-name actors, many of their performances felt either jilted or over-the-top. Every actor who returns in “Catching Fire” – be it Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson or Elizabeth Banks – puts on a fantastic performance fitting of their characters, who now feel more in tune with their book counterparts and come across as more authentic.
However, it’s not just the returners who manage to make the film; many of the new faces make waves themselves and fit right in with the rest of the cast. Newcomer Sam Claflin is a wonderful addition as the haughty Finnick Odair from District 4, and Jena Malone steals every scene as the hilariously snarky and unabashed Johanna Mason. Other standouts include Philip Seymour Hoffman as new head game-maker Plutarch Heavensbee and Jeffrey Wright as the brilliant and quirky Beetee, but there’s hardly anyone in the film that doesn’t stand out in one way or another.
Another aspect of “Catching Fire” that puts its predecessor to shame is the much-discussed violence. Sadists and literary purists can rejoice knowing the film retains the book series’ violent content more than the first film. There’s a couple of scenes guaranteed to make the squeamish squeal and writhe in disgust, and yet the film is still toned down enough to avoid the R-rating without sacrificing quality or content. This makes the film feel like an honest action movie, and while many were expecting the first film to be full of action, it never managed to come across as a serious attempt, largely due to the amount of censorship, questionable CGI and camera techniques being utilized to dispel the violence.
“Catching Fire” also stands head and shoulders above “The Hunger Games” is in its use of humor. While there was a large amount of so-called “comedy” in the first film, most of it felt forced and only contributed further to the overwhelming sensation that someone was trying to appease the MPAA and the teen demographic. The minute amount of actual humor came primarily from Stanley Tucci as the wildly over-the-top Caesar Flickerman, and this largely remains the same in “Catching Fire.” Banks and Harrelson bring in a lot of laughs as well, but when it comes to comedy in “Catching Fire,” it’s all Tucci’s show.
From the soundtrack to the set designs to the fast-paced action scenes, there are many reasons why “Catching Fire” kicks “The Hunger Games.” This is simply a good movie that happens to be based on a book series written for a primarily teenaged audience. If this wasn’t taken into account, I guarantee most viewers would think this is a phenomenally entertaining film brought to movie lovers everywhere by a talented director. And really, that’s a testament in and of itself to the greatness of what is sure to be the biggest – and possibly best – blockbuster smash of 2013.