“The Hunger Games” is one of the few teen franchises adapted to film that actually work, and the second installment, “Catching Fire,” drastically improves upon the first (an already solid film). Fans of the book will be glad how much the adaptation faithfully adheres to the source material.
“Catching Fire” shifts in tone from the first film, where the action seemed to overshadow character development, to one that wisely emphasizes character relationships and foreshadows events to come in “Mockingjay” (which will be broken up into two films to give justice to the scope of the book). “Catching Fire” is less concerned with plot and more focused on setting a strong foundation for the conclusion to “The Hunger Games.”
The film’s first half is well paced, expertly exploring the tension between the capital and the twelve districts. It follows Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), the champions of the previous Hunger Games, as they tour on behalf of Panem’s capital. However, President Snow (a sinister Donald Sutherland) notices that Katniss has become an emblem of hope for the oppressed, and to prevent another uprising, decides she must be eliminated. To do this, he arranges that the tributes (contestants) for the 75th Hunger Games be polled from the previous winners. The second half, focusing on the Games, successfully avoids being a mere repetition of the events in the first film.
Although there are points where the movie falls flat and some scenes are overextended, the storyline and characters make up for it.
What especially prevents “Catching Fire” from becoming a lackluster action film is its impressive acting. Jennifer Lawrence adds depth to Katniss — she nails the dichotomy of Katniss’s true feelings and the image the capital wants her to project, and this conflict plays out in her ultimate quest to protect the people she loves. Also, Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Capote,” “The Master”) joins the cast as the menacing new games maker with an agenda of his own. In addition, the new contestants in the 75th Hunger Games are not only innovative in their strengths, but also possess strong personalities; this makes them appear not as plot devices or figures to notch up the body count, but as actual people the audience can care about.
The second installment of the “Hunger Games” franchise overcomes its blockbuster origins and strives for substance. Full of energy, twists and pathos bound to make some audience members cry, “Catching Fire” is more than just escapist entertainment: it is a movie with a heart.
“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is currently playing at the AMC Fashion Valley 18 and AMC Mission Valley 20 theaters.