The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Movie Review
With its box office future already guaranteed, Lionsgate decided to go all out for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. The investment shows. With much-needed upgrades to director, screenwriter and overall budget, the highly anticipated sequel is significantly better than the original and one of the better movies of the year.
The original Hunger Games was a decent but overhyped movie that failed to live up to its potential, thanks in large part to uninspired direction by Gary Ross, who was simply out of his element. For the sequel, Lionsgate brought in Francis Lawrence (I Am Lawrence) and screenwriters Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) and Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3). The improvements show immediately.
From the first minute, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire looks and feels like a bigger, more serious production, because it is a bigger, more serious production. Whereas the original failed to scratch beneath the surface of many of its characters, including Katniss Everdeen, Catching Fire takes a deep dive into many of its characters, offering a richer, more interesting experience.
Jennifer Lawrence was fine in the first one, but she operates at an entirely new level in Catching Fire. Katniss suffers from nightmares and anxiety following her recent experiences (as Woody Harrelson's Haymitch says, "There are no winners. There are survivors, but no winners."); Lawrence's performance is emotionally raw, relatable and much more interesting. With improved writing the likes of Harrelson, Josh Hutcherson and even Elizabeth Banks also elevate their games.
Liam Hemsworth is still largely wasted in a thankless role.
Because the movie essentially has the same plot as the original, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire plays almost as much as a reboot as it does a sequel. The filmmaking is more confident, the world less cartoonish, the story more engrossing and exciting. The visual effects are better and Francis Lawrence maintains a more suspenseful and exciting pace.
When the characters finally return to the Hunger Games - and it does take a long time to get there - the experience is more absorbing and significantly more thrilling. If anything, the filmmakers could have spent more time in the Games and less on the scenes leading up to them, which largely recycle bits from the previous movie without offering anything new (though the bitter interviews with Stanley Tucci are pretty entertaining).
Catching Fire does lag a bit in the second act as the filmmakers set the stage for what's to come. At nearly two-and-a-half hours, the movie would have benefited from some tightening in the middle. At the same time, the film's final minute needed some fleshing out; while it sticks closely to the book, the filmmakers could have done a better job of wrapping up the movie and teasing what is to come.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a significantly better movie than the original thanks to an upgrade in filmmakers and stronger performances by the growing cast. It isn't perfect - it's too long to get to the action - but Catching Fire is a legitimately entertaining and engrossing action-drama.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.