The Hunger Games franchise made a strong cinematic debut in the spring of 2012 as The Hunger Games turned out to be a sturdy introduction to an interesting world. While most people will say that the Harry Potter film series is the closest we have ever gotten to the Lord of the Rings film series in terms of book series adaptations, The Hunger Games is giving it a run for its money (and making it look easy). The latest film in the franchise, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, only further supports that. With a cast that is only getting better, Catching Fire is able to fill the weak points of the book with an expanded budget while still keeping the strengths of the book intact.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire picks up a months after the first film as Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) prepare for their Victory Tour. When the tour commences though, they realize that things have changed in Panem, and that the seeds of rebellion have been planted after Katniss’ actions in the first film. Katniss and Peeta must now deal with the consequences that President Snow (Donald Sutherland) will no doubt unleash against them. The film is directed by Francis Lawrence (I am Legend) and is written by Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) and Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine).
While Panem certainly looks similar in this sequel, there is something notably different in the visuals of the film. Gone is “shaky-cam” (the most notable aspect of Gary Ross’ visual style for the first film) and in its stead is a much smoother visual style. I was one of the few that thought shaky-cam worked in the first film, and allowed Ross to create a gritty style despite the film’s PG-13 rating. Yet Francis Lawrence’s direction is equally as good as his predecessor’s work. Lawrence still finds a way to keep the style of the film gritty without the shaky-cam and the PG-13 rating still intact. It also helps that Lawrence got a very good script from two Oscar winners in Beaufoy and Arndt. Beaufoy and Arndt do a great of carrying over the themes of the book to the screen even if they leave out a major part or two (especially in the case of a scene that would have helped combat the inexplicable suddenness of a major plot point near the end of the film).
Meanwhile, the cast of the film is better than ever. Jennifer Lawrence continues to give a career best performance as Katniss. Forget about Silver Linings Playbook and Winter’s Bone, this is her best performance as she combines such intensity with a lot of subtle moments. The supporting cast around Lawrence is also really good with performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman (making it look easy as the new gameskeeper with a hidden agenda), Jeffrey Wright (perfectly cast as the braniac contender in the games), Stanley Tucci (hamming it up to wondrous effect), Sam Claflin (surprisingly good as the charismatic Finnick), and Jena Malone (doing strong work as Johanna, who seemed like a tough character to portray on the page). The weak link of the cast is once again Josh Hutcherson, who can’t bring an ounce of charm to the guy who is supposed to be the most likeable in the world.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire sets up the Hunger Games series as one of the best in recent cinematic history.