For those of you who read these reviews with any regularity (that’s you, Grandma!), you’ll know that my favourite comparison to make is that of Bella Swan from the Twilight series to Katniss Everdeen, who has one of the greatest names, from The Hunger Games. Katniss has always been the stronger character and, given the fact that both were adapted from young adult series, it felt like there were parallels to be drawn.
I want it to be known that I no longer feel that’s a fair comparison.
With all due respect to the Twilight fans out there, The Hunger Games has far surpassed any sort of comparison to teen soap operas. It doesn’t deserve to be dismissed that easily. This is real science fiction. It’s smart. It’s political. It’s not afraid to take on big ideas. And, most importantly, there’s a great, great deal of truth to be found in these characters.
Catching Fire opens not too long after the events of the first film. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence, for anyone living under a rock) has returned home to a new life following her Hunger Games victory, and is now left dealing with the mental scars of being forced to kill and survive in the arena.
She’s sent out on a victory tour with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), but what starts as a PR stunt quickly grows out of hand. Katniss is slowly but surely becoming a symbol of the rebellion and President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has taken notice.
Having read none of the books, I was a little worried Catching Fire would turn into a carbon copy of the first movie, but the series has the wherewithal to always keep moving forward.
I’m ruining nothing here by saying that once again, we return to the arena. But there’s momentum to Catching Fire. The Games may be a familiar concept, but they feel completely different.
What I love most about Catching Fire is that it is always forcing its characters to make difficult choices, and, even better, those choices have consequences. There are all shades of grey to the movie and none of the characters ever feel oversimplified or insincere. These are not the kinds of things you normally see in movies targeted to a teenage audience.
Subtlety is a virtue. And whether it’s original author Suzanne Collins, or screenplay writers Michael Arndt and Simon Beaufoy, or director Francis Lawrence (or most likely all four of them), they know better than to ever talk down to their audience.
In fact, I’m dumbfounded by the amount of depth they’re able to give even to their fringe characters. The Games themselves require more competitors than a script could ever really do credit, but in just 10 or 20 short minutes, the creative team manage to introduce a wealth of new people, and, here’s the kicker: they actually make you care about them.
Even the rather typical love triangle is handled extraordinarily well. Without giving away too much, Catching Fire quickly takes what was a quiet, little piece of subtext from the first film, and runs with it as though it were the obvious consequence. It lets the audience connect the dots in a storyline that would have played out like molasses if it were actually put on the screen.
It also doesn’t hurt that both of the men vying for Katniss’s affection are fantastic characters in their own right. Every time I think the series is leaning towards one or the other, it pulls the wool over my eyes and does something unexpected.
Perhaps the best part is that Katniss’ love life is never the central focus. In fact, it’s never even her central focus, and I can’t properly express to you just how refreshing that is. Katniss is nothing short of a bona fide action hero. She’s smart, tough, extremely capable, and, quite frankly, she’s better than 95 percent of the other female characters out there.
Now, a lot of that is because of Jennifer Lawrence. Oh, Lawrence… eventually one day, she’s going to have to come back down to Earth, but rest assured, it will not be today. She is the real deal, nothing short of brilliant in this movie. Her shoulders must be sore because she basically carries this thing, nailing every subtle shade of nuance required of Katniss.
Of course, she has plenty of help, which is perhaps what makes the world of The Hunger Games so compelling to watch. I can go on and on. Oscar winner Phillip Seymour Hoffman is a tremendous addition to the cast. Jena Malone comes out of nowhere to make a big impact. Hutcherson is much better than I remember him. And Liam Hemsworth makes the absolute most of his increased screen time.
I will impart this warning though. The ending of Catching Fire is abrupt, so abrupt actually that I didn’t even suspect it was coming. That is both good and bad. This is clearly a franchise now, and honestly, I can’t wait for the next instalment. But it will leave you lacking resolution. Do with that what you will. I think it’s a testament to the movie’s entertainment value because it can run for two and a half hours and still feel like it’s got more left in the tank.
As much as I enjoyed the original Hunger Games, Catching Fire seems to surpass its predecessor in almost every way. Do not make the mistake of dismissing it as just another young adult novel turned into a movie franchise. It deserves so much more than that.