It is a rare feat when the sequel to a worldwide blockbuster film is better than the original film. “The Dark Knight” was able to overtake “Batman Begins” (in some people’s eyes), while “The Hangover: Part II” was not as good as the first movie (once again, it’s in eye of the beholder). “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” follows an entertaining but flawed first film, and for the most part it succeeds in being better, but it is not without stumbling along the way.
Jennifer Lawrence, fresh off her first Oscar, once again plays Katniss Everdeen, the heroine who, alongside Peeta Mallark (Josh Hutcherson), won the most recent Hunger Games. If somehow you don’t know the franchise’s basic story arch, the Hunger Games are a yearly event where 24 teenagers fight to the death for the entertainment (and symbol of power) of the tyrannical government. The Katniss and Peeta’s victory has sparked a rebellion among the oppressed citizens, making the Capitol target the two and send them back into the Games. Francis Lawrence takes over direction duties from Gary Ross.
The first Hunger Games film was just alright. It was entertaining and somewhat fresh, even if the shaky cam and PG-13 violence held it back a bit. On this second go around the direction is much more fluid (my hat goes off to Francis Lawrence) and we get a little bit more bloodshed, mainly because all the fighters in the Hunger Games have won the event before, so they are 20 and older, not young kids who we can’t show actually get killed.
The film has its share of intense and exciting moments, most of which come from the dedication of Jennifer Lawrence. She throws herself into the role of Katniss, and it is her cunning wit and humanity that makes us follow her on her journey. However I can’t say I was always Katniss’ biggest fan.
The idea of the film (and book) is that Katniss is unlikable and has no real relationships, which is supposed to make her status as the Districts’ beacon of hope more meaningful; that a nobody can be the leader of great change. However when your main character is unlikable, then who are we as an audience supposed to root for? Where is our symbol of hope? There are points Katniss gets upset at people for reasons that are out of their control, and it really just annoyed me when she would break down crying because of what happened to her in the first film. We get it, she witnessed death. We all saw the first film; we don’t have to be reminded of what happened a dozen times.
Some of the pacing leading up to the Games is also a bit awkward and the running time is unnecessary (clocks in at near two and a half hours). And of course they try and force a love triangle because God forbid a film aimed at teenagers doesn’t feature the main character having to decide between two beefcakes.
Gripes about Katniss and the pacing aside, “Catching Fire” is an enjoyable film. The ending that may leave some people uneasy, but it is all to try and build the hype up for part three (well to be technical, part 3a). This sequel is more impressive and more fun than the first film, while at the same time adding layers of drama. The stage is set for an epic finale(s), even if the road to the climax wasn’t always smooth.
Critics Rating: 7/10