The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) – Movie Review

Director: Francis Lawrence
Writers: Michael Arndt, Simon Beaufoy (screenplay), Suzanne Collins (novel)
Actors: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci
Rating: PG
Runtime: 146 min

There can be no denying that The Hunger Games has become a megahit franchise. The controversial book trilogy by Suzanne Collins has now been turned into a star-studded and special-effects-laden film series that appeals to both children and adults alike. Fortunately, the second instalment, Catching Fire, lives up to the expectations of both young fans and film fans by presenting a well made and strongly acted film that spends as much time addressing psychological trauma and serious moral issues as it does teen romance.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

This film is not a stand-alone work, but a bridge between the first and third instalments, and one unfamiliar with the first movie can expect to be lost at the second. After winning the titular contest in last year’s hit film The Hunger Games, which required them to kill fellow contestants in the name of entertainment, teenagers Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) have become symbols of hope for the impoverished residents of the Panam Districts. Not only must the young heroes deal with the emotional damage and psychological trauma with which they are left after the Games, but they are also forced to adjust to life as targets of the wealthy Capitol and the evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who seeks to crush any sign of revolution. When the new Head Gamesmaker, Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman), hatches a plan to quell the riotous past Games winners by organizing a new Games and pitting the strongest victors against each other, Katniss and Peeta inevitably find themselves back in the arena, struggling not only to survive but also to retain a sense of dignity and honour amidst the bloodshed. Memorable characters such as alcoholic mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), clueless yet well-meaning escort Effie (Elizabeth Banks), and sweet stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) are all back this time around as well.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Although a different director is at the helm for this instalment, Catching Fire maintains the series’ major aesthetic, juxtaposing the poor and bleak Districts with the elaborate and over-the-top Capitol. Both sets and costumes are detailed and impressive, appearing all the more extreme in comparison with the other and effectively highlighting the difference and divide. Also, although much of the action was shot in dark night scenes, it still appears impressively clear and concise. The acting performances remain excellent as expected from such a cast, and many actors, such as Hoffman and Harrelson, present their characters with so much nuance that an audience cannot help but wonder if there is more to them than may initially appear. The young actors are in no way overshadowed by the many seasoned professionals; Lawrence, in particular, reminds an audience that she is an Oscar-winning artist with her emotionally complex and physically demanding performance. The top-notch acting within this film is only one of the elements that elevates it from a children’s book adaptation and increases its mainstream appeal.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Indeed, there is a lot more to Catching Fire than a simple kids’ action movie. Very dark and disturbing subject matter is addressed and portrayed, and one wonders if a child with the capacity to understand what is happening should really be watching this film. Although the film boasts only a mild PG rating here in Canada, with an equally docile PG-13 in the States, it often cheats in the way in which it depicts brutal acts by allowing the camera to cut away at the very last second, and I do take a bit of an issue with this technique. An execution is an execution, and torture is torture; whether the camera shows the head exploding or simply the splattering blood shouldn’t really matter. I feel that brutal subject matter deserves brutal treatment, and believe that these films, like the books that inspired them, would be stronger if they were intended for adults instead for children. This movie is solid in all of its technical aspects, and is definitely a good film, but could be a great and potentially important one if allowed to depict its subject matter a little more realistically.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

One cannot say that they enjoyed watching Catching Fire without facing a moral dilemma. If one finds this film entertaining, are they not on the same level as the evil and vapid citizens of the Capitol, who force children to fight each other so that they can enjoy the spectacle? Instead, I can say that I enjoyed watching the strong, emotional acting, taking in the lavish, detailed sets and costumes, and pondering the complex issues addressed. One also should not make the mistake of considering this film to be one for children. Instead, it should be viewed as a mainstream dystopian action film, boasting an intriguing premise that happens to focus on children. Regardless of the age of the spectator, this film offers a well-crafted lesson on the power of love and self-sacrifice, and is worth a watch.