By Meg Cook
Okay, so I know this is ridiculously late, but I wanted to post it anyway. For those of you who haven’t read/watched Catching Fire, SPOILER ALERT! Stop reading this review and go read Catching Fire immediately!
I don’t usually write movie reviews. In fact, I think the only movie review I have ever written was on the first Hunger Games movie. Re-reading that review after watching Catching Fire for the first time this past November compelled me to write something on this second movie. I don’t know much about film, despite having gone to a major film school, but I love movies and I consider myself an amateur Hunger Games expert, so … here it goes:
I loved the first Hunger Games movie, but I think Catching Fire raised the stakes in both the acting, the direction and being incredibly faithful to the book. I am still sort of in shock on this last point. I felt both the spirit and the events are both very close to the original text.
Catching Fire opens with Katniss hunting, but her memories of the games, specifically of killing Marvel, keep leaking into her ordinary life. I love how our first image of Katniss is of her from the back. She is crouched and poised to shoot some sort of woodland prey. Even though we cannot see her face, we can feel the tension in her body, the worry and the leftover lurking feelings that the games have instilled in her. They actually flash to her shooting Marvel, and I think this was really well done — a great way to introduce the audience to the very dark emotional turmoil of Katniss’s mental state post-hunger games, which is also the tone of the entire movie. The only thing that changes? The stakes get higher and the dangerous twists and turns begin to consume Katniss’s life to an unavoidable and unbearable degree.
I love the new characters. I have to admit, I was unsure about Sam Claflin as Finnick, but man, he was spectacular. He swung between being to the self-possessed lover boy of the Capital to an intensely emotional young man in love effortlessly. I thought his performance was fantastic. Mags was exactly how I pictured her and their goodbye and all their interactions were beautiful to watch. My favorite new character, however, was the fierce, brutal and self-possessed Johanna, played by actress Jena Malone. One of the few lighthearted moments (okay, maybe the only lighthearted moment) of the entire film was the elevator scene where she strips down to the nude just to make Katniss uncomfortable. I laughed out loud. Everyone’s expressions in that scene were spot on.
I also deeply enjoyed Plutarch, played by the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman. He is a perfect Plutarch, not letting Katniss see his true motives and playing President Snow with a cool demeanor and confident moves. He is calculating, a white knight, but with an agenda that controls Katniss’s life. As a side note, I feel like Plutarch is one of the most interesting and complex characters in the books. Hoffman brought this complexity and ambiguity to the role. It is a sad thing to have lost him.
Lenny Kravitz, who I loved in the first movie, impressed me again in the second. Cinna is such a grounding character, to both Katniss and the reader/viewer, and I think Kravitz does a great job of this in both films. Knowing his final scene was coming, I started to preemptively cry. It was one of the most painful moments of the film, and they mastered the transition from the terror of Cinna being taken away to the bright, oppressive world of the arena where Katniss immediately enters survival mode.
And then there is Katniss herself, played by the incomparable Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence brings such intensity to the role. I love watching her because I’m not sure I have ever seen such a true and successful portrayal of a beloved book character on the silver screen before. Quite simply, she nails it. She takes Katniss’s character to the next level, just as Suzanne Collins does in the book version. She is emotionally scarred, reaching for Peeta for comfort as she accepts her fate in the Quarter Quell. Her revelation at the end is heart wrenching to watch, especially when you know what’s coming next.
In terms of how the world looked, I thought the arena was great. It was very close to how I pictured it in the book, and it was exciting when Katniss put the pieces to together and realized it was a clock. I do feel like the revelation in the book was more exciting. However, that might be because I didn’t know what was coming.
I really only had one complaint. And I’m not sure if it’s a complaint or just confusion: In the book, Peeta’s announcement that Katniss is pregnant is a BIG DEAL. I figured it would take up more screen time in the movie. In the movie, this plot twist had a different effect that it did in the book. The pregnancy stunt, which gave me solid hope for their survival in the book, was portrayed as a sad, desperate attempt to try and help the already doomed situation of the Quarter Quell.
Overall, a complete and utter success of a film adaptation. It’s such a rare gift to have these movies as companions to the books. The tone was dark, the pacing was perfect, easing between fast and slow and then breath-holding suspense right up to the revelatory end. It’s a hard movie to watch, but worth the emotional turmoil for the stupendous acting performances, the perfectly imagined arena and the darkness of where Katniss’s life is leading her.
I await Mockingjay Part One with bated breath.