Movie Reviews

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

A franchise on the right track, though it gets off to a bumpy start and ends with a sudden hault

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire movie review
Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Photo: Lionsgate

Do you review a sequel with the assumption everyone reading saw the first film or is it important to offer some background information for those that may have skipped the first film or simply need a refresher? The question, as it turns out, is one the filmmakers of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire seemed to have a little difficulty in answering themselves when it comes to the sophomore effort in the franchise. The first hour or so slogs through a rather dull opening, making sure the audience understands where we've been and where we're going. Fortunately, after trudging through, the audience is rewarded with a satisfying final two acts even if the film feels a little incomplete by the end.

'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
Review
Grade: B-

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" is a Lionsgate release, directed by and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language. The running time is .

The cast includes , , , , , , , , , , , , and .

For more information on this film including pictures, trailers and a detailed synopsis .

Catching Fire returns us to the oppressive future world of Panem, where citizens of 12 districts are held under the thumb of the Capital and beaten and killed if they step out of line. This second part in the story begins with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) returning home from her victory at the 74th Hunger Games. She's doing a little hunting in the woods and suffering from a little PTSD as her best friend and conflicted love interest, Gale (Liam Hemsworth), comforts her and lays on a little guilt trip due to her manufactured "love" for her fellow Hunger Games victor, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). Their little stunt at the end of the last film may have allowed Katniss and Peeta to be the first ever joint victors at the Hunger Games but President Snow (Donald Sutherland) isn't buying it.

While threatening everyone she loves, Snow lets Katniss know it would be in her best interest to continue to convince the twelve Districts of Panem she really is in love with Peeta, tempering the presumed act of defiance, which very well could lead to an all-out uprising against the Capital.

Much like the first film (which I was far too kind on back in 2012), once you get beyond the setup the focus becomes the action in the arena as the 75th Hunger Games gets underway, though behind-the-scenes scheming is clearly at play. President Snow needs to ensure he's able to control Katniss and the slow building uprising with her as the figurehead. At the suggestion of his new gamesmaker (Philip Seymour Hoffman), this newest Games will pull its combatants from the pool of previous victors. Of course, Snow overlooks what would appear to be the clear martyrdom of his nemesis, but it isn't as if the thematic power of this franchise was ever that clandestine.

Lawrence continues to grow as an actress, serving as a strong lead for the franchise, while the one thing The Hunger Games franchise continues to have over any current young adult adaptation competition is a great supporting cast.

Sutherland as President Snow is a casting decision that's only going to get better as we move to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 -- the installment in the franchise anyone who's read the books has been looking forward to ever since the film adaptations were announced -- but given the dour nature of the storyline, perhaps the most important casting decisions are that of Elizabeth Banks as the upbeat Effie Trinket and Stanley Tucci as the toothy, Hunger Games showman Caesar Flickerman. Banks and Tucci offer necessary moments of reprieve from the tension and both are very good in Catching Fire, Banks is especially integral, bringing an important level of humanity to the project along with her moments of vanity and unintentional (on her part at least) humor.

Notable additions to the league of Hunger Games combatants are Sam Claflin as the cocky, yet caring Finnick Odair, Jena Malone as the outspoken Johanna Mason and Jeffrey Wright as the MacGyver-esque Beetee. None of them necessarily stand out from the crowd as much as they play their part, though I did appreciate the balance Claflin struck while playing Finnick, a character that very easily could have devolved into the stereotypical cock-of-the-walk opposite Lawrence's strong-willed Katniss, but he came across as much more than that.

Following in the footsteps of The Hunger Games director and co-writer Gary Ross, the keys to the Hunger Games kingdom have been handed over to director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) and this time with a script from Oscar winners Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) and Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine). It was evident to me all three seemed to need to find their bearings as they entered this world for the first time, but once they found their footing things begin to progress nicely. It will be interesting, however, to see how Mockingjay turns out as Beaufoy and Arndt were replaced by Danny Strong (Lee Daniels' The Butler) for the two-part finale.

As far as an overall handle on the franchise, Lawrence understands the nature of the situation at hand is enough to convince the audience things aren't good for the lower classes in Panem, he doesn't need to wallow in handheld shaky-cam depression. However, at just shy of two-and-a-half hours the film is easily 20 minutes too long, most from its opening hour as well as a few random, unnecessary asides. Yet, to its credit, the final 90 minutes or so are tightly woven and go by so quick the movie comes to a rather jarring conclusion not at all unlike the final, abrupt minutes of Matrix Reloaded. In fact, the two films share nearly identical final shots, and while it's in keeping with Suzanne Collins' books, as a movie it does leave the film feeling rather incomplete.

Once we get out of the grey and dirtied outer districts the production design seems vastly improved from the first film, leaving the impression they actually spent some money and time considering what they were putting together. Additionally, the silliness of the Capital fashion doesn't seem as absurd as it did before as much as it seems a part of the landscape. This could obviously be as a result of familiarity with the so-called fashion, but I felt it was more attributable to Lawrence's ability to maintain focus on story rather than pointing and essentially saying, "Hey! Look at that guy's outfit! And her's too!"

In terms of story and franchise, comparisons to Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back are sure to be made as the two stories share kinship in the oppressed rising up against the oppressors and while most of Catching Fire is an improvement on the first film it still feels like a franchise experimenting with the best way to tell the story for a PG-13 audience, which really should be interesting moving forward. If Catching Fire is any indication, by the end it seems the kinks have been worked out and with Lawrence returning to film Mockingjay I have confidence things are only going to get better from here.

GRADE: B-
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  • adu

    Thats the tricky thing with part 2s I suppose; the set-up is kinda done and it seems like the ending will feel incomplete...Two Towers & The Matrix Reloaded are examples of that. I thinks thats one of the things that make part 2s so interesting and challenging at the same time; looking forward to see how both Catching Fire & Desolation of Smaug pull that off.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Ian/ Ian

      Except Smaug isn't a natural part two by any means; it's just an extraction of six or seven chapters from one book that is meant to be one single story. And in terms of structure and pacing, The Two Towers film feels like a more complete entity than the book (it has a proper climax, three actually), though in terms of plot and characterization it makes quite a few departures.

      • adu

        Considering I'm on board with the three movie idea, to me it's quite natural; this is a movie and that is a book. Let's not forget the last Hunger Games movie will be split as well.

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/lalecture/ lalecture

          Book to film is usually a slippery slope. I saw catching fire Monday and would agree with a slow pace in the first bit. But to be fair to the film makers, the book follows a very similar arc.

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Ian/ Ian

          This conversation has been had and will continue to be for another year, but there aren't many books that justify multi-movie adaptations. And The Hobbit isn't one of them. The original two-movie idea I could maybe see, but three is ridiculous and is why the best parts of the first Hobbit movie were ultimately outweighed by all the unnecessary bloat. But if he's willing to make them three hours long anyway there's one three hour adaptation of The Hobbit that could easily have been made.

          • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Adu/ Adu

            Yes I know many feel that way, Hobbit is actually one of my favorite books but it is painfully lacking in a lot of detail when it comes to envisioning it for a film as far as I'm concerned. Having really enjoyed the first one I was satisfied with all the embellishment and am quite happy to spend two more Decembers in Jackson's rendering of Middle Earth.

            • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Ian/ Ian

              We'll just have to agree to disagree on The Hobbit, and this is coming from someone who's been a huge fan of Tolkien most of my life and frankly knows far more about his mythology than most people (not saying you don't). But I'll gladly take Jackson's mostly faithful rendering of Middle Earth in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy over his bloated version of The Hobbit.

              • adu

                Absolutely...to each their own, I do hope you have a better experience with Desolation at least; I'm so excited I took the opening day off from work!

  • BradyD

    I enjoyed the first one and I'm expecting this sequel to improve on the original. I'll be there opening night.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/bridgetoash/ Nathan

    Haha, I don't know if that massive drop cap was intentional, but it looks like a you gave it a bad grade at first glance.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Ryguy815/ Ryguy815

    I'll probably be seeing this on Saturday and I'm really, really excited.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Roger/ Roger Judd

    To answer the opening question, I find the review should be based on the movie with the assumption everyone reading it has seen it before. This is Part 2. You won't be very informed going into most sequels without having seeing the first movie, the review shouldn't recap Part 1. It's up to the reader/viewer to get caught up if they are interested in the sequel at all.
    That being said, I find this movie is on par with the pacing of the book. The Games only start 3/4 into the book and does not let up for a second before the abrupt ending which is told in only a few pages. The movie got this right.

    I'm happy with the ending. The movie is supposed to feel incomplete at the end. The conclusion in all this is Mockingjay. This is only Act II. Nothing is resolved yet.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      Nothing is resolved... what a great way to end a movie. :)

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Mikey/ Mikey

        I think that actually brings up an interesting question. Can a movie have a cliffhanger "what will come next" ending, while still standing on its own as a film?

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Roger/ Roger Judd

          I think it can for sure, it's just that it has to be compelling enough for the audience to care to return for the conclusion. This specific case has an established audience where the majority already knows the ending to all of this you know? They will obviously be back.
          The question is, can this formula work for original movies that are 1-2 years apart?
          The "what-will-come-next" ending works well for TV, you only need to wait a week. Seems to work fine for books. But we don't see that often with original movies. Matrix 2 & 3 showed that it might not work.
          I prefer teases for the next movie, like the ending in Batman Begins.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/lalecture/ lalecture

        But you complain passionately when films end and the BAM a flash, a promise of more to come (like in Wolverine)!
        Which would you prefer then?

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Roger/ Roger Judd

        Dude, this is a movie based on a book who's ending was not resolved...what did you expect, the series to wrap up in Act II?

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

          I think it's entirely fair. Once again, it's an adaptation. However, and Laremy and I get into this on tomorrow's podcast, we can't unknown what we know. We know there will be a sequel, but would the film be able to stand on its own without a film before it and another one after it. Laremy thinks it could, I personally don't.

          • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Roger/ Roger Judd

            I'm curious to why you think it is fair, hope it's explained in the podcast. Why is the question of this movie being able to hold on its own even an issue? You said yourself, it's an adaptation. Catching Fire is the middle part of 3 books telling a larger story. I expect it to tell the 2nd Act just like the book did. The book ended abruptly, so does the movie. I don't understand what's the issue? Why does this even need consideration of it being held on its own.
            Unless I don't understand what you guys mean by being held on its own? Do you mean being able to watch this alone with no knowledge of the previous movie/book?

            • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

              Because it's an adaptation, which is to suggest change. That's what adapting something means. Just because it was done in the book doesn't mean you have to do it in the movie.

              My point is, can the movie be watched, understood and appreciated all on its own, without The Hunger Games and without Mockingjay after it. If the only movie ever made with these characters was Catching Fire, would you say it stands alone as a singular movie? Would you be perfectly satisfied if it ended here?

              • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Roger/ Roger Judd

                Ok, I understand. I would say no then.
                But I also think it isn't fair to even consider if it should because this is not like most sequels. You can watch Iron Man 2 alone and you're fine. But this is literally Part 2 of 3 (4 for the movies). It's hard to try to accept this as a strand-alone movie when it's in the middle of a larger story.
                But I get your point, I just find it doesn't apply here.
                Thanks for clearing it up.

              • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

                Yeah, I just think it's important for movies to be able to stand on their own. Even if it ends with an open ending, I like to feel I've seen a complete story arc. For example, all of Nolan's Batman films and even the Avengers films, as you mention, tell a complete story, otherwise we're just watching TV.

      • robotsrule

        My sense is that in this age of heavily serialized television the lack of resolution is not as jarring for people as it might have been in the past. Are these even really films to be judged in the same way as we might judge something like Goodfellas, or are they really more analogous to LOST or A Game Of Thrones? In the case of most serialized television, some episodes very much stand on their own, as do the seasons. But some episodes feel very much like bridges that have to serve in an expository and transitional role to get us to the next part of the story. Though I tend to agree that every film ought to "feel" resolved as a complete work despite having an incomplete narrative. In the case of Catching Fire, it's written as a bit of a cliffhanger so the question is do the filmmakers adhere to the written word or make some story telling and tonal choices to make the film stand a bit more on its own? I tend to feel like a film ought to stand on it's own as a piece of art but not necessarily as entertainment which is an important distinction to make. Catching Fire accomplishes the task of entertainingly telling its story but perhaps falls short as a complete artistic statement. As for the comparison to the end of the second Matrix, the scene construction and abrupt ending is clearly similar, but Catching Fire actually earns the ending through Lawrence's clear character transformation in that single shot. The performances and storytelling in this, and the Hunger Games, do a much better job of investing us in the outcome for these characters than the Matrix ever could have with its detached and "cool" characterizations.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/lalecture/ lalecture

      One thing I would say with regard to book or film series is that most authors and writer and/or directors give some sense of history. Some give too much and I find that annoying. Even in long running book series I have read the authors will underline some basic ideas that run through the different characters relationships. The trick is to find the balance.

  • gbpackertime

    Each book gets progressively worse in this series, imo, with the last book just being downright bad, especially what is done with the Katniss character. I was hoping that the first movie would be very good as that was the best book of the three, but I found it to be watered-down, shaky-cam garbage typical of most PG-13 action films these days. They're not getting my money this time around.

  • http://letterboxd.com/criterion10/ Criterion10

    I didn't think much of the first film, though I still may check this out when it hits DVD.

    • http://imqwerty.wordpress.com/ Jordan B.

      I really liked the first film when I first saw it, but a second viewing wasn't at all kind to the film. I have to say, though, this installment feels like it should hold up much better. It's just an overall better production that fixes a lot of the issues I found with the first film.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Ian/ Ian

    I've been passively looking forward to this. Haven't read the books yet but the first film was okay and this one has looked like an improvement with pretty much everything I've seen and am now reading. I don't care enough to fight the masses opening weekend though, plus Blue is the Warmest Color and Dallas Buyers Club are both opening in Richmond this weekend so those will be higher priorities. I'm planning on seeing this next Wednesday evening, before Thanksgiving.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/TheLastEquivocationofBrist/ TheLastEquivocationofBrist

      Blue is definitely a worthwhile priority :) I'll be seeing DBC this weekend.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Art/ Art

    Great, thanks for the review. Hope to check this out opening night.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Corbin/ Corbin

    Good review. I am looking forward to this, and I should be seeing it within 2 weeks.

  • http://timeforafilm.com/ Alex Thomas

    I'm glad you kinda enjoyed this one Brad. I liked the ending, I can't remember a film ending like that for a while, it's almost a bold move.

    Although I guess it would have been better if we got a resolution and excitement for what happens next rather than just one of the two.

  • TheOneWhoKnocks

    Did you enjoy this film more than the original? Furthermore, what are your thoughts on the books? I liked the first one, although I felt that the other two were a tad disappointing. The second book felt repetitive, and the third one was just a dour mess.

    One of the things I dislike about the books is that they spend very little time exploring the vast universe of the series. After all, there are over ten different districts, yet none of them are particularly well-developed or explored. I personally think that the first movie did a much better job in making the settings palpable and lived-in. I hope that this also goes for the second movie, which I will see Friday evening.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Chris/ Chris

    Saw it Monday. Really liked it a lot. A big improvement over the second and even though it is just basically a prologue to the next one, I can't wait to see the next!

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Hudsucker/ Hudsucker

    Probably a rental for me, unless I decide to tag along with some of friends if they see it.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/lalecture/ lalecture

    Enjoyed your review Brad. I liked it more than you, but I'm a huge fan of the book series. I definitely liked this film more than the first.
    I had no idea 2 ½ hours had passed. It ended pretty much the way the book does.
    The only problem I have with the ending of this film is that I have to wait a year for the next installment!

  • Lupita Nyong’O

    Jennifer is a fabulous actress. I have some stiff competition from her in the Supporting Actress category.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Ian/ Ian

      1. She won last year
      2. No one has even seen American Hustle yet

      Her competition is from Oprah, not Lawrence.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/TheLastEquivocationofBrist/ TheLastEquivocationofBrist

    I thought I'd be seeing both this and Dallas Buyers Club this weekend, but now it looks like I'll only have time for DBC. Is this a movie where I could wait for DVD without hurting the experience?

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/lalecture/ lalecture

      Catching Fire has an hours worth of IMAX. If you want the theater experience if sound and expansive visuals go for the IMAX. Its a subjective thing as always...

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/RyanJayden/ Ryan Jayden

    Just got back from a screening and I was quite surprised at the end cos it didn't feel like it was 2.5 hours long. I really enjoyed it.

  • Paul Hennen

    I laugh every time I see the people of "the capital." They all look like they are ruled by the overlord Lady Gaga. And somehow, it actually works. This is far from the greatest franchise ever or being as good as it's made out to be, but to pull off something that seems to goofy with meaning, purpose, good characters and good story around all this did take some serious effort, and the makers deserve a lot of credit for it.

    • buddy

      I know, everybody dress up except for the president and Phillip Seymour Hoffman character which is kinda weird (I am non book reader so i dunno if that Plutarch Heavensbee is Capitol residence or not) ^^

  • buddy

    After seeing it tonight, i can say that this movie gives good improvement from the first.
    All the cast did well and the story flow nicely.
    I can understand why Brad think that this movie feels unfinished, as a non book reader i kinda feel the same way and too bad we need to wait 2 more years before the series conclude.
    This series could be one of the better young adult adaptation.
    Solid B+ from me.

    Regards from Indonesia

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/bcf26/ bcf26

    I watched the movie yesterday. It really stays true to the book so the fans of the book will surely not be disappointed. Lawrence is phenomenal on her performance. I thought Elizabeth Banks was excellent and delivered a flawless portrayal of Effie Trinket. Perhaps an Oscar Nom? Overall, I will give it A-.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/kathrynlynn/ kathrynlynn

    good review brad, though i didn't find the first hour as dull as you, i was impressed with how they were able to capture the essence of the story much more so in this adaptation than the first.

    I like the addition of president snow's granddaughter and their little moments, that adds something to the films.

    what i find disturbing about this whole catching fire craze is the marketing. i've seen make up commercials for capitol styles, and other silly things like victory tour contest marketing. and it's the very things the books/movies are pointing out take us in and essentially create society evil..... and we are marketing for it... ironic?

  • stephen innes

    the slowest most boringest film ive endured I only stayed to the end to see what happened