Time: 146 Minutes
Age Rating: M – Violence
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen
Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark
Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne
Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy
Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket
Lenny Kravitz as Cinna
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee
Jeffrey Wright as Beetee Latier
Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman
Donald Sutherland as President Coriolanus Snow
Toby Jones as Claudius Templesmith
Willow Shields as Primrose Everdeen
Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair
Lynn Cohen as Mags Flanagan
Jena Malone as Johanna Mason
Director: Francis Lawrence
After Katniss and Peeta’s victory sparks hope and possible rebellion from the citizens of Panem, the two are targeted by the Capitol that wants to quell the revolution before it is too late.
When I heard about the upcoming adaptation of the Hunger Games prequel (The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes), I decided to rewatch the original movies. It has been years since I had watched them, mostly back at the cinema. While I hadn’t exactly looked on YA adaptations fondly, in the past few years I admit I sort of missed that era, and it doesn’t feel the same without them. The first Hunger Games was pretty good, but felt like it could’ve been much better than it was. Catching Fire however is a notable step up in quality, and improves on the first movie in every way.
In some ways the first movie was solid, the worldbuilding, the characters, the setup was there. They were done decently, but felt like they were lacking something. Catching Fire handles all of this much better, it’s a great sequel with a solid script. It has been a while since I read the book, but I heard from many more familiar with the source material that it improves from the book. The plot is gripping and makes sense, the pacing is steady, yet the movie flies by. I found myself more emotionally invested in the story, and the characters felt more real. The first movie was already pretty dark from its premise, but the sequel is even darker. You really feel the oppression and weight of everything with a sense of dread, mainly everything regarding the Capitol. The worldbuilding is very solid, it doesn’t try to rush into the hunger games and actually spends a good amount of time away from it. It ends with a cliffhanger which has you wanting to check out the sequel immediately afterwards.
Much of the cast were solid in the first movie, but they do feel stronger on the whole here. Jennifer Lawrence was already good as Katniss Everdeen and is even better in Catching Fire, really conveying everything that her character has to go through. Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth are also pretty good as Peeta and Gale, though they don’t really stand out much in this movie. Other returning actors Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, and Elizabeth Banks are also great again in their parts. The biggest notable improvement of the returning actors/characters however is seen in the main overarching series villain President Snow, as played by Donald Sutherland. Snow appeared a few times in the first movie, but he never felt like the main villain or much of a threat. Catching Fire does a stronger job at establishing him as that, upping his screentime. As far as villains go, Snow isn’t anything special, but Sutherland plays him with such menace that his scenes are standouts. There are also some newcomers to the series who play their parts really well, including Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Jeffrey Wright.
Francis Lawrence directs, and while I don’t want to rag on Hunger Games director Gary Ross, Lawrence is a notable improvement. It’s really no surprise that he would go on the direct the rest of the Hunger Games, including the upcoming prequel. It’s a very well shot movie and there are some stand out sequences. There’s this particular impressive moment where the aspect ratio changes seamlessly as Katniss enters the game. While I could get behind some of the action of the first movie, it cuts way too much. The action of Catching Fire is better; it’s a lot easier to see, abandoning the quick editing and shaky camerawork, and the violence still feels really punchy when it needs to. James Newton Howard’s score was great, and the soundtrack on the whole is solid.
Catching Fire is by far the best in the Hunger Games series and is up there as one of the best YA adaptations. It improves on the first movie in just about every way, from the tone, writing, direction, action, and with some great performances. If you watched the first Hunger Games and thought it was just okay, I’d recommend checking out Catching Fire because its even better.