Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark become targets of the Capitol after their victory in the 74th Hunger Games sparks a rebellion in the Districts of Panem.Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark become targets of the Capitol after their victory in the 74th Hunger Games sparks a rebellion in the Districts of Panem.Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark become targets of the Capitol after their victory in the 74th Hunger Games sparks a rebellion in the Districts of Panem.
Jennifer Lawrence Through the Years
In the first film, one of the key issues was the pacing. Many things felled rushed, especially the backstory for the characters which was more or less only seen in brief flashbacks and allusions. The lead up to The Games felt like a formality that they needed to get through so they could show us the action. This is understandable. Everyone wants to see people fighting, not sappy emotional moments from characters we don't even know yet. In Catching Fire, we get a much more fluid arc which gives us the perfect amount of set-up before dropping us into the second installment of The Games, which now have considerably more meaning than just staying alive. In some ways, it is allowed to because now we are familiar with the premises and characters, but the film goes beyond that to an extra level.
Take for example the character of President Snow. In the first film, we get only fleeting glimpses of this menacing character (which, I should add, does mimic the books). In the novel, this is okay because it's from Katniss' point of view. In the film, we need an antagonist, and Donald Sutherland puts on a menacing performance in this role. In Catching Fire, we get to see that in its full development. Snow is at the same time fatherly and forbidding, gentle but powerful. He has that same appeal as Emperor Palpatine or Xerxes, ones who have no accountability and all the power and thus are beholden to no law or morality but their own. This comes through perfectly thanks to the phenomenal acting and fitting script.
At the end of the day though, we get out of the house and go to the theater for a movie like this because we want to see action. It's not shameful to want to see a bit of blood and battling every now and then. Well, let's just say we are not left disappointed. The Games have taken on a whole new life in this installment, and it feels that way. In the first film, The Games are nearly quaint. It is just a simple scenario for the combatants to do what they will, free mostly from egregious deus ex situations. Primitive and effective. In the sequel, it doesn't just seem like person against person, but instead the heroes versus the machine. It is the spark of the rebellion even before it is fully revealed to us. There are enough tricks and surprises of The Games to keep you on the edge of your seat the whole time, wondering how our protagonists will get out of this one.
Predictability is something that a film can suffer or thrive on. Have too much and your audience becomes bored, but too little and you risk raising the brow too high and going over too many heads. Catching Fire seems to find that perfect balance. I found myself often saying "Ah, I know what's going to happen here." and nearly immediately having it happen. I am not saying that as if I have some clairvoyant ability. What this film does it set the scenes up so tightly that you are rewarded for making guesses and allowed to feel like you've won by seeing the action in advance. It is not a cheap tactic either. They hit the mark here by giving you enough to work with but still leaving room for you to be excited and cheer when Katniss does the right thing. At the end, we are given enough of a cliffhanger leave us wanting more from the next sequel.
Catching Fire is what sequels should strive to be. It didn't fall into any of the traps of a well-known series with a good original. It took what made the books and the original great and built on them. It helps that the actors seem to feel natural in their roles and with each other, likely the product of much more time working together. A perfect mix of action, thrills, mystery and socio-political drama, Catching Fire is simply altogether a great film. With this trend in the series, I am excited to see what Mockingjay has in store for me.
- May 5, 2020