Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White


Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

‘Catching Fire’ surpasses ‘The Hunger Games’ in every aspect

There’s a scene in the early minutes of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” the newly released adaptation of the sequel to Suzanne Collins’ novel and 2012 film “The Hunger Games,” in which the heroine, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), walks into her new home in the mining-centered District 12 and is greeted by the cold, calculating president of the dystopia of Panem, Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland). In this short and tense exchange, Snow threatens everything Katniss has left if she does not convince him that her motivations for the defiant act that resulted in both Katniss and her fellow competitor Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) surviving the last Hunger Games are real. As Snow leaves, the camera leaves the audience with a close-up of Katniss’s face, rigid in defiance yet punctured by fear. She’s scared, and so are we.

Scenes like these are abundant through “Catching Fire,” which sees director Francis Lawrence (“I Am Legend”) take over the reins from Gary Ross, who helmed the first film, and take the series into intense and tantalizing new territory. Never ceasing to provide a thrill, chill, or even an occasional dose of dark humor, “Catching Fire” outdoes “The Hunger Games” in nearly every department.

After winning the 74th annual Hunger Games – a competition in which “tributes” are rounded up and pitted against each other in fierce combat – a year before, Katniss and Peeta embark on a victory tour, in which they travel to the districts of Panem ruled over by Snow in the affluent Capitol. It turns out that their victory in the previous Games has sparked the first echoes of rebellion across the nation, echoes which Snow wants Katniss to silence. Guided along by boozy mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and prim-and-proper handler Effie (Elizabeth Banks), Katniss and Peeta are paraded around Panem, feigning happiness, when in reality they’re fighting the urge to join in the rebellion.

Not satisfied, Snow and his new head Hunger Games strategist Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) devise a new plan: a 75th Hunger Games featuring previous winners. Thrown back into the arena that still torments them, Katniss and Peeta must face new dangers in battle while trying to deal with the dangers that loom outside in their nation.

There is no moment in “Catching Fire” where director Francis Lawrence, the screenplay by Simon Beaufoy (“Slumdog Millionaire”) and Michael deBruyn (a pseudonym for Michael Arndt, who wrote “Little Miss Sunshine”), or the actors let you go. From the opening sequence, they grab on tight and keep you involved and invested. The visuals play no small role either. Beautifully shot by Jo Willems (“Limitless”) and accented by both a haunting, pounding score from James Newton Howard (“The Dark Knight”) and award-worthy costume and production design (by “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” costume designer Trish Summerville and “The Hunger Games” production designer Philip Messina), “Catching Fire” leaps over the first film in the technical departments.

The actors, however, bring it all home. The cast is led by Jennifer Lawrence, who delivers another powerhouse performance as Katniss. Confident yet embattled, strong yet vulnerable, Lawrence – fresh off her first Oscar win for “Silver Linings Playbook” – gives Katniss heart, humanity and soul. She brings the audience along with her the whole time. Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth return as Katniss’ partner Peeta and her best friend Gale Hawthorne, respectively, and deliver solid turns. Banks and Harrelson both outdo their performances from the first film, with Banks especially exploring new depths of her character, a Capitol-trained chaperone who begins to realize what the culture she embodies is really all about. Hoffman is good as the ethically questionable Heavensbee, and Sutherland is frosty and calculating as President Snow. In the arena, Sam Claflin (“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”) and Jena Malone (“Sucker Punch”) are standouts as the suave, cunning Finnick Odair and the dangerous, fierce Johanna Mason, respectively.

What “Catching Fire” becomes in the end is an exhilarating and surprisingly emotional cinematic experience. Through the eyes of Katniss, an unwilling heroine helpless and powerless against the brutality of the world that surrounds her, the audience is sucked in and feels everything. This is a film that firmly grips its audience and doesn’t let it go throughout, even after the credits begin to roll. It leaves you stunned and ready for more. If “Catching Fire” is any indication, then when the first part of the series’ two-film conclusion “Mockingjay” hits theaters November 2014 (which Francis Lawrence will return to direct), the odds are definitely in its favor.

More to Discover