MANILA, Philippines – In the post-apocalyptic future of Panem, there is little hope for the citizens of its 12 districts. But after the resounding victory of Katniss and Peeta in the recent Hunger Games, that spark of hope has been stoked into a raging flame.
Catching Fire is the second film adaptation to the wildly successful book series by Suzanne Collins known simply as The Hunger Games.
The film picks up right after the events of the first film, where Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) have managed to survive the arena-style bloodbath in a well-played ruse of romance.
As citizens of all 12 districts rally behind Katniss and Peeta, President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland) realizes that seeds of rebellion have been sowed into the populace. With the help of newly reinstated Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), President Snow plans to eliminate Katniss and Peeta by sending them back into the Hunger Games.
Catching Fire is superior in a lot of ways to the original film, but mostly because of the strong foundation it’s built on. While the film still supplies the popcorn escapism that blockbuster releases are meant to provide, Catching Fire manages to expound on the themes and ideas that have made The Hunger Games a step above the usual class of young adult fiction.
Catching Fire is an almost indisputable retread of the original film, but this time around, the stakes are higher. We begin to see hints of the rebellion, as well as the ongoing desperation of both Katniss and Peeta. As the dystopian world of Panem begins to crumble around them, Catching Fire ends up becoming an effective springboard for the final leg of the series, Mockingjay.
Fans of the original novel will undoubtedly feel short-changed by a number of key scenes in Catching Fire. In the effort to keep the film’s story fast and concise, director Francis Lawrence (Water for Elephants) and screenwriters Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) and Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3) make the hard decision of leaving some of the book’s more heartfelt moments on the cutting room floor.
This leaves the film’s love triangle mostly undercooked, but admittedly serviceable. We are never given any real insight into Katniss’ blossoming relationship with Peeta, or her own conflicted feelings with her hometown love Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth). Instead, Lawrence and his team decide to focus on something far more compelling: the nation of Panem itself.
As pockets of rebellion begin to surface across the 12 districts, President Snow is hard pressed to keep them out of sight from the Capitol. But when Katniss becomes the unlikely hero of the masses, she finds herself thrust into a conspiracy that puts her right in the middle of the potential revolution.
The result of these hard creative decisions is a film that takes its time to fall in step, but breaks off into a blind sprint later on through. While pop culture aficionados have been critical about the series’ similarities with Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale, now, even stronger comparisons can be made with Orson Welles’ 1942.
A star on fire
Jennifer Lawrence has been a firecracker of a superstar. Ever since her Best Actress nomination for Winter’s Bone and her eventual win for Silver Linings Playbook, Lawrence’s rise to the top of the Hollywood ladder has been sudden, if not completely surprising. The Hunger Games franchise has now cemented Lawrence as a young superstar worthy of carrying a big-budget franchise on her shoulders.
While other young stars have been quick to cash in on big-name franchises, Lawrence has been fortunate enough to attach herself to a series that has some meat on its bones.
Unlike other young adult heroines, Katniss is no frail teen blinded by blood. Katniss is intimidating in her strength, but also unparalleled in her compassion. It’s Lawrence’s portrayal of the cunning young tribute from District 12 that makes her all the more human.
Catching Fire will no doubt conquer the box-office weekend, but with one more book left to adapt, studio execs aren’t quick to let their gold mine run dry too soon. The final film, Mockingjay, will be told in two parts. Whether the remaining films hold up as well as its thrilling and wholly entertaining sequel still remains to be seen.
Watch the ‘Catching Fire’ trailer here:
Zig Marasigan is a freelance screenwriter and director who believes that cinema is the cure for cancer. Follow him on Twitter at @zigmarasigan.
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