Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Review

Despite the mostly positive critical response to the first film as well as obvious commercial success, director Gary Ross did not return to continue the franchise, and in walked Francis Lawrence and with him some expected skepticism. I certainly felt it and questioned whether he was the right man for the job, with a filmography consisting of the films Constantine, I Am Legend and Water for Elephants, it was hard to immediately rally behind the choice and assume it would result in the Catching Fire adaptation I had been hoping for. While I was pleased a different cinematic mind would be getting a crack at utilizing the talent involved at a higher level than Ross achieved with the debut, was Francis Lawrence really cut out for this hyped, much anticipated project?

The answer proved to be a resounding yes. Everything about Catching Fire is an improvement from the first. More confident and comfortable performances from the entire cast, as well as great additions to the film like Jeffrey Wright, Jena Malone, Amanda Plummer, Sam Claflin, and of course the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman. In fact, as soon as I heard the news of Seymour Hoffman being added to the cast, my confidence in the entire film skyrocketed. He was a man of transcendent talent and his mere presence in a frame made everything around him seem stronger, and he is and will continue to be missed.

The stakes in this film are higher, the tension has intensified and the direction of the story has gone to more mature heights, as while a similar round of the "games" is played like in the first film, the actually central focus of this narrative is more on the external games being played by President Snow in the Capitol and Katniss and her people as her story of love and ascension as the Mockingjay, a symbol of hope and decency and compassion and strength, sparks a revolution in all of the districts she tours as the previous years winner of the games.

Speaking of the actual games that take place in Catching Fire, the "arena" is not only bigger and bolder and more interesting than it was in the first film, it is also far more aesthetically pleasing, a glorious site on the big screen as it was filmed with IMAX cameras and it still maintains its piercing picturesque appeal on a flat screen at home. The transition from the first act of the film to the games is smooth and the pacing never falters throughout, a running time of nearly 150 minutes and yet I never feel it as I watch the film, it always flies by as every single moment is, quite simply, really god damn entertaining. 

Despite this being my 3rd or 4th time watching Catching Fire in the one year since its release, I still found myself just as enthralled and excited by the entire film as I did that first time in the theater last November. You could argue some of the same issues I found during the first film pop up again here, like a screenplay that doesn't fully flesh out the details for an audience that is unfamiliar with the source material, but I am willing to give this more of a pass as it is a sequel. Francis Lawrence was given an opportunity to work with what was built for him, to take fans of the first film and make them fall in love with the direction of the series, and at least in my case he absolutely nailed it.


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