November 22, 2013 by Hope W.
With a new director and a bigger budget comes a film adaptation that surpasses its predecessor by all counts. (No more shaky cam and choppy editing! And the costumes by new costume designer Trish Summerville are a lot more refined.) Director Francis Lawrence (who did I am Legend and Constantine) takes over the helm from Gary Ross, and by gosh, it really shows. It may be because Francis Lawrence has more experience directing blockbusters (and also the budget being upped to $130 million), but Catching Fire looks more like a “proper”, mainstream blockbuster than the shaky, poorly CGI-ed first movie did. The settings feel large and polished, and the action sequences in the arena are well choreographed and executed.
Jennifer Lawrence is the anchor of the movie, both character and performance wise (and thankfully, way more expressive this time round. She really was stone-faced in the first one). The scene in District 11 where she pays tribute to Thresh and Rue is particularly heartfelt — helps that they included the same music from Rue’s death scene — and therefore the cruelty of what comes immediately after has a greater impact. Josh Hutcherson is much improved as Peeta, both in looks and his interactions with Katniss. (If only he had channelled this performance into the first movie! And then perhaps amped it up a little for this sequel.) And Liam Hemsworth as Gale is just bloody handsome.
Of the returning characters, I am most impressed by Effie’s (Elizabeth Banks) character development, as you can see her heartache — perhaps not at the Capitol’s proclivity for sending children to their deaths, but for sending her beloved Victors back to face death. Of the new cast members, Jena Malone as the feisty and caustic Johanna Mason is the most delightful addition (Katniss’ face as she strips in the elevator is hilarious!); while Sam Claflin infuses Finnick with a multifacetedness that shows off not only his athletic prowess and charm but also the emotional vulnerability that we will see more of in Mockingjay.
Fans of the book have very little to complain about. They adapted all the major events faithfully, and even put in some of the smaller details that I thought they would leave out: such as taking the time to develop Mags’ mentor relationship with Finnick; including the role of the morphlings; and even the part at Snow’s party where Katniss’ prep team introduces to them the potion that will help them throw up so that they will have more room to stuff themselves, which highlights the obscene excess of the Capitolites when the rest of the country is starving.
The whipping scene is fine, though I wish they kept Haymitch’s response to Commander Thread as snarky as it was in the book, as compared to the more conciliatory tone he took in the movie. But it was the filmmakers keeping Katniss’ interaction with Gale in the aftermath word for word that delighted my inner fangirl. (If I’m a little biased towards Gale in the movie, it’s because I feel so sorry for what happens to him later on, and I want him to have as many lovely scenes with Katniss as possible. Also: Liam Hemsworth!)
Catching Fire is already my favourite out of the four movies. Not just because it was my favourite book, but because Mockingjay is so depressing that I doubt I will enjoy watching it very much.
Plus, seriously, it is ten times better than the first movie. I cannot stress this enough.