The Movie Date: Catching Fire

The Movie Date buttonThe Movie Date is a weekly feature where we discuss movies that may appeal to YA readers. Andrew is The Reading Date’s resident movie critic and this week he discusses The Hunger Games: Catching Fire directed by Francis Lawrence, based on the book by Suzanne Collins, and adapted by Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt.

Catching Fire Katniss movie poster

I went into this movie wondering, “Will it be as good as Hunger Games?” and by the end I was pondering, “Will it be so much better than Hunger Games that I’ll wind up disliking the first film?.” I was a huge fan of the original movie (released only nineteen months ago) and enjoyed rewatching it recently, but much to my surprise this film felt smarter, stronger, deeper in every way.

When I tore through the book trilogy two years ago, Catching Fire was my least favorite: I felt the story was merely catching fire by suzanne collins“Katniss sulks, and then we do the Games again for some reason.” Though Catching Fire may lack the clean simplicity of the first book, the movie shows me how much richer the material is here: far from sulking, Katniss is torn and anguished between fueling the uprising that she’s already started and playing nice to spare her family the wrath of President Snow. Nobody likes to be a stooge but the girl’s got no choice. She’s also furious at herself for enjoying fame derived from killing innocent people.

On top of this she’s saddled with a staged romance to Peeta, a nice guy who knows he hasn’t got a chance with fiery Katniss. When they consider getting married to further the ruse, the choice is heartbreakingly casual, as if they were deciding to get pizza instead of Chinese. The romantic triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale (her hunting buddy from back home) sketched in the first film is drawn more boldly here; Katniss shows strong affection for both of her very different suitors, planting a solid smooch or two on each of ‘em.

Like the first film, this is two movies in one: the first half is dystopian fascist-state sci-fi and the second is two-fisted survival adventure in a wilderness setting. Here the dystopia is rather dazzling as we get a better look at the gauche yet glamorous Capitol and glimpse a few of the other districts.

Jennifer Lawrence, Elizabeth Banks, Josh Hutcherson. Photo credit: Lionsgate
Jennifer Lawrence, Elizabeth Banks, Josh Hutcherson. Photo credit: Lionsgate

After this, the Games take place in a tropical jungle setting, and this part of the film reminded me of the TV series Lost for a couple reasons. One, the threats (floods, noxious gases, animal attacks) are largely supplied by the Gamesmaker and the Capitol rather than by the fellow players. Both the gas attack and the flood reminded me of the Smoke Monster’s attacks in Lost. Second, the tributes bond together in teams made up of diverse and likeable characters, a bit like the Lost crash survivors. (This being the Quarter Quell edition of the Games, the tributes are made up of former winners of all ages, few of whom are happy to be—or even capable of—playing again.)

Mags and Finnick
Lynn Cohen and Sam Claflin. Photo credit: Lionsgate

As Katniss, Jennifer Lawrence is even better here than in the first film; it feels like she’s really grown into the role. I was struck by the ironic similarity between the character’s plight and that of the Oscar-winning actress: just as the Capitol forces Katniss to play the shallow role of the happy, loving victor, Hollywood might wish to turn Lawrence into a sweetly overacting romantic lead. (Her demure poses and smiles for the Capitol cameras exactly match Lawrence’s own for the Oscar press.) But as Katniss refuses to snooze through her appearances, so does Lawrence, and this is one of her toughest, most nuanced performances to date.

Katniss Jennifer Lawrence
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. photo credit: Lionsgate

Lawrence’s presence here is huge and, amazingly, holds its own against the film’s epic visual spectacle. Where most action films offer a sweeping, “riding into the sunset” final shot, this one closes on a tight shot of Katniss’ face as her expression changes from bewilderment into resolve and then rage. Cut to black. The next film in the franchise, Mockingjay – Part 1, opens exactly a year from today. Too soon to line up?

Catching Fire is in theaters now! Check the official movie site to find out when it’s playing in your area. Catching Fire is  rated PG-13 and runs 146 minutes.

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11 thoughts on “The Movie Date: Catching Fire

  1. Jan says:

    I’ve been waiting for this one to come out for a while and I’m so glad to see that the reviews I’ve read so far have been positive! Can’t wait to go see it!

  2. BermudaOnion says:

    I had to walk out of the first movie because the shaky camera work made me sick. I’ve heard this one has a new director with different camera work. Is that true?

    1. wordsforthepictures says:

      Bermuda – Yes, a different director this time around and less (no?) shaky cam during the Games sequences, partly perhaps because the characters aren’t always running in this film. The whole Games sequence was shot with unusual clarity, in fact; I was aware of where everyone was and what was happening at all times.

  3. Tammy Sparks says:

    I agree Andrew! We saw it on Wednesday and despite winding up in the second row (we obviously didn’t get there early enough to get prime seats) I enjoyed every minute of it. And it doesn’t hurt when everyone in the audience is a huge HG fan and you get swept up in the energy of the crowd.

  4. Catching Fire was my favorite book and I will see this next weekend. I am happy to hear that the film seems tighter. Hunger Games (both the book and first film) was a little choppy for me but I have a feeling I will love this. I am really hoping the movie version of Mockingjay is better than the books (which I think it will be since a lot can be expressed without words).

  5. Going to see it tonight- so excited!!

  6. Going to see this tonight squuuuuueeee!

  7. Sunny says:

    I absolutely LOVED this movie. I was hesitant at first, not exactly because I didn’t think it would be as good as the first movie’s take, but that it would BE LIKE the first movie. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the first one. But I rewatched it and thought, wow, a bit disappointing. Catching Fire? SO GOOD. They actually included quotes from the book, which wasn’t as abundant in the first movie. So glad you liked it!

  8. fishgirl182 says:

    Great review! Catching Fire was my least favorite book, too. I felt like is was total filler until Book 3. However, the trailers for the film seem to have a lot more depth and Katniss is much more likable in the film than in the books (in my opinion). I think I am going to see this tonight. Hope I like it as much as you did.

  9. I’m a big fan of the CATCHING FIRE movie, too! I think it was a brilliant adaptation, loved it more than the first movie and even more than the book. A piece of movie art:)

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