Pardon my language, but “Catching Fire” is f***ing amazing. And this is coming from an avid fan of the books.
The much-awaited sequel to “The Hunger Games” eclipses any and all of its predecessor’s failings. While there are still a number of awkward and cheesy moments in this second installment—the gold, computer-animated mockingjay at the end, anyone?—the film is almost flawless. So flawless, in fact, I almost peed my pants.
I won’t waste your time reciting the film’s themes or summarizing its plot—both of which can be found in countless reviews of the film—because that, for me, is old news. It’s annoying to hear the plot of a novel-to-screen adaptation criticized when the film follows its source material almost perfectly. Many critics are condemning “Catching Fire’s” first half as being “Twilight”-esque and, while I may agree, it’s a little late to be having that argument—Suzanne’s Collins sequel was published in 2009. Discussing the strengths and weaknesses of Collins’ second installment is a whole different can of worms that I won’t delve into here. Any on-screen plot blunders are not the fault of the film, but the fault of the book from whence it came, which loyal screenwriters Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt followed with delicate respect.
“Catching Fire” is undoubtedly one of the best book-to-screen adaptations I’ve ever seen. Yes, the film does erase complete sections of the book—don’t expect escapees Bonnie and Twill to make an appearance and, as established in the first film, it seems the character of Madge Undersee isn’t important enough to be featured in the on-screen series—and that’s disappointing for us readers. But, I have to admit—little is lost because of those changes.
My greatest qualm with the film is that it overplays the relationship between Katniss and Gale. This doesn’t necessarily come at the expense of Katniss’ relationship with Peeta, but it makes Katniss seems more certain of her love life than she actually is—outside of the arena, it looks like she has chosen to be with Gale, which is not the case in the book. Regardless, the relationships between Katniss and both of her love interests were much better developed than they were in the first film.
I had many doubts about the casting of Katniss’ fellow victors. The press photos of Sam Claflin’s shirtless Finnick were so silly I actually chortled in disgust—I was sure Claflin would be a “prissy” Finnick, to be honest—but I was pleasantly surprised by his performance. He exuded just the right balance of cockiness and vulnerability needed for the character. Jena Malone, though at first glance mousy and young, pulled off an impressive Johanna Mason much like the one I pictured when reading the books, although perhaps not quite as aggressive. The characters of Finnick and Johanna could have easily made or broken the second installment, but their presences proved to strengthen the ensemble—Claflin even managed to eclipse the beloved and enigmatic Jennifer Lawrence at times.
Unlike the visually stunted first film, which was held back by a smaller budget, the special effects in the sequel are vastly improved, as is the overall production design. I spent much of the first film feeling embarrassed for the special effects team and was relieved to see that the CGI in the second film is anything but cringe worthy. The on-screen rendering of the Quarter Quell arena also hit the nail on the head—it was exactly how I pictured it. Although the monkeys are more cute and funny than they are terrifying, the poison mist plaguing the jungle is eerie and the general layout of the arena followed the novel’s description to a tee.
“Catching Fire” is not to be missed. I am actually so enamored with the film I’ve been stricken with “Hunger Games” mania yet again—in the past three days, I’ve watched the first installment four times, Google’d hundreds of pictures of Josh Hutcherson, and now I’m reading the series from beginning to end for the third time. Needless to say, the film certainly lived up to all its hype and the “Mockingjay” films have a hell of a lot to live up to.
Kellie Cox is a senior journalism major and film studies minor. Formerly the Arts and Entertainment editor, Kellie joined the Spectator as a writer her sophomore year. When she's not in the office, Kellie sings in three Seattle University choirs, collects tacky mugs from Value Village, and studies impractical things like handwriting analysis and criminal psychology.