Review: The Hunger Games – Catching Fire (2013, Francis Lawrence)

catching-fire-trailer_612x380RATING: 9/10

Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Liam Hemsworth, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland, Sam Clafin, Jena Malone, Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright
Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy & Michael Arndt (Based on the book “Catching Fire” by Suzanne Collins)

Not since “The Dark Knight” (2008) has a sequel been this good. And that’s not just the fanboy in me talking. Since the movie hasn’t been screened to the general public yet, those of you who see it may completely disagree with what I’m about to write. But apart from reviewing the film, allow me to justify my choice of giving this film a 9, despite low expectations from film “experts” who probably won’t give a chance to a “franchise” film because of its format of filmmaking. Director Francis Lawrence’s absolute reboot to last year’s mega hit “The Hunger Games” (2012) is an absolute gem, both cinematically and culturally. The film has modified itself to be a wonderful cinematic experience that left the crowd cheering when the credits began to role.

Leaving off shortly after the original “Hunger Games”, victors Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) find themselves on their Victory Tour around the different districts of PANEM. But as their strength and suppression begin to inspire many, an uprising forms between the people against the Capitol, leaving Katniss and Peeta, President Snow’s (Donald Sutherland) ultimate targets. I can’t say anymore, but hopefully you’ve read the book. Because the book is the best from the series. Looking at this film, the upcoming two part instalment of the rather underwhelming “Mockingjay” novel may not be able to compare. But hopefully, I am wrong.

Jennifer Lawrence proves why she is a movie star of the calibre that she is. The 23 year old, who recently won her Oscar early this year for Best Actress at the Oscars (for “Silver Linings Playbook”), proves that one can appear in both franchise and “Oscar” films well. Her performance of Katniss is fully realized this time. From start to finish, you can tell that Lawrence knows this character as well as she knows herself. Her real life strength and inspiration to millions of fans has rubbed off on her character and she truly remains a beacon of hope.  Her Katniss has grown from the original, using acting techniques that will impress you throughout the film. She is the star and hero of the film, after all. And rightfully so. Another strong performance to add to an even stronger resume.

Elizabeth Banks is wonderful in her small role as Effie. The second time around, she shows a truer emotional side of Effie, and not just her usual mocking around screen that we’ve grown to love in the first picture. The men in the movie deliver what they must, but newcomer Sam Clafin surprised me with a deeper characterisation of what could have been just another “macho” character. Sam Clafin plays Finnick, who in the book is arguably different from how he’s portrayed on screen. But it works, and Clafin is the one to thank. Huthcerson remains consistent from his original work as Peeta.

Apart from Lawrence’s performance (one that remains one of her career best, so far), the true star of “Catching Fire” is its director Francis Lawrence. I once stated that I was disappointed that Gary Ross (who directed one of my favourite films, 1998’s “Pleasantville”) was let go after the first film. But man, did Francis Lawrence take this film to a whole new lever. In respect to Gary Ross, this film could have easily ended up like the first movie (which was good, but not great) but Lawrence’s vision was the right direction to go. His vision and his choices in the how the dialogue is to be spoken has brought the film to a whole new height. However, his technical achievement is even more outstanding.

Technical and production-wise, “Catching Fire” remains supreme. It may not be as visually appealing as films like “Gravity” and “The Great Gatsby” but it runs close. The costumes remain whimsical but classier this time around, giving the Capitol’s look more realism. The art direction was perfect for the purpose that  it had to do. However, the biggest surprise comes from the cinematography done by Jo Willems. From the first shot of the snow filled and quiet District 12, all the way to the tropical arena and violence, Willems remains constant and gives us a feast for the eyes. His cinematography gave the film a different feel, and remains to be one of the film’s strongest suits.

When it comes to Oscar, I don’t have high expectations for it to get nominated for anything. But it certainly deserves technical nods. If I had my way, I’d give it a shot at Best Picture (just as of now, it could change), but being a franchise film, the clout over it will play against it. “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012) went nomination-less. And “The Dark Knight” (2008) under performed in the Oscars, as well (apart from Heath Ledger). But being that Lawrence is Hollywood’s new “It” Girl, and is obviously loved by the Academy, let’s hope a nomination pops up somewhere. A film like this should be honoured.

To conclude, I will watch it again sometime this weekend. I don’t want to seem ahead of myself right now when it comes to raves for the film. But I pretty much feel very strongly about the movie, and I will stand by that to all those who want to criticize my taste in “what a good movie is”.  But in the end of the day, “Catching Fire” still proves to be wild, fun entertainment. Your heart races and you tend to become attached to the characters. Love it or hate it, I tell you that you will most definitely be entertained no matter what. If you love it, then good for you. We can stay on the same boat, because I loved it too.

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