On Second Thought: “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”

  Sequels surprise us every once in a while. They get a bad rap (mostly deserved) but sometimes to the detriment of other sequels in any given series. A specific series can only exist because of sequels, so whether we like them or not, they’re necessary.

The Lionsgate film “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”, takes what we feel we already know and continues to delve deeper and make everything come out fresh and new.

This action film stars Jennifer Lawrence (“X-Men: Days of Future Past”, “Serena”), Josh Hutcherson (“Escobar: Paradise Lost”, “The Hunger Gaems: Mockingjay Part I”), Liam Hemsworth (“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I”, “Cut Bank”), Woody Harrelson (“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I”, “Out of the Furnace”), Elizabeth Banks (“Pitch Perfect 2”,, “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp”), Lenny Kravitz (“The Hunger Games”, “Precious”), Philip Seymour Hoffman (“The Master”, “Doubt”), Jeffrey Wright (upcoming film “The Good Dinosaur”, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2”), Stanley Tucci (“BoJack Horseman”, “Wild Card), and Donald Sutherland (“Crossing Lines”, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I”).

The film was directed by Francis Lawrence (“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II”, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I”) and written by Simon Beaufoy (“Everest”, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”) and Michael duBruyn (upcoming “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens”, “A Walk in the Woods”). It is based on the novel “Catching Fire” by Suzanne Collins.

The film originally opened on Nov. 22, 2013.

I was absolutely excited about this film. I can’t say how much so, but enough. I loved the first and expected great things from this film. As it turns out, they were met, and still hold upon a third viewing. Certainly excited to watch the other films and continue to do so until I get absolutely bored with them. Somehow I doubt that will ever happen, so I’m in luck!

Right off the bat, this film is an Infinitely better film on all levels. Specifically, in the way that the film was shot. While the shooting style used in the first film was okay, and wasn’t too obnoxious, the style used in this film as well as the subsequent films, just looks nicer. It brings a certain level of seriousness or a tone to this film. Something that just works overall and has a bigger impact.

Then, of course, there are the characters. All the returning characters are as we remember them, but somewhat changed too. While I love these returning characters, and in many ways enjoy seeing how they continue to grow as the film progresses, what’s even more important are the new characters. As this film is involving another Hunger Games, it’s only natural that we’d get some new tributes. Some were only merely referenced and a picture of them was shown. Others, we really got to see and meet. Some of these characters had some really good introductions. Jenna Malone’s (“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2”, “Time Out of Mind”) introduction was priceless. Humorous too. Even, to some extent, Sam Claflin’s (“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2”, “Love, Rosie”) introduction was the perfect way to show how nice and nonthreatening he can be, while making it known he could be a dangerous person too. In terms of how they appear opposite the actors we know from before, there’s never a rough spot. Everything just continued to mesh and keep the flow going.

As with the original film, although more so, there’s the drama and emotional aspects in this film. These bits are what bring these characters to life so much more than many other films like this that I’ve seen. While the first film did fine with making these characters real, and moving the audience, here it’s almost heightened. There’s an even greater amount shown and explored in this film. Emotional and dramatic situations ranging from Katniss’s PTSD, even if not fully discussed, you see the toll the previous games had on the characters, to talking about Rue during the Victory Tour. The revelation about the 75 Hunger Games (Quarter Quell), and Effie during the reaping process are just some of the stronger emotional moments that occur. There’s so many incredible examples, including many during the games, that I’m surprised there’s time for anything else. Regardless, these moments really helped make this film and set it apart, and really allows you to connect with the characters and feel what they feel. Action films like this seldom achieve this, so it’s incredible that it’s been consistent.

Thankfully, while this heavy drama and emotional content is need, there’s some humor and lighter moments to bring a little balance. As Banks’s Effie and Harrelson’s Haymitch are back, there’s plenty of moments that just bring a smile to your face, and maybe even, a chuckle. It’s just the effortless way these two embody such eccentric characters. It’s also the thing that just makes them so likable and fun to see on screen, even when they’re not saying something that leads to a chuckle.

Like the previous film, and the ones that come after it to a certain degree, there’s the costumes and makeup, sets, action and special effects to look forward to and focus on. However, I’ll try not to go too much into them, even though they are radically different from the previous film. You sort of knew what to expect.

The costumes were amazing! Pick an area and they looked perfect for the situation. Take the arena. The design and look was simple and fresh, which, as is pointed out in the film, corresponds to the type of arena environment. When it came to the costumes seen during the games interviews and anything in the Capitol, the design was what you’d expect. Much like how the makeup is really on display in the party at Snow’s bit, the costumes of everyone there are present to wow you.

The sets were also different enough to keep things fresh. However, not all were that interesting. They lent themselves well in maintaining the world we’d already seen created. The one set piece that amazed me the most was the arena. It’s one big clock, complete with rock walls that serve as divides for the 12 different danger that can be released, as well as where the tributes start. It’s surrounded by water and has the supplies in the center. It’s one impressive set, and even more so when Hoffman’s character has it spun around to throw off the tributes knowledge of what each time represents. I don’t think I’ll ever stop being in awe when I see it.

I still feel that the action and special effects go hand in hand. Even when action occurred that didn’t have special effects involved, it was exciting and thrilling. A bit of danger was present. While I enjoy all the action sequences, there are some, with special effects, that are just brought to life so well. The poison fog looks eerie, and would also make me curious, and the attacking monkeys, or whatever, were realistic and scary. I never doubted a moment and was able to feel the little bits of fear that I did. It’s these components that completed the package of needed parts that make this is a well done and exciting film to watch.

The ending was also perfect! It set up everything. If you’ve read the books or, of course, seen the films, which by now you have or will never do so, then you know what comes after this. The entire tone for the next films is going to be different. It has to be. There are no games to expect, so on some level, predictability is gone. So what will this new world look like? What will the actions from this games result in? So many other questions come up because of how this film unfolds and ends.

I give sequels a hard time. It can’t be helped. When they’re predominantly unnecessary and bad, it’s hard not to see them as anything but. Every now and then though, I find one that is truly worth it. It’s harder to know how to feel when you’re dealing with a sequel you need to complete the story. Those are just expected to be good. Most are good enough. Neither terrible, but not something you’ll be over the moon about. It’s the ones that improve greatly from the previous film that tells you that you’ve made the right choice. This film series will always be in the right creative hands. If only all films were like this, especially film franchises.

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