“Catching Fire” review: An amusing return to Panem

Reynaldo Garcia, TSV Sport Editor

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It’s back to the arena for the victors of the 74th Hunger Games Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark. But they aren’t the only victors making a return trip to their worst nightmares. We join in on the adventures of Ms. Everdeen and company as they try to survive the perilous specialized arena in this fun sequel that stretches the time limit.

“Catching Fire” actually had a change in director. Gone is Gary Ross and in is Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend). Additions to the cast include Jena Malone and Sam Claflin as District 7 winner Johanna Mason and District 4 winner Finnick Odair, respectively, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the enigmatic new Head Gamesmaker Plutarch Heavensbee, among others.

First movie better than the second?

“Catching Fire” plays more like the “Hunger Games” redux. It’s more or less a stretched yet hurried up version of the first film. The film clocks in at almost two and a half hours. In the sequel, most of the movie is dedicated to 75th Hunger Games. Granted, the book depicts the build-up to the next event and it is that part of the film that everyone most wants to see, but it’s sacrificed for storytelling.

The first movie was evenly paced; both with character progression and action scenes. There wasn’t a dull moment. The score was mesmerizing for the film as well. But the sequel has several droll moments. And with how long it is, in this day and age of smaller attention spans, one might zone out. I caught several people in my row sneakily check their phones every other time. I doubt they were checking their Candy Crush score being beat by someone else. I feel the film was hurried to reach the action. Think of it like a wrestling/boxing card. The under card was a bunch of filler and there was little to no emphasis on the main event. The main event in the movie being the 75th Hunger Game.

In terms of character progression, we didn’t really get to know the other Tributes as much as in the books. Those that are introduced only have a single significant scene before the Games begin; we meet Finnick before the parade, but don’t hear much about his popularity in the Capitol or how he won his Hunger Game. Johanna is introduced in a hilarious scene in an elevator. But the movie kind of tones down her personality. In the book I get the impression that she displays contempt towards Katniss the whole time, but that is mainly absent in the film. Mags, an elderly victor from district eight, is shown volunteering for the event but it isn’t explained why until later, but even then it’s a subtle moment.

But where “Catching Fire” succeeds is expanding the lines of Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket. She returns with those funny lines and is shown as a more sympathetic/likable person. I think both Banks and Hoffman performed really well. Hoffman was able to portray this veil of mystery, yet not give away any of his true ambitions. For those who read the books we know his true intentions, but I feel that the movie made it look like he is genuinely the bad guy. My little brother didn’t read the book and he believed he was a villain with his snide and conniving comments towards Katniss.

And speaking of Katniss, Jennifer Lawrence returns in her first major release since winning Best Actress at the 85th Oscars earlier this year as a proven commodity. There couldn’t be a more perfect role than Katniss Everdeen for her.

All in all, it’s an entertaining movie. It doesn’t have that “wow” factor that the first movie had for me, the first film had me hooked and made me read the trilogy! The length might be a little aggravating but even casual fans will persevere and enjoy it. I would say the first one is better but this one is more entertaining, towards the middle at least. The action then is worth the wait and will keep you at the edge of your seat. There is more adrenaline in the 75th Hunger Game than in the 74th one.

Differences between the movie and the book

Again, the Mayor of District 12 and his daughter, Madge Undersee, fail to appear. And they won’t ever appear now after what transpired at the end of “Catching Fire.” There were several other notable differences, or omissions if you will, between the book and the film.

One is the omission of Bonnie and Twill. They ran away from District Eight and are looking for District 13, which is believed to be destroyed. In the book, Katniss encounters them while she’s out hunting. Them not appearing in the book eliminates the early hint that District 13 is still operational.

Another is the absence of Haymitch’s backstory. To those who haven’t read the book, his story is a tragic one that explains why he’s a drinker. But that is completely left off from the film. One could also interpret this as an indirect effect of the Undersees not appearing.

One key scene in the book that doesn’t appear in the movie is when Plutarch is dancing with Katniss, he shows her his watch with the mockingjay symbol on it. It’s a subtle hint to his true intentions and a clue about the arena in the upcoming games. Again, the movie made it seem like Heavensbee is a true villain and therefore eliminated this part.

One interesting element that the movie added, that’s not found in the book, is the addition of President Snow’s granddaughter. She’s only mentioned briefly in the books but here she is found in the film in a somewhat ironic role. She states to Snow how she admires Katniss and the other kids in the Capitol are looking up to her, even imitating her hairstyle. It’s ironic in the sense that Snow hates Katniss and wants her dead, yet his beloved granddaughter idolizes her. How would he explain to her if Katniss were to die or such?