Spoiler Warning – contains heavy spoilers for Hunger Games (first book/ film), light spoilers for Catching Fire (second film).
Every now and then a live action adaptation does it right – like, really right – and Catching Fire was an absolutely wonderful translation from book to film. All but the nit-pickiest of fans can expect to be totally delighted and movie-only watchers will be given an overall better feel for the story than the first Hunger Games film did – which was probably my biggest complaint back when it came out. The acting from our leads has improved immensely – and the new supporting cast is out of this world. I left feeling really elated – the film captured the story of Catching Fire better than the book, hands down.
I, like many book readers, felt that Hunger Games was the strongest of the trilogy – the best written, certainly, with better pacing and overall story-telling. Catching Fire I felt was the weakest. And while Mockingjay was perhaps somewhere in between in terms of writing, I hated it. I hated the conclusion, I hated the characters by the end, and while I felt the overall journey of the three books was great, the third made me feel aggravated and unsatisfied.
The movies, however, seem to be doing the opposite. Hunger Games, the film, was entertaining but it left a lot to be desired, in my opinion. And someone who had never read the books probably wouldn’t have felt the proper connection to plot and characters, especially in regards to Katniss’ relationships. I was worried for the rest of the films since I felt the strongest origin material had been wasted. What I got however was the complete opposite. Catching Fire makes up for lost development in droves.
Rue’s death, for instance, was something that left me in tears while reading but I was only slightly moved in the first movie. Perhaps I had just prepared myself for it, but we didn’t get the depth of connection she had with Katniss in the movie as we did in the book. However, that was made-up for 10-fold in Catching Fire – every mention or reference of Rue had me in tears once again, especially that powerful speech in District 11. I was also surprisingly moved by Effy, whose development as a character was beautifully played out.
At the start we see conflict – whereas formerly her cheery, naive patriotism seemed to paint her as totally empty, we finally see her humanity come through. By the end she is devastated by the fate her tributes and she is breaking down – and it’s symbolic of the capitol itself. She is the center point for us to know what the people of the capitol are like – literally a gift-wrapped trope of the citizens who exist there, and as she slowly recognizes the true tragedy of the Hunger Games, so does the capitol, whose denizens have been raised for generations to have a completely different idea of it all.
The emotional charge of Catching Fire was perfectly in-line with the theme – people are rebelling. They are losing fear in the capitol, and the capitol (and President Snow) are losing power over the districts. Brute force works at first but it’s clear that this is not going to be enough. Things are definitely heating up.
The crew keeps growing but they’ve been excellently cast. As far as vets go, again, Elizabeth Banks kills it as Effy, showing us more depth to a character who on the surface was nothing but shallow and ignorant. Jennifer Lawrence does Katniss proper justice, showcasing the range of emotions from rage, fear, to PTSD. Perhaps over dramatic at times, but she is doing great showing the changes in Katniss – her sympathy is waning and her anger is growing. You can see her become more cold-blooded, determined, defiant in the same breath that we see her falling in love with her best friends.
Josh is doing his best with a weak character – Peeta’s never been my favorite but Josh is taking the best parts of his character and bringing them to life. Namely, pushing back on the white-knight humdrum and focusing more on Peeta’s growing frustration with Katniss – he loves her but he is also slowly losing patience with her.
The new tributes were nothing short of wonderful – Mags is heartbreakingly sweet, Finnick both mysterious and charming. Johanna’s “give-zero-fucks” attitude is wonderful. I wish we were given more time with them, and I can’t wait to see them shine a little more in the upcoming Mockingjay films.
Without getting into much more gloating, I’d say everything else was extremely well done. The pacing was excellent – it was a long film (2 1/2 hours) but it didn’t feel that way at all, minus the pee anxiety from an large soda. They put a lot into this one movie – including a good chunk of the end of Hunger Games that was cut – and played it out well in a manner that could have easily felt rushed or squeezed in.
Most importantly, Catching Fire did exactly what I had hoped when I first heard the series was getting adapted by taking the love story and pushing it back. What grated me most about the book was how much the Gale vs Peeta plot was shoved down my throat. Here in the movie, however, it was very gracefully addressed without taking precedence. It wasn’t completely absent, as the dynamics between Katniss and her two interests are extremely important to her own development for the rest of the series. But it wasn’t the focus, and I am extremely thankful for that.
Rather, the movie focused on the rebellion – the story-behind-the-story that I always felt was the superior tale to be told. The conflict between Katniss and menacing Snow is powerful, watching as his control slips and her strength grows, and seeing the outrage that springs up both within the capitol and the districts. The revolution of Panem is what the film is telling us about, and I’m glad for it.
Catching Fire literally takes what was best about the series and makes it front and center – I’m really happy to say that it was an excellent movie that I think has earned its stripes. I highly recommend it, especially to those who sort-of liked the books but may have found them somewhat unsatisfying.
To the Readers
Fans of the books / films – What did you think of Catching Fire? How do you think it fared as an adaptation to book? Were there any aspects that were disappointing or lacking? Other thoughts? Looking forward to Mockingjay? (I know I am!)