“Remember who the real enemy is.” These words accurately capture the essence of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” the second film in the blockbuster franchise based on Suzanne Collins’ hit novels.
Picking up not long after “The Hunger Games,” “Catching Fire” features a traumatized Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) preparing to embark on a “Victory Tour” following her “success” in the previous Hunger Games. She soon discovers that her defiance of the Capitol in the previous film has sparked a rebellion among the nation’s districts, and President Snow (Donald Sutherland) wants her to simmer the tensions. What results is a powerful, thrilling sequel that bests its predecessor in almost every way.
Young adult literature adaptations have often been defined by their hit-or-miss nature. Many times, they become nothing more than a watered-down, unintelligent version of the original (which may also be watered-down and unintelligent, but that’s a different story). What sets “Catching Fire” apart is how potent, poignant and exhilarating it manages to be. It explores themes such as oppression, materialism, consequences and sacrifice with maturity and depth.
“The Hunger Games” series is arguably defined by its heroine, the capable but reluctant Katniss Everdeen, played with subtlety and heartbreaking anguish by the eternally talented Lawrence. While the movie is surging forward, it is Katniss that keeps our eyes locked onto the screen. Her three-dimensional portrayal results in a protagonist that is both complicated and likeable.
The supporting cast features a number of equally exceptional performances. Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth reprise their roles as Peeta Mellark and Gale Hawthorne, respectively, both wounded in their own ways. Woody Harrelson returns as Haymitch, the witty, alcoholic mentor determined to keep Katniss and Peeta alive. Newcomers Sam Claflin and Jena Malone bring charisma and danger in their roles as Finnick Odair and Johanna Mason, respectively. Academy Award-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman steps into the role of Plutarch Heavensbee, the ethically questionable new Gamesmaker. A surprising standout performance comes from Elizabeth Banks, whose funny yet touching portrayal of Effie Trinket lets us see a Capitol-bred chaperone begin to see the injustice of the institutions that employ her.
What may astonish some viewers about “Catching Fire” is just what an emotional experience it is. We see a nation of abused people desperately clinging to the hope that a single girl has brought them, and the Capitol’s vanquishing of all those who speak out is artfully executed. Ultimately it is with Katniss, forced to be the face of the Capitol under the threat of death, with whom our hearts break, as she remains helpless to stop the cruelty that surrounds her. When you mix this healthy dose of compelling emotion with the wonderfully directed action that ensues, what you get is an utterly gripping film. When the credits role and the stage is set for an explosive two-part conclusion, we can’t help but feel the cliché: Let the games begin.
Stephen Spoth is a senior at Williamsville North High School.