So I know people always say that sequels are never as good as the original. I disagree. I say movies that are knowingly the middle movie of a trilogy, and everyone knows that there’s going to be a trilogy has it the best because they don’t have to introduce all the characters and they don’t have to conclude the story. The classic example of this in cinema history is The Empire Strikes Back. Another example I would provide is The Dark Knight. We shall see in time if this gets added to that list, but I will say one thing is for certain: Catching Fire is miles ahead of its predecessor. Now that isn’t an insult to the original Hunger Games as much as it's a complement to Catching Fire. This movie isn’t just good, or great, it is a borderline masterpiece of science fiction.
Couple reasons why: one, the acting is brilliant. There are several new characters introduced here, and they spared no expense with who plays these roles. Jeffrey Wright, Jena Malone, and the legendary Phillip Seymour Hoffman all are added to the incredible cast list that already includes Woody Harleson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, and of course Jennifer Lawrence. Everyone brings their A-game here, which is needed because anything less from some of these outrageous characters would probably result in me not buying into them. This was present particularly in the characters of Elizabeth Banks and Stanley Tucci. In the first movie Banks was a very hollow and linear character but she has a surprising amount of development here, to the point that I actually bought her character and her motivations. And Tucci. Tucci looks like he’s having so much fun here, and it really equates to a phenomenal and entertaining performance. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is a welcomed addition as well, though I wish I had seen more of his character! He was fleshed out pretty well, but after further scrutiny he really needed a few more scenes to continue to develop his character.
And I haven’t even mention Jennifer Lawrence. Once again she is phenomenal as the lead character Katniss. She is without a doubt one of the best actresses in Hollywood, despite the fact that she’s still rather inexperienced. Now the story here is excellent. I have not read the book, though I have a friend who has and said that the movie strays very little from the book. A few characters are not as developed here as they are in the book, particularly Hoffman’s character, but that is to be expected. Back to the plot on hand. To me this movie was trekking on thin ice with its plot because it is very similar to that of the original on paper. But it’s not. Yes they are forced to play the Hunger Games again (every trailer points this out) but they do a great job of not going through the same formula as the first one leading up to and including playing the games. The whole concept of obtaining sponsors is barely mentioned this time, particularly with the statement Katniss makes at her trial with them. This was a big thing with the first one. And the games themselves are played differently enough that I felt that it was an original take on the same formula.
Now one of the things that I really appreciated about this one that makes it significantly better than the first is how immersed we are into the dystopian post-apocalyptic world that is Panem. In the first one I didn’t feel like the world was properly explained. Or really explained at all in any way shape or form for that matter. About the closest we got to it was with the interviews the tributes had with Stanley Tucci’s character. This time, however, we are treated to a far more in-depth view of the world. From a ball at the president’s manor to interviews with Tucci to going to each district on the winner’s tour to begin the movie, the world itself is really given time to be developed. This is a quality that should be expected in every sci-fi movie. You have to HAVE to spend some time developing the world that your characters live in.
Finally, I was absolutely shocked at how much I was emotionally invested into this movie. This didn’t happen in the first one. In the first one I enjoyed myself, but here not only did I enjoy myself, but I was really caught up with what was happening in the movie. I don’t really know why unfortunately. The emotional theme here was a lot more present than it was previously. But it wasn’t just that. Maybe the fact that these characters had a whole movie to already develop did it. My theory is that the fact that they had to play the games again and against far tougher opponents is what did it, and that the fact that more of the opponents had time to develop rather than just Rue in the original also contributed.
To sum up the thoughts, I’d say that this is a wonderful piece of cinema, and would definitely recommend it to anyone. Not just a popcorn flick like the first one, definitely be ready for some emotions. But anyone who likes to have a good time at the movies should definitely check this out.
The Critique: A powerful piece of cinema with great acting, a great story, and great visual spectacle. Masterfully acted and paced, this piece is one of the best movies of 2013 thus far.
The Recommendation: to anyone who is a fan of the movie, check this one out. Just be sure to watch the original first, because you won’t want to see it after this one.
The Verdict: 9/10
Oscar Talk: This is a bit tricky. It’s sci-fi, so there probably won’t be much here past costume and makeup. Maybe best picture but only because of how big the nomination list is nowadays.