Flick Reviews: ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ (2013)

Rarely does a sequel improve upon its’ predecessor. That is the case with ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ the follow-up to the 2012 worldwide phenomenon ‘The Hunger Games’. I had recently re-watched it and in light of the release of the series’ finale, I have made up my mind and decided to share you my thoughts regarding this sequel.

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Catching Fire may seemingly be a rehash of its’ predecessor, but one shouldn’t make that assumption just yet without seeing what greatness this sequel has in store. This sequel is just really superior in every way possible, and that could be said without exaggeration. All you have to do is immerse yourself in this enthralling spectacle. The filmmaking is highly superior here than in its’ predecessor  with each sequence being meticulously thought-of, the slightest amount of detail becoming highly noticeable and even the smallest moments becoming somewhat significant. Surprisingly, the storytelling is much more tightened and it is barely even unfocused. Each element in the narrative is given tremendous attention without a particular plot point overpowering the other; causing the subplots to become just as rousing. Another praise-worthy element of the sequel is that it is constantly bleak and can sometimes be mistaken as a serious dystopian drama with the heavy flow of emotions. This could become one of the reasons that makes it different as opposed to its’ predecessor.  With the sequel being grim and gloomy, the brutality is much more present and can be affecting at times. Be it through a a bullet piercing an old man’s head as seen in a shocking scene or the whipping of Gale’s back causing yelps, these moments have the probability to leave us in distress due to the implied yet impactful imagery.

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It may not be too horrific to the extent that it would make one sick with the violence, but in the manner it is presented it could cause a disturbing feeling as it did on me. Judging on the film’s title alone, Catching Fire indeed has another Hunger Games but just when you thought that it would become too repetitive and worn out, it delivers that aspect with a much better stylistic approach and by placing it underneath a bigger story involving brilliant character arcs and subject matters mirroring what’s going on in the real-world. Even if it does have that familiar structuring, the overall superiority it possesses is enough to overlook said gripe.  What it does is technically improve upon that concept and do it in a much orderly fashion and present them with great confidence and without hesitation to show something that would really be exhilarating. This wise narrative decision leads to intense set pieces which entertains by giving to us its’ very best, and it doesn’t underwhelm even in the slightest amount.

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The Hunger Games in this successor is re-branded as “The Quarter Quell” and there are so many surprises lying ahead both within the game and its’ rewritten concept. Everything we know regarding the game’s mechanics has undergone a re-do and it makes things even more interesting than before. The arena is grander yet even more dangerous; it’s appearance is striking and the design is definitely appealing. The tropical rainforest-like environment entraps us and makes us genuinely feel like we’re part of this harmful game as if our lives are really at stake. Making its’ way to the arena are horrific and seemingly harmless creatures who tap into the fears of our heroes and leaves them vulnerable. The creatures featured in here are definitely better than those in the first film and they can be a little too freaky sometimes. Adding up to the arena’s and the film’s large scale and scope is the immersive cinematography which undeniably captivates and makes it all look so enchanting unlike the dull and shaky camera work utilized in the first film.

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For the film’s duration, we are given crumbs and pieces of “something really big” that would change our perception of the games and the reason behind the 75th Hunger Games. This comes off as entirely promising and wonderfully enough, the details leading to that big reveal are made sure to be kept exciting by leaving it all to our imagination and allowing us to guess what could subsequently happen. This assurance blows a big pay off that caused me to really become shocked because it really uses its’ capacity to the fullest to give us a twist that we didn’t see coming right in the film’s final minutes. Luckily, this ending doesn’t come off like a cliffhanger because it really gives us what we were guessing an hour or two prior to its’ arrival.  In other words, it wasn’t disappointing because the term that deserves to be used in describing it would be “gratifying”.

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Since it is obviously a continuation of how it all started, Catching Fire offers the best and memorable character moments yet. Our favorite tough female protagonist Katniss is shown to be truly affected by the events of the previous film and this sequel reflects that flawlessly through Jennifer Lawrence’s stronger and more evocative performance which depicts Katniss getting more and more weaker on the inside despite having a rebellious persona. This is best seen in the film’s opening moments which lets us feel her vulnerability wholly. Our antagonist President Snow shares a fair amount of tension-filled scenes with Katniss, and with Donald Sutherland’s intimidating aura, said moments become gripping. The stark tone of this sequel perfectly compliments that of the characters’ agony and sadness.

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For the film’s first hour, Catching Fire seems to give us a whole lot of character arcs resulting into one of the main reasons why this sequel is so damn good. It does its’ job really well without dragging the film down.  Instead of making it tiring for us, it ultimately rewards with its’ meticulously plotted moments featuring old and new characters that are just so memorable. Josh Hutcherson’s character Peeta is given more to do and also receives a transformation. This isn’t quite a game-changer, but opens the door for what would happen to him in the following chapters of the saga. Even minor characters such as Haymitch and Effie get a bit of development which is lovely. A lot of new fascinating characters are thrown in the mix, and each are really interesting. One example would be Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) who is almost like a male version of Katniss and the other would be Beetee who is so enigmatic and charming. Perhaps the most wonderful addition to the cast would  be Philip Seymour Hoffman who plays the successor to Seneca, Plutarch Heavensbee. His mysterious charm gives us something to wonder about which makes him one of my new favorites in this sequel. What could be said about Catching Fire is that it has a whole lot more to offer regarding the characters, and it delivers in heaps.

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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is superior to its’ predecessor with its’ improved narrative that doesn’t seem to be convoluted even in the slightest degree. This sequel shows its’ confidence fully by giving to us a lot of brilliant moments to cherish without hesitation and Francis Lawrence’s skillful direction really shines and results into a sequel that is better than its’ predecessor; though that does not mean that it is perfect.

4/5 stars.

*Catch the series’ finale ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2’ in Philippine cinemas nationwide starting today.

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