A bow and arrow, braid, and some nerve are all it really takes to turn Jennifer Lawrence into one of the most prominent female leads in the history of book-to-movie adaptions.
This Hunger Games sequel features Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) thrown once more into the arena in celebration of the 75th Quarter Quell, forced to fight past victors and keep her fake-but-not-fake beau alive (Peeta Mellark/Josh Hutcherson). As the movie begins, our favorite huntress is staring pensively out into the open air, before Gale (Liam Hemsworth) starts the opening dialogue. The deal is this: ever since her stunt at last year’s games, the districts have developed crazy ideas about the government and the fragility of the system. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) threatens Katniss before her victory tour with Peeta, warning her that a revolution is not something she wants to encourage if she cares at all about her friends and family. Despite her attempts, the districts are having a hard time believing the star-crossed lovers tale that the couple tries to broadcast.
Apart from the astounding visuals and appropriately drastic hair and makeup, producers did an extraordinary job in depicting the overwhelming wealth of the capitol and the contrasting poverty of the other districts. It’s rare to see a set so accurately portray what its novel describes, but somehow, director Francis Lawrence and crew manage to pull it off. As well, the relationships in this movie are flawlessly presented. After Gale’s whipping in the town square, (a very disheartening and powerful scene) “Catnip” stays with him as he heals, making for a touching, intimate scene between the two.
When Katniss and Peeta are formally declared doomed to return to the games, things get interesting. One would think it would be very similar to their first experience as tributes, but this time around they’ve developed a motive, the fake smiles are gone, and the tributes/victors are somewhat united rather than hell-bent on chopping each other’s heads off (Not to mention, Caesar’s hair is a startling shade of purple). Soon enough dream boy from district four is introduced: Finnick Odair, portrayed by a smirky Sam Claflin. He does surprisingly well in taking on the tough role, and comes off as just the right amount of confident.
The arena itself is even more impressive–a living clock that changes tortures by the hour. Unforunately, the tributes don’t spend as much time in the arena in both the novel and the movie adaption of Catching Fire, though it’s so cleverly crafted that fans yearn for more. Soon enough it’s blown to bits by Katniss, who discovers how to use electricity to her advantage with the help of Beetee (Jeffrey Wright) and her other allies. Our girl on fire is then blown away by the explosion and carried away by a hover craft we assume is owned by the capitol, but–guess again, it’s head gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee, who has been plotting against the government this entire time.
It’s difficult to pinpoint one thing that was blatantly wrong with this movie. The costumes, the visuals, the action; everything was done full and well, making for a quality thriller. Fans are on the edge of their seats the entire film, especially during some tense fight scenes, and even those who read the book will find themselves gasping at what happens next. The characters were beautifully portrayed–nudist Johanna Mason (Jena Malone), lover boy Finnick, delicate little Mags (Lynn Cohen)–and nobody’s character was weak or lacked vivacity. Enough has been said about Jennifer Lawrence: put simply, she’s a beast. Peeta’s character was stronger as well, and screen writers did a fantastic job interjecting funny moments where needed without making the need for comic relief overwhelmingly obvious.
The movie was two and a half hours long, but it still feels cut short at the end, when Gale delivers the much-anticipated line straight from the book: “Katniss, there is no district twelve.” Viewers are left squirming in their seats and perhaps protesting, but they should keep in mind that this was Collins’s ideas, not a director’s added twist. Catching Fire exceeds all expectations and blows audiences away. It only raises the bar for Mockingjay and puts more pressure on director Lawrence, though it’s hard to imagine him doing any better. This is one movie you pay to see in IMAX. Score: 10/10.
Nataly Capote/A&E Editor