Catching Fire was one of my anticipated movies of 2013. And it really delivered for me. Before I fangirl on (and give just a few small complaints) let me warn that this review is filled with spoilers for the book and for the differences between the book and the movie.
Overall, I felt that Catching Fire was a better adaptation in being true to the book, and just a better movie overall than The Hunger Games. I think what director Francis Lawrence and the screenwriters, Simon Beaufoy Michael Arndt, who were all new to the franchise, did with the material in Catching Fire was truly highlight its best elements and magnified them in this visual adaptation of the story. And if nothing else, the recasting of Buttercup was spot on…
But I digress…
The story starts off much like the book, with Katniss before the start of the Victory tour, though in order to help consolidate the storyline, they also make this the time that Gale kisses Katniss saying that he had to do “at least once.” Somehow President Snow knows about the kiss approximately 5-10 minutes later, but I guess we has spies and cameras everywhere so I am willing to let it go. Katniss and Peeta are cold towards each other but when the cameras turn on, they turn on the charm. Like the book, Peeta does slip on the ice and Katniss tumbles over him and kisses him. Peeta says Katniss does a good job faking it… that it almost felt like a real kiss. Which leads me to…
I forgot how frustrating this was in the book! Instantly I want to yell at Katniss, “Just love him! He’s the sweetest person you’ll ever know! LOVE HIM!!!!!” Which leads me to my biggest pet peeve of the movie…
First off, let me say that Liam Hemsworth did like 10,000 times better as Gale in this movie, meaning that he actually came off as likable instead of dopey. I credit this to Hemsworth, the writers, and the director. THANK YOU ALL.
Second off, it’s not really Gale I have a problem with, it’s Katniss AND Gale. For some reason, they decided to make Katniss like Gale as more than a friend instead of being truly confused about it all.
His voice drops to a whisper. “I love you.”
…I never see these things coming. They happen too fast. One second you’re proposing an escape plan and the next… you’re expected to deal with something like this. I come up with must be the worst possible response. “I know.”
“Do you love me?”
“Gale, you know how I feel about you.”
No Katniss, he doesn’t, neither do we, neither do you! I was almost willing to accept this, but then they decided to add an extra scene where right before the reaping, Katniss kisses Gale just because. Not because he kissed her first, and not because he just got whipped nearly to death, the two kisses that happened in the book and I completely accept, but an extra one where she acts like it’s because they’re dating.
NO. NO. NO.
WRONG. WRONG. WRONG.
Save those dang kisses for Mockinjay where they belong. But thankfully, the kissing with Peeta in this movie was also WAY better in this movie than in The Hunger Games.
I promise I care about more than the kissing and will move on in a minute…
Catching Fire is a critical point in the Peeta and Katniss’ love story. In all the time they spend together and Peeta is nothing but genuine and loving towards Katniss, she starts to feel a little something. And when she thinks she’s lost him forever in the arena, Jennifer did such a great job portraying how much Katniss suddenly cared in that moment. And then when they’re on the beach, and she tells him she needs him, and kisses him for real. That was great. I wish we could have gotten just a little more of them before they went back to the arena (like my fave scene in the book – the rooftop!), but still, it was all still way better in this movie than the cave stuff in the last one.
As far as I’m concerned, when it came to the other tributes, Jena Malone as Johanna stole the show. She was angry, she was vengeful, but she also stuck with the plan. The way she cursed President Snow, her sly looks as took off her outfit in the elevator (Jennifer Lawrence deserves an Oscar just for her face in that scene – priceless!), and her whole attitude was spot-on for me. I wanted more of her. I can’t wait to see more of her!
And then there was Finnick…
My one complaint with Finnick is that in the book, he comes off way creepy and I had to warm up to him like Katniss had to. But just the same, I enjoyed him in the movie and how Sam Clafin portrayed him.
Other minor characters who I felt really shone: Caesar of course (Stanley Tucci does him so perfectly – I just love it!), Effie, and Haymitch. All fabulous and even better in this movie than the last (and they were all great in the last one too)! You can see how much Haymitch and especially Effie have grown since the last movie. And President Snow was as chilling as ever.
But let’s talk about Plutarch. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is a great actor who can be way creepy (see: Mission Impossible 3), and I felt like he was extremely under-utilized in this movie. One detail from the book that I wish they would have left in the movie (and that literally would have taken five seconds) was Plutarch showing Katniss his Mockingjay watch. As it was, his conversation with her at the Capitol party felt so flat and no where near as impactful as it was in the book, which just seemed crazy with Phillip and Jennifer both being so talented. I blame the writing, which again, was usually spot on, but something about that moment in that scene just didn’t do a lot for the story to me. Though I will say Plutarch’s interactions with Snow were pretty good, even more dynamic than the interactions between Seneca and Snow in the last movie.
Beetee… jury’s still out. I like Jeffrey Wright in Source Code, and I thought he did fine here. I guess I wanted more but at the same time, the arena stuff in the movie couldn’t play out as much as it did in the book, and he didn’t have a lot to do anyway. Hopefully we’ll see really good things from him in the Mockingjay movies.
And Cinna? There wasn’t enough! And then when they beat him…
Let’s move on…
More things I love: Prim’s go-get-em attitude, Peeta telling everyone about “the baby” (and Haymitch’s reaction, amazing, but sad they left out Finnick’s line about hormones!), did I mention Effie and Caesar?, and the AMAZING wedding dress turned Mockingjay dress…
Overall, Catching Fire delivered all the feelings I wanted and expected. It delivered a lot more lines from the book. It delivered all the tension and danger of the forthcoming revolution (District 11 scene *cries*). It delivered Katniss’ struggle with PTSD and resistance to being a symbol. It was filled with amazing moments that left satisfied and ready for Mockinjay! Though Mockingjay was my least favorite book of the trilogy I believe that if we have the same team working on it as Catching Fire, those two movies can really be powerful and awesome. For being quite possibly my favorite 2013 release, and for being an amazing adaptation, but with points knocked off for the extra Gale kiss (boo) and a couple of other nitpicky things, Catching Fire gets 4.5 stars from me.