Catching Fire is the sequel to The Hunger Games. As the middle novel of the trilogy, it has a lot to live up to. Or in this case, the cinematic sequel to the successful adaptation of the first novel. Most of the time, sequels don’t quite live up to the original – or they have their own can of worms with trying to adapt the essence of a book once again into celluloid (or in today’s era, bits). Picking up from the end of The Hunger Games, we find ourselves back in District 12 where Katniss and Peeta have just won the 74th Hunger Games and are enjoying the ill-fated spoils of victory.

Inspired by the image of the Mockingjay, rumbles of rebellion have begun populating the districts. President Snow pays Katniss a visit in an attempt to maintain order and the vestiges of power securely in place. Threats are made. A victory tour is hastily arranged, and for the 75th edition of the Hunger Games, a special Quarter Quell is set in place. The Quell will draw its combatants from the pool of previous Games winners. And thus, we are sent back into the Arena for the majority of the second book.

The movie adaptation does a quite good job of adapting the book to film, but it’s easier when you’re able to cast brilliant actors such as Philip Seymour Hoffman in minor roles (Plutarch Heavensbee). It also helps when the returning cast have improved as actresses such as lead Jennifer Lawrence winning the Best Actress Oscar for her role in Silver Linings Playbook (2012), and Woody Harrelson has experienced a resurgence in his career as of late. Donald Sutherland reprises his brilliant turn as the trilogy’s villain, President Snow. The rest of the cast is just as stellar.

Due to the nature of this book – there was bound to be several loose ends, no matter how the film was shot – unless they were going to rewrite the entire story. One doesn’t necessarily have to have seen the first film in order to understand this film or to enjoy it, but the entire film bears a strange parallel to a previous sequel – The Empire Strikes Back (1980). Without giving away much more of the plot itself or the ending of Catching Fire, all I need to do is display the following image:

esb-finale

This scene from The Empire Strikes Back would actually NOT feel out of place whatsoever in Catching Fire. For those of you that have seen both films – the finale of both is almost exactly the same.  They say that imitation is the best form of flattery, and in this case – The Hunger Games trilogy can be seen as the modern equivalent to the Star Wars original trilogy beloved by many, despite being released two generations ago. Each generation seems to need its own epic cinematic trilogy that has a cult following and does really well at both the box office and home video. Both trilogies also lend themselves to repeated screenings.

So Star Wars was that trilogy for the turn of the 1980s. Toy Story for the 1990s, The Lord of the Rings for the 2000s, and The Hunger Games for the 2010s thus far. So far, Catching Fire hasn’t disappointed fans of The Hunger Games, even if the Arena seemed a bit abbreviated this time around (but we needed to establish the storyline and advance it at the expense of action). There’s more to the story in the book, but the movie had to pick and choose its spots wisely. I enjoyed this movie quite a bit, but enjoyed the first even more. Catching Fire is far from filler though.

MPAA Rating: PG-13
Rating: (****)
Director: Francis Lawrence
Studio: Lionsgate

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