The Hunger Games: Catching Fire ★★★½

Let me start by giving a quick summary of how I felt about the books by Suzanne Collins. I really enjoyed the first installment. It's a miracle I even started the series considering they are young adult books. YA is something I normally stay far, far away from. The second book was good, but I felt it was a letdown from the first one. Now the third is another story altogether. It was a major disappointment in my opinion. After a great start to the series, I just didn't like how the author wrapped everything up. I was so disappointed that it almost ruined the trilogy for me. When it was announced they would be turning the popular book series into a major motion picture, I wasn't too excited. YA books turned into films all most always suck. There are a couple of exceptions, but generally they only work for the screaming teenage girl crowd. Much to my surprise, the first film was released to mostly positive reviews. They even did a really good job with the cast, which is always a huge debate with these types of movies. After seeing The Hunger Games, I had mixed feelings about it. I was happy they actually made a decent film out of it, but certain details they left out really annoyed me. I ended up rating it 3 stars based on some of the mistakes I felt they made. When it comes to the sequel, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, I didn't have much hope. With the books declining in quality with each sequel I didn't think I'd enjoy it. Surprisingly enough, it's actually better than the first film.

This film continues the story of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). After defying the Capitol with their victory in the 74th Hunger Games, they become targets as the Capitol fears their actions will start a rebellion in the districts of Panem.

I don't know if it was the change in director, the cast really coming into their characters, or a combination of those things, but Catching Fire is better than it's predecessor in almost everyway. Characters like Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) and Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) are perfectly cast. I felt like we got to see more of their personalities, which was lacking in the first film. The love interests Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta continued to fit into their roles as well. I was iffy when the films started with the casting of Donald Sutherland as President Snow, but he's been good in both films as the soulless president. The good casting choices are all well and good, but none of it would work if it wasn't for the phenomenal job by Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. She's like the best player on a championship team. She's put this franchise on her back, and she's taking it all the way to the bank. The girl has proven she can do indies and blockbusters. Ms. Lawrence is one hell of a talent to say the least.

One of the tricky things about making these films is how the violence is handled. After all, it is kids killing kids in a film marketed to a young adult audience. They had to find the balance of showing the darkness of the story without delving into R rated territory. Director Gary Ross did a decent job in the first film, but there were things about his camerawork that bugged me. Too much was left off-screen, taking a lot of the emotion from the book completely out of the movie. Francis Lawrence does a much better job in this area with the sequel. He shows us just enough to appease the YA crowd and the grown-ups. There's a scene fairly early in the film that had me tearing up because it was filmed very effectively. It's a good-looking film with some excellent cinematography.

My issues are with some of the details they left out. It didn't bother me as much in this one, but it was definitely still a problem. There's an entire sequence left out from the second book that had me scratching my head. Another problem was the story progression. They did a good job making it more interesting than it was in the book, but it's still a step down from the story's beginning. The fact that every other aspect is better certainly helped cover that up.

Overall, I was happy with Catching Fire. The mere fact that I liked it better than the first film and better than it's novel counterpart made it a pleasant surprise. Jennifer Lawrence has become a must-see actress, and she continues her impressive run with another excellent performance. I'm not sure how I feel about them splitting the last book into two films, but I hope they're at least as good as this one. So far it's a fun and entertaining series. Let's hope that continues.

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