Movie Reviews & Interviews from Washington

‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ Review: Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson & Woody Harrelson

This is a complete fangirl (and spoiler-free) review of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Coming from someone who has just finished re-reading Suzanne Collins’ “Catching Fire” for the second time, there couldn’t have been a more perfect novel adaptation than what director Francis Lawrence (2011’s Water for Elephants) did here. Not only will Catching Fire exceed Hunger Games fans expectations in every way possible, it’s the complete fanboy and fangirl movie theatre experience and one of the best films of the year.

The Hunger Games series is quickly becoming one of the biggest novel-adapted film franchises of all time, rivaling the success of Harry Potter and The Twilight Saga. The first film made $691 million dollars worldwide and it’s practically a fact that Catching Fire will exceed that total. Like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games appeals to a universal audience and with exceptional actors and incredible adapted screenplays, the series has appealed to both critics and fans alike. Something Beautiful Creatures, The Host and The Mortal Instruments hoped to do.

Picking up right where the last film left off, Hunger Games victors Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) are settled in the Victors Village of District 12, with more food and money than they ever could have dreamed of. With the help of their mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), Capitol spokeswoman Effie (Elizabeth Banks) and stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) Katniss and Peeta prepare to leave for the Victors Tour, where they will visit the other 11 districts in Panem.

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Along the Tour, Katniss begins to sense that a rebellion may be rising, but wants to keep the peace at home so her mother (Paula Malcomson), sister (Willow Shields) and lifelong friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) will remain safe from the Capitol and President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

President Snow believes that Katniss’ nightlock berries idea that crowned both her and Peeta the victors of the 74th Games was not an act of love, but an act of defiance against the Capitol. In an effort to diminish the hope and rebellions across Panem, President Snow and new Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) announce that the past victors of the Hunger Games will be thrown into the reaping pool again for the 75th Annual Hunger Games, also known as The Quarter Quell. With District 12 only having three living victors, Katniss and Peeta are forced to go back into the games and test their limits for survival once again.

Victors from the other districts include Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin), the handsome and strong swimmer from District 4, Johanna Mason (Jena Malone), the sexy femme fatale with her killer ax, Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), who won his games with pure strategy and Mags (Lynn Cohen), Finnick’s mentor who volunteered to save another young woman from her district.

We were all a little worried when director Gary Ross stepped aside after making The Hunger Games to pursue other projects, but I must say Francis Lawrence followed his lead in a seamless transition into what several critics say is the best book of the trilogy. Lawrence will go on to direct both The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I, slated for November 2014 and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II, slated for November 2015. Am I the only one counting down the days until next November?

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Although I didn’t see the film in IMAX (I will in the next few days), Lawrence shot the arena scenes in 70mm IMAX and the cinematography alone in those sequences deserves to be seen on a full IMAX screen. I can’t wait to hear the audio on those speakers too! I was thrilled to see that the CGI baboons in the arena were far better created than the mutt dogs in the last film.

Everyone reprises their roles beautifully in this sequel, especially Lawrence, Hutcherson and Harrelson, who make one of the best on-screen trios ever. There are some especially romantic moments for Team Peeta fans and although we only get a few more precious minutes of Mr. Hemsworth in this sequel, they are well worth it.

I know I’m not the one that has said this, but Lawrence was born to play this role. Although her chemistry with Hutcherson is impeccable, the 23-year-old actress could make these films work with anyone. With that being said, it’s refreshing to see Hutcherson’s Peeta form into striking young victor, who doesn’t need Katniss to take care of him anymore. Every time these two were on screen are some of the best moments in the movie. Pay close attention to the scene on the beach, its a pure fangirl moment!

I know “The Hunger Games” novels from front to back and the fact that I can still be on the edge of my seat when watching these films is incredible. That’s the true testament of great filmmaking. Catching Fire is one of the best films of the year and changes the teenage film genre for the better. Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth completely dissolve into these beloved characters and the results couldn’t be better.

Kevin McCarthy of interviews the cast here.

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