Hunger Games sequel sets box office on fire

By Zach Gregory Staff Writer

December 8, 2013

The Hunger Games trilogy continues to fascinate people around the world. Catching Fire, the second feature film based on Suzanne Collins’ popular book series, reached box office dominance Nov. 22 and hasn’t slowed down at all.

Catching Fire debuted at the top of the box office its opening weekend, making an impressive $161.1 million domestically and $307.7 million worldwide, according to box office tracking site Rentrak.com. The first film made $152.5 million in its opening weekend and ended up grossing a total of $691.2 million worldwide in theaters.

Catching Fire remained in the top spot over Thanksgiving weekend, raking in $74.5 million, and totaling to $573 million worldwide after only two weeks in theaters.

Gone is previous director Gary Ross, and with him goes the annoying shaky cam from the first film. Francis Lawrence (I am Legend, Water for Elephants) takes over as director and does an excellent job of staying faithful to the book while retaining the tone established in Ross’s movie.

Catching Fire takes place soon after Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) arrives home from the gladiator-like tournament, called the hunger games, held by the draconian Capitol. She is suffering from PTSD, but doesn’t have much time to recover as she is whisked away to a victory tour, where she much face the families of people she was forced to kill.

Tension is on the rise in the districts and President Snow, chillingly portrayed by Donald Sutherland, warns Katniss that she must continue the role of love-struck teen with fellow games survivor, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), in order to keep the rebellion from forming. The love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is convincing, but thankfully takes a backseat in the film.

The lovers’ act fails to calm the citizens, so President Snow makes the unprecedented decision to recall former winners to compete in the 75th annual hunger games tournament. Even though I knew this was coming after finishing the books, the actors still did a good job in conveying how dire the situation was.

The buildup to the actual games isn’t as slow in this movie. We get to see how the former victors resent having to come back and fight, and then we’re back to the games. There isn’t much of a focus on the violence between the actual contestants this time in the arena, but more on the dangers present. Katniss forms a group with other former victors and they must escape from perils like mutant monkeys and poisonous fog and the director does a good job at building tension.

A fast pace means not too many characters other than Lawrence and Hutcherson get much screen time, but secondary characters are all given their due diligence from solid performances. Stanley Tucci as the spirited game host Caesar Flickerman, Woody Harrelson as the charming drunk Haymitch and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the plotting Plutarch Heavensbee all stand out in their smaller roles.

The most notable performance amongst the secondary cast comes from Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket. She is supposed to be a sterile mouthpiece for the Capitol, but does a good job showing sympathy for the main characters as they are put through the unfair situation of returning to the hunger games.

Lawrence reprises her role as Katniss Everdeen, and has a solid performance. Despite being a little overdramatic at times, she pulls off the stoic nature of the broken heroine well. Her transformation from being scared of the Capitol to being ready to lead the charge against it by the end is entertaining to watch. It is all capped off with her starring at the screen right before the credits roll, and it is effective.

Because the movie is so faithful to the book, some of the nuances might be lost on viewers. On the surface, it is very much the same movie as the first one. They go to the Capitol, they train and they go to the hunger games. There wasn’t much time to focus on the brewing rebellion, but what is shown gets the message through.

Another fault of following the book so closely is the abrupt ending. The cliffhanger ending was appropriate in the novel, but it might leave some moviegoers feeling ripped off. Luckily for them, the first part of the Mockingjay film is releasing next year, so the wait shouldn’t be too unbearable.

I’ve always felt that the Hunger Games series stands better together as a series than by it’s individual parts, so I am anxious to see how the movies conclude. The final book will be split up into two parts, so hopefully the pacing is a little more deliberate, but there is definitely a solid foundation for the conclusion of this story.