The Best & The Worst Of ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’

The Best & The Worst Of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'

Now officially the all-time November opening record holder, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” was always a fairly sure thing in terms of box office. But what’s more impressive is the advance word on the film (our own included), and the buzz around it, which has been so positive, with it being touted as the rare sequel that improves on the original, and with many going so far as to compare it to “The Empire Strikes Back.” (Though, to be honest, we think that comparison is more to do with how open-ended it feels, with the good guys separated and some of them still imperiled, at the film’s close.) Some of us might not go quite that far, but certainly director Francis Lawrence has made good on delivering a broader, more nuanced and more layered film than the first, which is fitting considering he was adapting what we’d consider the best of the three books, by quite some distance.

But not everything worked for us, even for those of us who are among the film’s bigger fans. The film is long, it’s quite slow to start with and the aforementioned mid-air ending does mean the pacing issues tell a little as it wears on. However, on the other hand, that slightly strange shape does make it feel a great deal less formulaic than the average YA sequel. So know then, that we’re coming largely from a very positive place as we take a look through some of notable aspects of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” that stuck with us—the good, the bad and the somewhere-in-between. Oh, and obviously this is a post for people who’ve seen the film already, so spoilers ahead

The Good

Jena Malone as Johanna Mason
Jena Malone as returning tribute Johanna Mason is some of the most spot-on casting of the franchise, and she tears into the axe-wielding part with gusto. Malone brings a much needed wild-eyed ferocity to the proceedings, a fine foil to the also badass, but often overly compassionate Katniss. She’s mad as hell about this Quarter Quell and everyone’s going to hear about it too (her brutal honesty is refreshing). Malone walks off with every scene she’s in, starting with the infamous elevator strip down, where she sheds her District 7 tree costume in order to get a rise out of Katniss (she elicits some quality Jennifer Lawrence side eye that is truly a delight to behold). She’s not without nuance though, demonstrating her willingness to protect others at all costs and hinting that her ferocious demeanor comes from a place of real trauma and loss caused by the Games. In fact, Malone’s version of the character comes across as almost a crazy-mirror version of Katniss—she has all the strength of will but none of the love and the edge of jealousy this brings to her dealings with Katniss is deliciously played by Malone. We almost felt like Johanna envies Katniss being the girl who will start the revolution, as it’s a role she herself would have relished, but she simply doesn’t possess the same inspirational quality. Which makes her spiteful and bitter, even while she’s principled and fundamentally decent enough to be doing the right thing. The only complaint might be that there wasn’t enough of her on screen. Prequel material, maybe?

Amped-Up Scope And Scale
In the first film, the arena where the games are held seemed like a magically science fiction-y realm, where it seemed like the godlike architects of the games (alongside the nefarious President Snow) could reconfigure land, sea, and air, almost on a whim. But in execution, it seemed like the woodsy arena was next door to the rundown district where Katniss hailed from; the lack of variety didn’t just seem like a creative deficiency but a budgetary one too. With “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” both the budget and the creative principals’ imaginations seem to have been widened considerably. Not only do we get cool stuff outside of the arena like glittering, futuristic cities and luxury monorails, but the arena seems bigger and more magnificent. The tropical setting was an inspired flourish; it makes it deadlier and differentiates itself completely from the original’s Appalachian backdrop. The games themselves are grander too, with stuff like the sinister wave of toxic fog, a band of carnivorous baboons and the rotating island. In this film, the promise of the games, especially with the expanded “Survivor: All Stars“-like cast of characters, has been fully realized.

Josh Hutcherson’s Peeta Begins To Come Into His Own
While, not being thirteen, we don’t want to spend any time rehashing the “OMG Liam Hemsworth‘s Gale is sooo way hotter than Josh Hutcherson‘s Peeta” debate, (especially as The Onion’s terrific review dives deep into that same issue), from a slightly less hormonal standpoint, Hutcherson’s casting as Peeta did begin to make more sense to us during this outing. While it felt a little like a miscalculation in the first film, here Hutcherson’s relative slightness and lack of out-and-out hunkiness seems to be part of the point: the love triangle, for all it feels a little mishandled (see below) is between Katniss and two actual people, not just two guys who are desperately in love with her but otherwise differ only in the type of “studly” they embody. In fact Peeta, who is still something of a liability during the actual games (he does temporarily die, after all), thanks to some sensitive writing, gets to deliver some decent dialogue that suggests his independent thought processes, and makes it clear that Katniss, to her credit and that of the film, has a choice to make not between Hottie 1 and Hottie 2, but between two different young men who are defined by different things in the wider world, and not just their relationship to her.

It Looks Good (No Shaky Cam!)
Considering how quickly “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” was put together, it’s sort of amazing that the production team had any time to design (or redesign) aspects of this particular, bloodthirsty futureworld; the fact that these designs are so striking is even more impressive. But director Francis Lawrence, taking over from Gary Ross, has designed and implemented a fully realized world, whether the proto-Stalinist architecture of some of the outer districts or the zooming monorails and grand balls of the Capitol, not to mention a version of the Hunger Games in which the lightning trees, whirling typhoons, and clouds of toxic gas are really given memorable, malevolent design. Gone is the first movie’s over-reliance on frantic shaky cam cinematography, which added a level of frenetic electricity but often at the cost of things like spatial geography or character placement. Lawrence instead chooses to shoot in long, fluid takes that root you firmly in the action, cleanly establishing the geography of each scene without having to overtly explain it. The best of these sequences is Katniss’ introduction to the new arena, mere moments after watching one of her mentors get brutally beaten: initially we’re as disoriented as she is, before in just a few strokes, the layout is established and the action breathlessly kicks off. Lawrence is an underappreciated stylist who makes exciting genre movies where very little actually happens (“Constantine,” “I Am Legend“); here he steps up his game by making what is arguably the best movie of his career. It’s full of action and suspense and, much to our shock and delight, you can actually understand what’s going on. Most of the time, anyway.

Jeffrey Wright as Beetee and Amanda Plummer as Wiress
Along with Lynn Collins’ Mags, fan favorites Wiress (Amanda Plummer) and Beetee (Jeffrey Wright) add a different layer of humanity to the games that audiences hadn’t seen before. While the first film’s plot just allowed children and teens in the arena, bringing in seasoned veterans gives a new element, and of course this gives the filmmakers the chance to stack the cast more experienced actors. So while Lawrence was by far the most gifted among the tributes’ actors in the first film, seeing her interact with big-league talent here is invigorating. With their quirky intelligence and strategy, Wiress and Beetee stand out among the alumni tributes. From the first moment we glimpse them as they prep basic survival skills for the upcoming games, they are differentiated among the flashing teeth and brawny muscles of the career tributes. Plummer’s Wiress in particular still seems to always carry the weight of what she did, making it clear that though they aren’t as eager for violence, they still have a deadly past that neither can escape. Both Wiress and Beetee could have simply been twitchy, nerdy caricatures, but casting Wright (who seems to be everywhere) and Plummer (who we always want to see more of) gives them depth and brings additional emotional weight to the arena’s proceedings, to the cast of other tributes (which needs all the rounding out it can get) and to the film as a whole.

Make Up and Costume
The makeup and costuming are of course showy elements that were fully embraced in the first film too, especially as regards Effie and the Capitol crowd. But this time there seems to be something a little subtler and more subversive at work. Part of the the first film’s arc was a kind of makeover transformation of Katniss the dowdy District 12 girl into the Girl On Fire (as daft as those costumes were), and while the Capitol fashions were unbelievably over the top, there was a certain glamor to the flash and dazzle. This time out, however, care is taken to show the cracks in the makeup, the artificiality of the tanning, the absolute horror of of that stupid wedding dress before it reveals the simpler, and much more beautiful gown underneath (though we still have our reservations about the twirling and the fire). And Jennifer Lawrence is styled throughout to look much, much lovelier in her body suit with her hair in a braid running through the forest, than in whatever false-eyelash-and-too-much-bronzer get up she wears to whichever party. The styling cleverly walks this line to show the inherent ugliness of the Capitol’s lavish decadence. And at the other end of the make up spectrum, perhaps the most impressively grim part of a film that also features some fairly graphic whip wounds, a gunshot execution and death by fanged baboon, are the big, blistering pustules that break out over the faces and hands of our heroes when they come into contact with the poison fog. Yes, we know they then wash off leaving no trace, but while they’re there they are so totally gross and disfiguring that we actually had a hard time watching–perhaps due to some previously unidentified deep-seated fear. So we were simultaneously impressed by the makeup’s disgustingness and totally repulsed by the makeup’s disgustingness—no mean feat.

Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman and Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket
Speaking of makeup… We already know how fantastic Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks are as Caesar Flickerman, talk show host, and Effie Trinket, ditzy publicist/babysitter from the first ‘Hunger Games,’ but they are doing career-best work here, dialing their flamboyant and over-the-top characters way, way up without losing the utmost control. Tucci’s teeth alone are bewitchingly white, and every sigh and gesture he makes captures the blissful artifice and ignorance of the Capitol. Banks, on the other hand, lands perfectly intoned and placed asides with aplomb, and even manages to imbue her materialistic character with some heart and soul. They’re an integral part of creating this world, and do much of the heavy lifting for it. In fact, Effie’s dawning conscience and the sudden glimpses we get of her sincere grief and sense of injustice, roiling beneath the ludicrous artifice of her exterior, are among the most affecting parts of the film.

Jennifer Lawrence
It kind of feels like we don’t even have to mention this, but Jennifer Lawrence‘s performance, while it’s nothing less than we now expect from the actress, does deserve its own props. It’s difficult to imagine another actress really delivering as much as we get from Lawrence in this role—and director Francis Lawrence, for all he’s mostly a genre/visual stylist, knows how to exploit his star’s fundamental watchability, and gets more than a few bravura close ups and character moments from her. It’s also unusual that it’s not her prettiness that is ever emphasized, instead it’s that wonderful watchful and intelligent quality that Lawrence gives Katniss that makes her so compelling: there is always something more going in her eyes. We particularly loved the moment when Katniss hears her sister’s voice calling to her and pure protective instinct takes over, trumping her rationality, as she goes racing off in search of her. It’s a scene that, in showing how the source of Katniss’ strength and goodness is also her Achilles heel, tells us almost everything we need to know about her.

The Bad

The One-Note Villain
Subtlety has never been a “Hunger Games” specialty, but Donald Sutherland’s sneering President Snow is glowering menace to the point that he might as well be twirling the ends of his beard. It’s not so much the acting itself, it’s just that Snow isn’t given much to do other than threaten, menace and glare at Katniss every chance he gets, but it’s so one-note and repetitive, it becomes a little annoying.

The First Act: “Show, Don’t Tell” Issues & The Missed Opportunity Of Exploiting Theme
Put aside for one moment that we’re supposed to believe that one girl victor has given an entire country a sense of renewed hope to the point that it might topple a totalitarian dictatorship (neatly summed up by Katniss herself who remarks on the fragility of a system that could be brought down by a few berries). Now it’s nice that Plutarch convinces the President to let her get killed in the arena and all, but every self-respecting dictator from Stalin on down would have snuffed her out the second he scented a whiff of dissent. And so as if to compensate for the creative license taken here with credibility, all of Snow’s dialogue is painfully expository: she’s a threat, she can damage our world, she needs to be stopped, etc. None of the themes of rebellion, blooming hope and “catching fire” ever really have a chance to fully be realized because Snow and others are essentially spelling them out in conversation with each other in every scene. Of course this runs counter to the 101 rule of filmmaking: show, don’t tell. 

And sure we see some graffiti and seditious scrawls on walls here and there, but generally we’re told that Panem is discovering hope rather than actively being shown it and thus we barely ever feel it. This is arguably the problem with the entire first act (and beyond, see “watching world” point below): every important detail is told and not shown. Plutarch replacing Seneca Crane as head games master? Yeah, this is dispensed with through dialogue in a quick aside. The districts rioting? Joanna Mason mentions it in passing. Even the capture of Joanna and Peeta, and the destruction of District 12 is something we hear about, rather than see, and therefore any groundswell moment of change is something we never feel and this is perhaps the film’s biggest missed opportunity. The taste and smell of change could be in the air during the movie and this rising civil disobedience could be something, rousing, moving, heart-swelling, something the audience could actively cheer for (see any Obama-like commercial from his first election campaign where there was electricity in the air). This would have elevated ‘Catching Fire’ beyond simple entertainment and connected it to the consciousness on a much more powerful level. Alas, ‘Catching Fire’ isn’t really interested in really exploring this avenue of thematic texture. And while some of the “show, don’t tell” decisions are to do with making sure the audience has a similar level of knowledge to Katniss herself, the cumulative effect if to make the world of the film feel smaller, and more airless.

During The Games, No Sense Of The Watching World
An offshoot of our main “show, don’t tell” gripe, the second half also suffers from us not being shown the impact of Katniss’s actions on the wider world.  While Katniss and the other tributes battle the environment and each other in the dome, and we occasionally cut to Plutarch and the drones in the control room, and even once to Snow, we never get a sense of how the people of the Capitol and beyond are responding to the Quarter Quell Games. In the first film, we recall, the position of the cameras and the sense of a world watching that needed to be played to or manipulated into sending in help or whatever, was ever-present. This time there’s no sense that they are all involved in, essentially, a very bloodthirsty TV show. And since we know the meta-narrative of this film is Katniss’s growing fame outside the arena, as a symbol of resistance and potential revolution among the people, it feels like a sore absence that we don’t see how the people are reacting to her various perils.

Still Hampered By Its PG-13 Rating
When the first film was released, it drew comparisons to the Japanese masterpiece “Battle Royale,” in which children outfitted with explosive collars are forced to kill each other in increasingly creative and ghoulish ways. Still, the films differed in a clear area:  the violence in the Japanese film was explicit and punchy, while “The Hunger Games” had violence that was obscured and blurry. It was less impactful, but it meant that the book’s young adult demographic could actually, you know, watch the movie. While “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” has a plotline that is less controversial (since adults and even elderly people are entered into the arena), it still feels hampered by its ratings board restrictions. The deaths are similarly quick and hard to register, even though the movie takes on a gloomier, doomier tone. The PG-13 rating is probably also what means we’re denied a sequence that is described instead and seems really cool: a blood rain that chokes the combatants to death. Now that we would have loved to have seen. That all said, however, the focus of the story this time out is in general shifting away from what happens during the Games, so while the certificate is a factor, it doesn’t seem to impact on the finished film quite as much as it did the first time out.

Missed Opportunities To Develop The Love Triangle More Coherently
We’re hesitant to come down too hard on the love triangle as it is much less simplistically drawn than that of nearest equivalent phenomenon, “Twilight,” and as such is a relief, but it does still feel like we’re missing a few of the intermediate steps between Katniss behaving coolly toward Peeta and asking Gale to run away with her, and her warming to Peeta personally even as she passionately, belligerently forces Haymitch and the others to promise to save him at her own expense. As much as Peeta has started to develop into a more interesting character, still Katniss seems to run pretty hot and cold on him, and not necessarily for any discernible reason. As such, we were hoping that the scene in which Peeta comes to sit with the recuperating Gale would give us some insight into how the two relate to each other, but instead we follow Katniss out into the snow. Again it seems that we are really mostly meant to be experiencing only those things that Katniss herself experiences, which is fine except that allying us so closely with her subjectivity should mean we understand what makes her tick, and when it comes to her interactions with Peeta, we just don’t, really.

Occasional Loss of Clarity
In general, the action scenes in ‘Catching Fire’ are well staged and the intelligent script usually provides us with enough information that we understand who or what is at stake in each scene. However sometimes the film loses its normally sure-footed balance, especially during the climactic scene around the lightning tree. Having read the books, we’re aware of who’s on which side and hazily remember how it all went down, but the film feels fractured there and anyone coming in cold (there must be one or two people in the universe who haven’t read the books, after all) will likely spend the last few scenes of the film distracted as they try to piece together what exactly happened to Beetee (Jeffrey Wright) and why is Finnick there and was Peeta in on the plan or not etc, etc. Which means the full import of Gale’s revelation that District 12 has been obliterated loses some of its power, purely because there’s still some lingering confusion over what’s just happened, which in turn makes the necessarily mid-air ending (it’s roughly the same endpoint as the book, if we recall correctly) even more unsatisfying. A second, lesser example is when Katniss goes in after Peeta to present her “special skill” and there’s a painting of Rue on the ground. Again, in the book, it’s Peeta who has drawn Rue (using the same artistic skill that had him so amusingly camouflage himself in the first film), which affects the judges deeply so they mark him high, but none of this is alluded to in the film and so it’s really not clear how or why the Rue painting is there and why it’s significant. The film obviously wants to ally us very closely with Katniss, so for the most part we don’t know a huge amount more than she does, but in these two instances anyway, we kind of don’t even know as much as she does, and it makes her decisions, and the motivations for her actions (shooting the electrified arrow into the dome; creating the Seneca Crane dummy) a little unclear.

Poorly Developed Adversary Tributes
The film is long enough as it is, and certainly the cast is already populous, but the cursory speed with which the “bad” tributes are glancingly introduced and then dispatched is a bit of a shame. We understand that we need to spend more time with Joanna, Beetee, Wiress and Finnick, but reducing their human opponents to “the brother and sister team” and “the one with the sharpened teeth” among a cavalcade of undifferentiated others feels like a trick missed. And so when those endless faces flash up on the sky each evening, in most cases it feels like it’s the first time we’ve seen them.

Philip Seymour Hoffman Phoning It In
Philip Seymour Hoffman’s casting as Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (he replaces Wes Bentley’s creatively bearded Seneca Crane, who we are to assume met a not-so-happy ending after the whole poison berries/double winner fiasco) was much reported throughout the blogosphere. That an actor of his taste and stature was stooping to a blockbuster YA adaptation reeked of paycheck motivation, but this series has always attracted top-tier talent. However, from the first glimpse of PSH in ‘Catching Fire’ it’s clear that dude is just trying to make a quick buck by phoning it in, hard. He didn’t even have the decency to sport a Capitol-style goofy haircut or colorful thingamabob! Not even a swish of eyeliner. Nope, he’s literally just swanning about in some weird waistcoat as himself, chatting with Donald Sutherland, who seems positively lively by comparison, and tossing absurd statements at his white-suited team of gamers. Even though Hoffman is always eminently watchable and a forceful presence, he puts no effort into this part, and it shows, since everyone else on screen is on their A-game.

The… hmmm?

Mags’ Stunt Double
For a film that looks like all of its budget was left on the screen, there were just a few “huh?” moments that managed to slip through, one of them being the incredibly obvious stunt double sitting in for elderly Mags in the piggyback jungle scenes with Finnick. Of course, you can only do what you can with what you’ve got, and if Suzanne Collins says Finnick flings an old woman on his back to run through the jungle, that’s what you’ve got to do. But it was so obviously a petite stuntwoman in a granny wig keeping her head down the entire time. We know you have to do it, but is there anyway to make it not so obvious?

Snow’s Granddaughter
One of the more pointless alterations from the way things appear in the books was to introduce President Snow’s bright-eyed, Katniss-idolizing moppet granddaughter (who is not really mentioned by Suzanne Collins until “Mockingjay“). We know she serves a certain purpose in helping Snow better judge Katniss’ worrisome growing popularity, but as mentioned above, we kind of wish that function was fulfilled by some more time spent out in the wider world. As it is, it seems she’s been added into the mix to also humanize Snow somewhat, and perhaps is a small attempt to address the dimensionality issues that we mention above with regards to this character. But we don’t really think this cosmetic change works to elevate him out of being the kind of pantomime baddie he has been till now, and so it feels underdeveloped at best and at worst, unnecessary.

So if, as the numbers suggest is likely, you saw ‘Catching Fire’ over the weekend, what did you think? Agree or disagree with our points? Sound off below.

–Jessica Kiang, Katie Walsh, Drew Taylor, Rodrigo Perez & Kimber Myers

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If I must read the book(s), it'll be like standing in plaster, but far less due to the senses used. Is it worse than standing in a field of children's blood? And for what? One's soul and a deployed act of social mores?
I'm a fair and open-minded mother and grandmother, ( and published author) but didn't like the entertainment for the sake OF . . . The first bothered and offended my heart. The second was much more tangible, but still… love exchanged for moral fiber? It doesn't compute. Too futuristic for me! I need a Jacuzzi and a tea fizzoli!

Sanker from India

Haven't read the books. Came up with stupid explanation for rue drawing thinking that the people in the Capitol wanted to piss off katniss. Feel stupid now.


I'm sick of comments saying how much 'cooler' it would be to have mord gore and for them to up the age rating! That's missing the whole point of the books, god…


The last book makes mention of Snow having a granddaughter. I won't put spoilers for the third book but it's a quick but important piece of knowledge they may be setting up for.


I have not read the books, but now know I must. The first Hunger Games movie did an excellent job introducing the story, characters, and ideas central to the plot and I was unexpectedly drawn into the trilogy. However, half-way through the second movie, I was thoroughly confused with the Quarter Quell.

I understand that Snow and his lackeys could adapt the rules of the games to their own end, but the reaction of the tributes made no sense. Upon arriving in the city, Katniss and Peeta, are introduced to the former champions – all who seem to be extremely pissed off, arrogant, or very disturbed (or a combination of all of these). The allying business as they are preparing for the games should have been more expanded upon as it left it rather unknown (I know I need to read the book – I'm sure there's more detail); however, all of sudden during the interviews, all of the heroes are suddenly reluctant to be going back into the games and appear to band together, at least symbolically, at the end of the interview process. Then, they are thrown back into the games – and all hell breaks lose.

If the returning tributes really did not want to be a part of Snow's games, why do they attack each other? I would have fought for all of us to whatever end. Clearly, winning the games isn't as great as it's made out to be if Snow can throw you back in (I felt like the quarter quell was just a convenient addition to get Katniss back into the arena – if it wasn't and this was the third quarter quell, then I may be too critical here). Still, I felt betrayed by the former champions doing what Snow and his disgusting citizens craved – murdering each other and abandoning any sense of humanity. If the Snow's people really loved the champions, I think they would have been rather pissed to see Snow kill them all of himself if they had chosen to not fight – I think this could have led to a much more interesting revolution. Anyway, that's what lost me in the series, what do you guys think?


Loved the movie, but they completely cut out the scene where Katniss and Peeta watch previous hunger games and see how Haymitch won. I mean that scene really gives us some insight on why Haymitch is how he is, his drunken demeanor and all, and that wa my favorite excerpt in the book that I wanted to se so bad in the movie, but I was very disappointed. Other than that, this article is spot on


Intelligent review & observation! Everything that I was meaning to say and couldn't say it is said on this review. people who have read the book would agree with the writer on this article and I must say – bravo!… maybe the writer should be a writer for the next movie script! Atleast then we will have some depth to the movie.


must watch this movie THE HUNGER GAMES CATCHING FIRE . you should try on this

This review is spot on

All the pros and cons were exactly what I would have said.

Overall a decent movie, but yeah, it felt rushed. And it's sad when you know a talented actor like Sutherland wasn't really necessary, as any b-list actor could have played Snow's part equally well.


I think you should've mentioned Sam Claflin as Finnick O'dair. He was exactly like I imagined him with his obvious sex appeal and more subtle sensitive side. I lovvvved him!


hey man!!!


Excellent review and observations… with regard to Plutarch and Seymour-Hoffman's portrayal. That may be by design somewhat. Plutarch after all is a sympathizer, and rejects a lot of the decadence and debauchery of the Capitol. Perhaps his plainness was to show that he was more common and not someone who conforms. As for his intensity of performance – that can be agreed upon. He should have at least been more convincing. The game makers should be a bit warped of the mind, cold, and sadistic – at least to their bosses…


I loved the film but agree with katniss' behaviour towards peeta.the film is gonna have a hard time convincing anyonewho hasnt read the book that she chooses the right guy


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When a movie like "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" comes along, it makes my inner feminist-leaning 13-year-old stand up and cheer. Of course, the mere existence of a successful girl-powered franchise that does not revolve around potential suitors with supernatural powers is enough to keep her smiling.

The scene in "Catching Fire" that especially fired up my lingering adolescent alter-ego? When Jennifer Lawrence—essential as warrior heroine Katniss Everdeen in Round 2 of this young-adult lit-based enterprise, much in the same way that Vivien Leigh was indispensable in "Gone With the Wind"—suddenly twirls about in her would-be wedding dress during a TV interview meant to distract the downtrodden populace of Panem. What initially looks like a multi-tiered, white-frosted cage is engulfed in flames and transforms into a supple midnight-bluish winged symbol of subversion that emulates the Mockingjay, the mascot of a growing rebellion in the land. One gown represents female entrapment and expectations, the other human freedom and opportunity. Call it a Barbie-meets-Joan of Arc moment. And not every man can rock a lavender ponytail and a pompadour at the same time, but darn if Stanley Tucci’s fawning oil-slick of a TV host Caesar Flickerman—part Ryan Seacrest, part Siegfried and Roy—manages to pull it off. "Girl on Fire is so cheeky," he declares of Katniss with a half-smile, half-sneer when she performs her dress trick.

Yes, fashion can be a weapon for good and a vehicle for revolution—at least in this dystopia, with its Fascist regime led by the serenely insidious President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Here, gawd-awful gaudy too often passes for style. We are talking about you, Elizabeth Banks, in the guise of giddy government-instated cheerleader Effie Trinket, with bedazzled Oompa Loompa wigs and eyelashes that appear to be leaden lace cookies. (At least she is allowed to be a warmer presence this time around.)

Katniss’s quick-change act is almost topped by the sight of Lawrence going full-on Liz Taylor in "Cleopatra" with Roman-circus hair and makeup, riding in a chariot before a thunderous throng and later wearing another stunning bird-inspired outfit to a pre-Hunger Games soiree. Good thing that the flinty-eyed Oscar winner is as adept at silently conveying the haunted psyche of her ace archer as she is at showcasing these fantasy frocks. Otherwise, it would be even more obvious that—just like any other No. 2 in an ongoing franchise—"Catching Fire" is merely a placeholder. And it is particularly dour experience given Katniss’s post-traumatic state of mind, as the plot simply picks up where the first movie left off and closes nowhere near to a satisfying climax.

The 2 ½-hour running time is split in two: First, we learn that Katniss’s ploy last time to upend the rules of the games so that she and faux boyfriend Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson, still unduly cuddly) would both survive as co-champions has made Penam’s less fortunate think they, too, can rise against their overlords. As the supposed engaged couple go on tour to greet their fans, it becomes clear they see Katniss as an inspirational leader, a role she inch-by-inch grows to accept.

With an assist from Philip Seymour Hoffman as the too-smooth-to-be-true new gamesmaker Plutarch Heavensbee, Snow announces a special all-stars edition of the 75th-anniversary Hunger Games Quarter Quell. Former victors of previous games recruited from Panem’s 12 districts will be pitted against one another, and Katniss and Peeta must put their lives on the line again.

The last hour is devoted to an Olympian death match in a mock tropical jungle. The fun, such as it is, begins with such visually intriguing challenges as toxic mist, rabid baboons and a downpour of blood. Several welcome new battle participants come aboard. Much like Hoffman, such terrific talents as Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plummer and Jena Malone are overqualified for their parts, but each delivers a distinctly defined character that brightens the proceedings considerably. At least Malone as the punk-cool Johanna provides Lawrence with a fierce foil to play against. The biggest and maybe only true laugh arrives when Johanna strips off her clothes in an elevator to the appreciation of Peeta and the disdain of Katniss.

Director Francis Lawrence ("I Am Legend," "Water for Elephants") is confident enough to not go too heavy on the much-disdained hand-held camerawork used by his predecessor, Gary Ross. With a script by two Oscar-winning writers, "Slumdog Millionaire"’s Simon Beaufoy and "Little Miss Sunshine"’s Michael Arndt (although credited as Michael deBruyn), the action and even the speechifying move along swiftly enough.

Yet "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" suffers from the same “something old, something borrowed “ disease that is the enemy of originality in too many Hollywood efforts of late. It is difficult to enjoy a film when you are checking off all the sources it references—"Lost" and "Survivor" from television, Star Wars (what is with the Stormtrooper ripoffs?) and "The Running Man" from movies, and Roman and Greek myths.

What makes the books and the films compelling is the way they define anxieties and pop-culture obsessions in our everyday lives: anger over politicians, fascination with celebrities, a growing disgruntled underclass, addiction to reality shows and video games, the regularity of large-scale violent acts that monopolize TV coverage, and hateful outbreaks of bullying.

Of course, the one truly fresh invention—and the one that matters most—is Katniss herself. With each on-screen chapter, the poor girl from District 12 continues to fulfill her destiny as an inspiration and a rebel fighter. She is but one female, but she's the perfect antidote to the surplus of male superheroes out there.

And talk about a brewing rebellion: this is the rare action blockbuster that dares to make do without 3D. We who wear glasses already and would rather spend the ticket premium on popcorn salute you, Katniss and company .


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Yep, nailed it again. I knew there were elements that just didn't hit right and I see your point. Missed opportunities, poorly developed characters, etc… well done.


Agreed with much of this article – kudos.

(Sucking a dick is not an insult to many, dsfdsfdf. Homophobe.)

Simon Crowe

Mags is played by Lynn Cohen, not Lynn Collins.

Amadan dubh

What an amazingly clever and original film. It was so thought provoking i was lost in thought about when in 1984 i went to brazil and a battle royal broke out, that i did not even realize it had ended for ages after and so clever that it made no sense to me at all. She is so cool and so is he and the music and flashing wow what a film. im going to watch it again and again because its just so awesome. I hope the next 1 is even more awesome and has more flashing and music and coolness. wow so cool.

Charissa Scott

I only recently watched both movies as I waited to read the books before I saw them. The books give a much more intimate understanding to most of the issues brought up here and I can only imagine how difficult a task it must be to translate a beloved book that has so much story brought through by the characters thoughts into a movie that does not allow the viewer the same insights. For those that complain, I highly recommend reading the books, I agree that the screenplay could have given a little more explanation to things, the books give a certain element of understanding to the movie while the movie offers the readers a new take on how they character development and setting. I thought both movies were really good and can't wait for the third.


Not having read the books, I wonder how Beetee's spool of wire got there. Then I marveled at how convenient it was to the plot that Katniss should shoot the dome with her wired arrow just as the lightning tree was struck, thereby destroying the dome and facilitating her own rescue -without Snow's awareness- which was the plan all along, even though she was kept in the dark about it! Talk about suspending disbelief!


The film was excellent. Vastly better than the first, on every level.


It was the biggest waste of 3 hours for me! I fell in love with the first Hunger Games movie and I was so disappointed in this movie! This movie was so disjointed for me and having not read the books, I was completely confused by the ending. Save your money as well as your time. I wish I had seen "Frozen" instead.


I think it's an almost perfect adaptation. I say almost because it can't ever be as the book. And I think some of the things criticized in this article come from the author either not having read the book or thinking it has to be different from the book. Many things seem that bad just because they stayed true to the book. I LOVE how they stayed true to the book, but I missed only a few things:

– Peeta saying this time they would train like careers. That would explain why Katniss made it for the Cornucopia right away and why Peeta suddenly can fight so well.

– The training scores. This way, especially because they showed us right away what Peeta did (the painting of Rue, remember in the book they covered it before Katniss came in? And she finds about it when they announce the training scores and she and Peeta both get 12 – which nobody ever got in the history of the Games… she asks Peeta what he did and he tells her. On the other hand it IS nice to have seen the painting), we don't understand why he painted it and what impact her making the Seneca Crane doll had. And it's unclear why they showed us that part of the story anyway, if they're gonna ommit the scores and make us think everybody will wanna kill them first.

– The love-triangle with Peeta and Gale… isn't as good as in the books. We don't get to see why she is torn so much between those two.

Other than that, I don't recall missing anything else from the books. It has the same feel for me as book 2 – even the part where we don't get any sense that it's still a reality-ty-show. In book 1 Katniss keeps reminding us of that, but in book 2 you forget it because of the sheer drama of the Arena and her trying to keep Peeta alive.

As I said, a very, VERY well done adaptation.

And P.S. We don't have to assume anything about Seneca Crane, we've seen him being delivered to a bowl of Nightlock at the end of movie 1.


I think you should read the book before you judge the movie. Some of the bad AND good things you said were only that way because that is how the story is. I personally am grateful they tried their best at following Suzanne Collins' story instead of creating their own.


You are insane with the Philip Seymour Hoffman comments. Your character protarayl sounds ridiculous.


Such a great movie, I was able to watch Red 2 for free, check it out!


phillip seymour hoffman wasn't phoning it in. plutarch heavensbee is supposed to be calm, cool, and calculating. just because he didn't have any emotional scenes doesn't mean he was being lazy. But I guess you're too dumb to realize that playlist.

Shaira Pats

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SHaira Pats

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a lot of your criticisms are way off, playlist. catching fire was near perfect. pull your heads out of your ass.


Playlist , give me a break. Jennifer Lawrence is lousy and distracting in these Hunger Games films- her wooden acting with little facial expressions , delivering her lines with boredom , her lack of gravitas , and her inability to pull-off the intelligence and complexity of her role . With most of Jennifer's performances , she comes across like a young girl trying to be a grown-up .

Donald Sutherland and Philip Seymour Hoffman are the only actors in Catching Fire that are able to breathe any life in that film.


I thought the movie was pretty spot on, minus some minor flaws. One minor detail that drives me crazy is how Katniss comes to get the mockingjay pin. In the first movie she finds it in the hob and gives it to Prim as good luck for the reaping. Once Katniss volunteers, Prim hands her the pin to take into the arena. This drives me crazy!!! Katniss was allowed to wear a token of her district and it is given to her by her friend Madge, the mayor's daughter. In the second movie, Cinna hides the pin under her costume! The pin is suppose to be displayed and not a secret. At least in this movie I am starting to feel the connection between Peeta and Katniss. Before I felt like they had zero chemistry. I have mixed emotions about PSH as the new Game Maker. I believe that the lack of costume is due to his underlying discontempt for the Captiol. I hardly think that the costume director or the casting director would allow for PSH to not conform to the costume of the movie if that was truly what they wanted him to wear. I think Effie and Cesar are AWESOME! They really made the movie for me. Overall, great job! I am really looking forward to the next two movies. Still not sure how they are going to take one book and split it into two, since I felt like the book was rushed to begin with, but I guess we shall see if they can truly pull it off.


The thing I hate most about books that are adapted into films is how they change things and they lose the real essence of the written word. This film doesn't do that, by leaving out the things that you've put in your "negatives" the film actually sticks to how the book is. I don't believe these are bad things about the film and to be fair they add to the suspense. And anyone that's read the books will have been able to see that. I know there's some people out there that won't have read them, but the film as a standalone is brilliant and the things that they omitted, like Peeta getting captured, just adds to the reality of the film being from Katniss' point of view.

Shaira Pats

HungerGames Catching Fire:


Certainly I was not the only one that noticed that Katniss had a touch of Legolas when it came to arrow availability. Sometimes she had as few as three and sometimes what looked like as many as seven. Using them did nothing coherent to diminish her supply which often then seemed to just increase. Actually in the Tolkien books even Legolas runs out of arrows, and in this movie it's ridiculous. I found it very distracting in a movie that I otherwise really liked. Paging continuity team!


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pissed off

You didn't even read the books. You didn't even read the summary. You f-cking suck at this, get fires or quit.

Ross Jones

I agree with your positives – and most of your negatives are reasonable, even if I disagree with some of them. However, I will restrict my comments to two substantive points where you are mistaken:

1. Picture of Rue on floor during the presentation of skills to the head gamekeeper and his assistants: True, in the book it is spelled out that Peeta drew the picture – and why. However, in the movie it is also obvious that he did it – he is existing the room as Katniss enters and gives her a meaningful look. That said, the book makes the meaning of the picture clearer but, I would hope, viewers would see it as Peeta showing his support to Katniss and, in general, all tributes.

2.Seneca Crane's replacement by Philip Seymour Hoffman's character: I will give you a pass on this one since, I would hope, that by now you remember it was pretty obvious at the end of the first move – with Seneca Crane being forced into a room with poisoned berries – that his choice was to eat the berries or be executed. So there was an obvious opening for a new gamekeeper for the 75th Hunger games :-)


Certainly I was not the only one that noticed that Katniss had a touch of Legolas when it came to arrow availability. Sometimes she had as few as three and sometimes what looked like as many as seven. Using them did nothing coherent to diminish her supply which often then seemed to just increase. Actually in the Tolkien books even Legolas runs out of arrows, and in this movie it's ridiculous. I found it very distracting in a movie that I otherwise really liked. Paging continuity team!


Well, I disagree on the most of the worst parts…I'm not a crazy fanboy, but I think this movie is close to perfection, of course it has some flaws, but they are so minor. I thought President Snow and Plutarch were chilling combination. For Seymor Hoffman- it's smart move to show him without Capitol looks, I think it actually deepens his character, making it more mysterious, which paid off in the end. I agree on the showing of tributes, it had a lot of potential, as well as showing deaths, which was a problem with the first movie too. As for the showing of revolution-I think it had to do with splitting Mockingjay in two, making it easiser to adapt the story of the third book, which simply doesen't have material for two movies. Anyway, it's probably better for the concept of the movie> 1. getting to know the world and the Hunger games, 2. beginning of revolution, game-changer moves, and 3. revolution itself


Absolute worst: the Coldplay song, thankfully it's over the credits so you can just walk out.


You guys are nuts, Amanda Plummer was easily the worst part of that movie and her "tick tock" scene was the worst thing in the movie by a mile.


Well…. at this point about Snow's Granddaughter you are completely wrong. It's necessary, I don't want to say spoilers, but at the end (4) will be important, not VERY important, but her presence now does have importance.

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