By Dylan (Canada)
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This movie has a lot of hype surrounding it, which means it has the potential to disappoint many people, especially fans of the book. Coming from someone who has read and enjoyed all three books, the movie did not disappoint, and in fact exceeded my already-high expectations with its pacing, acting, special effects and messages.

Under the direction of Francis Lawrence, who previously directed the 2007 film I Am Legend, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire could have been a very different film than the 2012 mega hit The Hunger Games, which was directed by Gary Ross. However, Lawrence was able to keep the same feel and tone set by the first film, and even improve on and develop the world of The Hunger Games, as all sequels should do. I liked the first Hunger Games, but I did not fall in love with it the way many people did, and I am happy to say that Catching Fire is definitely the better of the two films. It raises the stakes for our heroes, and is able to (however narrowly) avoid the “I’ve seen this all before” trap many sequels fall victim to.

The acting in this movie was for the most part, superb. Jennifer Lawrence, whom I like as an actress, gives one of her best performances ever as the young Katniss Everdeen. She is likable when she needs to be, but she can also be withdrawn, isolated, and sad, and she is able to pull all these off expertly. Josh Hutcherson was good in his role too, playing the likable Peeta Mellark. Donald Sutherland was great in his role, as the menacing President Snow. I think the first film was lacking the chops to make Snow a legitimate villain we love to hate. There was nothing about him that made me feel like I should not like him, and he was just there doing what he did. In Catching Fire, I could really feel that this guy is truly evil, and that he must be stopped.

The weak link in the acting is Liam Hemsworth as Katniss’ friend from District 12, Gale. While there’s nothing about him that’s bad, he doesn’t shine the way the other actors do, especially Jena Malone. Yes, Jena Malone as District 7 tribute Johanna Mason stole every scene she was in. She plays an intimidating, cunning, young woman who won the Games many years before, and who despises the Capitol (at this point, who doesn’t). One scene including her and Stanley Tucci was particularly funny.

A marked improvement over the first film was the special effects/CGI. Considering the budget for Catching Fire was considerably higher than that for The Hunger Games ($130 million as opposed to $80 million) Lionsgate Studios were able to put more money into special effects, which when used effectively, can pull you deeper into the film. Some scenes in the arena were astounding.

Catching Fire really shone throughout its first two acts, whereas in the book, I found the same segments to be quite slow and at times, boring. The pacing in the film was much faster than the book, and was able to keep an even tempo. The final 45 minutes did feel a bit rushed and served as a reminder of the requirement for film to fit a time constraint. Another thing I found with the final act of the film was that it was so much like the book, I felt as if I had already experienced it. For people who have not read the book, this will not be a problem, but for me, it was an irritating setback.

The ending is tricky to discuss. I won’t give out any spoilers, but when I read the book, the last few pages were a bit uneven storywise, and I had hoped the movie would have handled it better. In reality, the last few minutes of the movie were a bit uneven also. So much happens in the last few minutes, and the movie gives you the bare minimum information you need to know, and really leaves you hanging. From a marketing perspective, this tedious ending to the story is brilliant, as it leaves you desperately wanting more. As a result some may see the movie as incomplete.

Catching Fire greatly exceeds its predecessor, and while not perfect, will please fans of the book as well as casual audiences. It is a faithful adaptation of its source material, and serves as a bridge between the first and final installments (to come in November 2014 and 2015 respectively). Despite my assumption that some may see the ending as tedious I can’t deny that it sets up well for its sequel, which I will be there to see on opening night.

Rating: 8/10

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