The films of The Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth as the key members of the love triangle at the center of the plot between Katniss Everdeen (the girl on fire who managed to win the Hunger Games after volunteering for the fight-to-the-death contest in place of her little sister), Gale Hawthorne (the boy next door who Katniss has known all her life and who everyone, including herself, sees her as marrying) and Peeta Mellark (the rich kid who has been in love with Katniss since they were kids and was happy when he was forced to compete in the Hunger Games with her).
The cast is full of other well-known actors who do well in their pretty choice roles.
It includes Woody Harrelson as the irascible Haymitch Abernathy (who was a previous winner of the Hunger Games who lives in the same impoverished area, known as District 12, as Katniss, Gale and Peeta), Donald Sutherland (as the evil President Seneca Snow), Lenny Kravitz (as Katniss' personal stylist Cinna who expresses his politicaly subversive views through fashion) and Stanley Tucci (as the over-the-top television host Caesar Flickerman). In The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the newest addition to the cast is Philip Seymour Hoffman who plays Plutarch Heavensbee, the new designer of the Hunger Games, a key role
The Hunger Games series is much more politically oriented than that other young-adult series (Twilight) to which it is often compared and this starts to become clearer as the second installment unfolds although it is in the third book, Mockinjay, where most of the real political action occurs. That book is apparently being adapted to be not one but two movies, to be released in 2014 and 2015.
The film adaptation of Catching Fire is pretty effective, because the Other Half, who has not read the books and only saw the first movie at home on Netflix quite enjoyed it. The second film has a definitely different feel than the first one, which I presume is due to the change in director and not just the source material, although the two books are also very different.
The first book (and movie) have to spend a lot of time getting the audience prepared for the context of the depraved society of Panem where an autocratic Capitol oppresses 12 other Districts and punishes them for a failed rebellion by forcing them to send two children each to fight to the death. There's really no getting around the fact that this is a sick situation. It's made even more unbearable that the children are called "Tributes" and the Capitol tries to convince people that it's a great honor for the children involved who are about to be slaughtered and forces everyone in all the districts to watch the games when they are on. The one small bright spark is that the winner of the Hunger Games gets to live for the rest of their lives with their family with their every need being supplied by the wealthy Capitol.
In some sense, the second book is even more depraved because the twist here is that because it is the 75th Hunger Games there is a special twist that can be added to the Games every twenty-five years, called a Quarter Quell. SPOILER ALERT! (DO NOT READ THE NEXT SECTION IF YOU HAVE NOT READ THE BOOKS OR SEEN THE MOVIE YET!)
This 3rd Quarter Quell consists of the tributes being selected from previous winners of the Games! So after promising people that after killing 23 other kids that you would be safe from oppression you are being put back in the arena, most likely years after you are in your prime.
In the case of Katniss and Peeta, it is clear that President Snow and Plutarch Heavensbee just want another opportunity to be able to kill Katniss, who is becoming a symbol of resistance to the power and authority of the Capitol by the way she won the 74th Hunger Games.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire does an excellent job of again showing what a corrupt society the Capitol and also what an arbitrary and violent enterprise the Hunger Games is, although this time things are different because Katniss' notoriety has led people to want to be her ally in the games. In the end, you know that only one person can survive the Hunger Games and the fact that she is in their with Peeta, who clearly loves her, is quite emotionally upsetting.
If you have not read the books the end of the movie will be quite an interesting surprise to you, and I suspect the next film may be the best move in the franchise because some very important events happen in it, but for reasons I can not go in to now there are no actual "Hunger Games" in the next two Hunger Games movie, so it should be interesting to see how that aspect is dealt with.
Overall, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a surprisingly effective adaptation of the second book, Catching Fire, in The Hunger Games trilogy, especially buoyed by Jennifer Lawrence's star power and the emotional power of the underlying source material.
Title: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
Director: Francis Lawrence.
Running Time: 2 hours, 26 minutes.
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language.
Release Date: November 22, 2012.
Viewing Date: November 29, 2013.
Overall Grade: A-/A (3.83/4.0).