Just as a warning, this review is not spoiler-free, so read at your own risk if you haven’t seen the movie yet!
Title: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss Everdeen), Josh Hutcherson (Peeta Mellark), Liam Hemsworth (Gale Hawthorne), Woody Harrelson (Haymitch Abernathy), Elizabeth Banks (Effie Trinket), Sam Claflin (Finnick Odair), Jena Malone (Johanna Mason), Lenny Kravitz (Cinna), Donald Sutherland (President Snow), Stanley Tucci (Caesar Flickerman), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Plutarch Heavensbee)
Director: Francis Lawrence
The Basics: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the second of what will be a four-film franchise based on Suzanne Collins’s trilogy of Young Adult novels. This installment focuses on Katniss Everdeen’s inadvertent role as the spark behind a revolution in the 12 districts of Panem after she defied the Capitol to keep herself and her partner, Peeta Mellark, alive in the 74th Hunger Games. While still plagued by crippling nightmares and PTSD after the Games, Katniss attempts to return to life back home in District 12 after a grueling Victory Tour, but a surprise twists sends her and Peeta back into the arena to fight amongst other former victors in the 75th Hunger Games. Catching Fire was my favorite book in Collins’s trilogy, and this film met even my high expectations. The special effects, the character development, and the chemistry between all of the major players was even better than it was in the first film in the franchise. And it doesn’t hurt to have Jennifer Lawrence leading the way with a performance as fearless and as faithful as any fan of Katniss could hope to see.
M.V.P. (Most Valuable Performer): Jennifer Lawrence was born to play the role of Katniss Everdeen. In the novels, everything we experience comes from Katniss’s point of view, but the films don’t have that luxury (and thank God we haven’t had to deal with cheesy voiceovers to make up for that fact). Somehow, though, Lawrence makes you feel every single one of Katniss’s emotions—from the most painfully open ones to the ones she hides even from herself. Lawrence acts with every fiber of her being; she’s such a physical actress—her whole body shakes with fear in one scene and rage in another, and she makes both feel so completely different from one another. Lawrence’s eyes are a character all on their own; pay special attention to the very end of the film when they are her only tool to convey what’s going on in Katniss’s head and heart, and marvel at how she makes you want to cry, cheer for, and even fear this girl on fire who has everything and nothing to lose. The Hunger Games franchise is Katniss Everdeen’s story, and it’s not a simple story to tell. It requires an actor whose fearless pursuit of honesty makes every moment she’s onscreen crackle with an intensity that dares you to look away all the while knowing you will never be able to take your eyes off her for a moment. Lawrence is such an actor—perhaps the best one of her generation.
Scene Stealer: Every member of the supporting cast of Catching Fire was wonderful, but I have to give special recognition to the actor who surprised me the most. That was Elizabeth Banks, who gave Effie so much depth and compassion in this film while still maintaining the same sense of overbearing propriety that made her such a strong source of comedic relief in The Hunger Games. Banks manages to bring both the laughs (another excellent “mahogany” reference) and the tears in this film. Her work in the reaping scene is incredibly powerful in its subtlety. The war waging in Effie between her need to maintain decorum and her overwhelming sadness at watching these people she’s come to care for go back into the arena has to stay just under the surface, but you can feel it in every second the camera spends focused on her tear-filled eyes. And her goodbye to Katniss and Peeta was one of the most moving moments in the film. Banks’s control over her emotions was brilliant, and it made those rare moments when Effie’s prim and proper exterior begins to crack all the more powerful. I didn’t care about Effie all that much while reading the books, but Banks makes it impossible not to care about this woman who has grown from an annoying symbol of the Capitol to a beloved member of a team bonded by love and loss.
Bring the Tissues? If you think the answer could possibly be “no,” then you have no idea what this series is about. The big emotional moments deliver with a breathless kind of power, but there’s a special kind of potency to the film’s smaller moments of love and friendship, too. A show of unity among the former victors, Peeta’s face when the Quarter Quell is announced, Haymitch hugging Katniss, and Peeta helping Katniss through her nightmares with a perfectly-delivered “Always”—each of those moments blindsided me with how much they moved me. And if you’ve read Mockingjay, some scenes will be almost brutally sad to watch because you know what’s coming for these characters in the next films. (I’m thinking especially of Peeta and Katniss’s last kiss and an early conversation they have about favorite colors.)
Most Memorable Scene: It was almost impossible for me to choose just one scene. I could have picked the District 11 Victory Tour scene for its emotional impact, the announcement of the Quarter Quell for the great performances put on display without any of the actors saying a word, the jabberjay scene for its ability to bring one of the most powerful scenes in the book to life, or the beach scene between Katniss and Peeta for its quiet intimacy. However, the scene that is still haunting me a day later was the scene between Katniss and Haymitch near the end of the film. I didn’t think anything could equal the power of that scene in the book, with Katniss trying to scratch Haymitch’s eyes out over his part in saving her and letting Peeta become a prisoner of the Capitol, but this scene matched it in every possible way. Lawrence astounded me with how fearlessly she attacked that moment; she made Katniss’s pain, grief, and anger so palpable it made me grip the armrests of my theater seat.
The whole film builds to this moment of Katniss lashing out in response to people controlling everything about her life, and it’s even more powerful because she’s lashing out at Haymitch, one of the only people she trusted. Lawrence makes you believe that losing Peeta has finally pushed Katniss over the edge; he was her anchor in this film, keeping her from getting lost in the darkness because she had someone to navigate that darkness with her. And now he’s gone, a prisoner of the Capitol because others—including Haymitch—deemed Katniss more important to save. The sense of betrayal Katniss feels knowing Haymitch left Peeta to die—or at least to be tortured—is so visceral, and it hurts even more because we understand it. The juxtaposition of that scene and the earlier beach scene puts everything into perspective; Katniss is the only one who needs Peeta, and when he’s gone (with Haymitch being partly responsible), she has no one left to trust. The absence of Peeta for mere moments has such a profound impact on Katniss, and it’s an impact that will reverberate through the rest of the series. To see both Lawrence and Woody Harrelson approach this brutal scene with such honesty was something special. It broke my heart, but it made me feel proud that such brilliant actors were bringing to life a book I love so much.
Strengths: The greatest strength of this franchise so far has been its casting, and it was perfect once again in Catching Fire. I have to single out the casting of Sam Claflin as Finnick and Jena Malone as Johanna as particular triumphs. Malone was electric in her role—from her impressive introduction to her irate interview and her gut-wrenching reveal that there is no one left in her life that she loves. That line was one of the strongest in the novel, and Malone delivered it in exactly the right way. And Claflin captured every nuance of Finnick’s character: his charm, his affection for Mags, his devotion to Annie, and his own desire to be more than just a piece in the Capitol’s games. Finnick is one of my favorite characters in the series, and from the moment Claflin delivered his poem to Annie with tears in his eyes while still trying to turn on his charm for the viewers, I knew the character was in great hands.
Malone and Claflin join a cast whose work in The Hunger Games was impressive, but whose work in Catching Fire is even better. And they’re all served by a director who understands how to showcase the best moments of a very cinematic novel. The pacing throughout this film was great. And there were so many moments that were adapted exactly as they appeared in the book—from the interviews before the Quarter Quell to the jabberjays and the cliffhanger ending. Lawrence trusts his actors, too, and it shows. A highlight of the film is the moment the Quarter Quell is announced, and we get to see Haymitch, Peeta, and Katniss’s reactions. Haymitch’s rage, Peeta’s desperation, and Katniss’s panic reach us without words, and that makes each emotion all the more affecting. Throughout the film, the actors are given room to breathe, react, and emote in very honest ways—the heart of this film never gets lost in the action, and that’s so important.
One of the most surprising strengths of this film is where its heart seemed to lie—with Peeta and his relationship with Katniss. The Hunger Games did a great job of building up who Katniss was, but it failed when it came to creating a compelling character in her fellow victor. In Catching Fire, however, Peeta feels like a real person. He’s been given so much more depth, and that gives his relationship with Katniss much more depth. Josh Hutcherson showed that he is the perfect Peeta when Peeta is actually given something to do. His love for Katniss feels genuine in this film, and it anchors the story with its surprising warmth (the scene about their favorite colors is still making me smile).
Lawrence and Hutcherson made me believe these two broken people need one another. From the opening with Katniss flashing back to the arena to the way they hold each other through their nightmares, this film makes a point to show that Katniss and Peeta understand each other on a level no one else can reach. And the strength of that connection was necessary in order to make the conclusion of the film feel so painful—to make us feel Katniss’s loss and our loss as well for the boy with the bread who went from being an accessory to Katniss’s story to a hero in his own right.
Weaknesses: No film adaptation of a novel is going to be completely perfect—especially not to someone who considers the novel one of her personal favorites. I missed getting more of Haymitch’s backstory. I still miss Madge. And I wish Katniss’s mother would have been shown as the competent healer she was in the books. I also still think some of the District 12 portion could have been cut, but maybe that’s just because I’m not a fan of love triangles.
Finally, I know it means a lot for Mockingjay, but the scene between Katniss and Prim rang false for me. I’m not a huge fan of the actress playing Prim, and I think putting her in an emotional scene with someone as talented as Lawrence just made her immaturity as an actress even more evident. She’s the weakest link in the cast, which is a shame because she’s so important to the story as a whole.
Final Verdict: If you liked The Hunger Games, you’ll love Catching Fire. Everything is even better this time around: the pacing, the character development beyond Katniss, and especially the performances. While the emotional impact of the first film in the franchise came from the horrors of the Games themselves, this film focuses more on the relationships between the characters and uses them to make an even stronger emotional impression by focusing on love and friendship as well as grief and trauma. Yes, this film has plenty of depressing moments, but it also has a surprising number of moments of warmth. It’s a movie I can’t wait to see again (and hopefully again and again).
Final Grade: A
Still haven’t had a chance to see it, but I am really looking forward to it. The Hunger Games is one of the best book series I have ever read, and it seriously fills me with rage when people dismiss it as a silly young adult novel. You might be able to dismiss the first book/movie as such, but the themes brought up in the second and third book are so much deeper and important, its great to hear that they are respecting and embracing the source material. I am sure i will have a long rambling post after I see the movie. And based on our mutual love for Emma Swan, our mutual love for Katniss is not surprising. I was always on Peeta’s side for the same reason I am on Hook’s side 🙂
You’re going to love this movie since you loved the series so much, and I can’t wait to read your thoughts about it after you see it! There are so many comparisons that can be drawn between Katniss and Emma Swan and between the love triangle in The Hunger Games and the one on Once Upon a Time—and I’m happy I’m not the only who sees them.
Just saw it today and totally agree with your assessment. I’ve actually only read the book once (and it was awhile ago) so a lot of the smaller plot points were kind of a fun surprise for me. Loved Jenna Malone and Sam Claflin, and like you said, the previous cast continues to impress, especially J Law, Elizabeth Banks, and Woody Harrelson. I also agree that Josh Hutcherson was given far more to play with in this movie and did a great job bringing that material to life. I also LOVED Phillip Seymour Hoffman in this; he gave a complicated character just the right amount of charm and cunning to keep you guessing if he was friend or foe. And honestly, he did keep me guessing right until the end because I completely forgot what happened with his character in the book! I walked out feeling like it was better than the first one, but that seems unfair since Hunger Games had to do all of the setup with casting, sets, tone, etc. But Catching Fire definitely impressed. Now I just need Mockingjay to get here!
Thanks for the comment, Becca! And I’m so happy you mentioned Philip Seymour Hoffman. He played such a complicated and deliberately ambiguous character so well. Like you said, he was surprisingly charming, and that made him even more interesting to me than he was in the book.
And I agree with you—I need Mockingjay to get here soon, even though I know my emotions won’t be able to handle so many things that are going to happen!
Needless to say, once all was said and done, I was excited for what’s next to come and that’s all that matters. Good review Katie.
I definitely have to agree with you – this movie was wonderful, not even just as a great movie, but as a true adaptation of the novel. I noticed that many of the lines/scenes were directly out of the book and I really enjoyed that they stuck so close to the written narrative. I’m definitely going to see Catching Fire again even if I have to go to the theater by myself lol.
Jennifer Lawrence was wonderful, and I think she’s perfect for the role. I loved her in the first movie, and I think she was even better in this film, especially with the range and complexity of the emotions she has to portray. I also agree with you about Elizabeth Banks – while in the books you sort of get the idea of the complexity beneath Effie’s surface, this movie gave her much more depth – you could feel the way that Effie is a bit ridiculous but uses that as a shield against the harsh reality of the world she lives in, at least when she’s conscious of it. Effie’s fondness for Katniss and Peeta and her line about how they both deserved better truly made her feel real despite some of her over-the-top silliness surrounding all the parties and Capitol fashions, etc.
The scene with Katniss lashing out at the end of the movie was so gripping – Lawrence really was wonderful in portraying Katniss’s anger, fear, grief, etc, at her realization. Her repeated words of “You promised me!” and “You’re a liar!” felt like a punch in the gut. Poor Katniss, who has been through so much and has had so much of her agency taken away, has once again been used like a pawn, even if it’s for the “right people.” For them to save her over Peeta, who she believes to be the best of all of them, truly hurt her. As an audience member/reader I also felt betrayed by Haymitch, especially after seeing how seemingly genuine the scenes where he promised her he’d help Peeta were. I think it shows you how sometimes “for the greater good” isn’t necessarily a good thing or a good enough excuse for your actions. I’ll expect Katniss to hold a grudge for a while now (like I will ;p).
Yes, the casting of Johanna and Finnick were perfect! Those two felt like the film had taken them right out of my head from how I had imagined them while reading the book. I am looking forward to probably learning more about Finnick in Mockingjay, and maybe more about Annie? (Sidenote – the Annie we saw in the film appeared to me to be a fair amount older than Finnick, which was weird for me, especially after having previously seen the actress who was playing her who looked fairly young, but perhaps it was just the short time she was on screen + the stressful situation that she was in at that moment that made her look older. I don’t know, I suppose I’ll find out later.)
I too agree with you on the weaknesses of the film. I’m not a fan of love triangles either, and the added kiss (that wasn’t in the books) between Gale and Katniss before she leaves for the Quarter Quell only serves to exacerbate probably the only annoyance I had with the book and the movie: the way that Katniss bounces back and forth between Peeta and Gale. That extra kiss gave her relationship with Gale more of a solidly-established-romantic-relationship feel, which in the books is not the situation at all – it is much more complicated and messy and undefined when she leaves. The scene with Prim also felt sort of tacked-on to me, and I felt like there wasn’t really anything new that was added to the movie that you didn’t get with Gale, other than to build up Prim’s character a tad for Mockingjay.
I left until the end to talk about my Peeta thoughts because I know how much I’m probably going to ramble about him lol. I felt that he was a sort of quiet hero throughout this book(/the series). Josh Hutcherson was great at portraying Peeta’s emotions often only through his facial expressions, and there were so many moments where I felt for Peeta. (Here, have a list lol)
The first section of the movie:
When he takes Katniss’s place by Gale’s side and just looks at her for a moment, resigning himself to being second choice and having to live with never truly having her heart while they keep up this charade of marriage etc. When he realizes that they need to get engaged and it won’t be real even though he wants it to be (which I wish they’d had Haymitch comment on in the movie like he does in the books, but oh well, we can’t have everything lol). When Peeta was so good with Katniss while saying he couldn’t keep being lovers on screen and not even friends in real life, thus still giving her the space she needed while trying to connect with her. His staying with her during the nightmares. When he sees the announcement of the Quarter Quell being a victors-only reaping, and he’s all alone in that house (my poor bb; I don’t have a clue where his family has gone lol), and yet despite his despair/panic/etc he still goes to Haymitch (probably just about right away) to make sure that Haymitch will keep Katniss alive over him. When he volunteers for Haymitch at the Reaping I cried, because here he is, having already gone through the games and been scarred by it to the point where he has nightmares, and yet he chooses to go back in because he wants to be with Katniss and to keep her safe and have her not be alone/friendless in the arena. That was probably one of my favorite scenes because Josh portrayed all of that perfectly with his expression and body language in his insistence that he was going in with Katniss and nothing could stop him from doing so.
In the arena:
Peeta’s joking with Katniss after he was the one that had his heart stopped. His attempts to comfort her during the jabberjay scenes, where he was almost leaning through the barrier to try to get her to focus on him and tune out the birds, and then how he comforted her after the hour was up. The whole locket scene was lovely and also made me sad when he said no one needed him (but Katniss’s “I do, I need you” made my heart all warm and fuzzy). And his and Katniss’s last kiss that was so sweet and said “stay safe” without them saying the actual words.
Basically, during this movie I started to wonder if Peeta had taken over as my favorite character of the series lol. I have to say though that it probably has to be a tie for Katniss and Peeta, since I love them both so much. And now I can’t wait to see the movie again and focus on all the details I missed on my first watch! 😀
SORRY THIS IS SO LONG. I had a lot of thoughts apparently :p
I love when you leave me long, feelings-inducing comments! And if we lived anywhere near each other, I would go see this again with you in a heartbeat!
There are so many great points you made here, especially for not having finished Mockingjay yet! I can’t wait for you to find out more about Finnick and Annie because it will make everything Sam Claflin did in this movie—all of the subtlety and sadness—even more impressive.
You know I agree with you about love triangles, and you are definitely in the majority of not liking that last kiss between Katniss and Gale. I’m kind of indifferent towards it myself; it felt like a goodbye more than anything else, and I think Katniss was saying goodbye to so many things when she kissed him. For Katniss, Gale represents her past, who she was before the Games. She wants to love him because she wants to be who he still sees her as—a tough, stubborn, brave fighter who isn’t broken beyond repair by what happened to her in the arena. But I think this movie did a great job of showing that Katniss isn’t that girl anymore; she can never go back to who she was before, and the only one who understands who she is now—the only one who can love her for everything she is—is Peeta because he went through all of it, too. I don’t like love triangles, but I appreciate that one extra kiss is all we got in terms of playing it up. I was worried that Francis Lawrence was going to run with the love triangle plot, but it was kept as a secondary story, where it belongs, and I was pleasantly surprised.
There’s so little I can add to your excellent rundown of all of Peeta’s important moments except to say this: You are 100% correct; he is very much a hero in this story, and it makes me sad that people write him off as weak or merely part of a love triangle. I’m so happy this film made him feel like the character I fell in love with in the books—charismatic, funny, selfless, and strong. This version of Peeta—this brave boy who would do anything to keep Katniss safe and asks for nothing from her in return—reminded me why, by the end of the Quell, it’s clear that Katniss loves him in a way that’s not for the sponsors, the Capitol, or Snow. She needs him, and I love that this film showed us exactly why that is.
I FINALLY got to see it! I have to say, that a day later, I am still trying to process everything. So much happened. When I walked out at the end I was mostly filled with a kind of anxious tension. I cant say I “Loved it!” but I feel like these movies aren’t meant to be “loved” in the traditional sense, they are there to make you think and feel emotions, even if those emotions aren’t happy ones. After all, these aren’t happy books either. The reason I consider hunger games one of the best book series I have read is not because you feel happy and euphoric about life after, because they dont. What left me in awe was that when I was finished, I went around in a depressed melancholy stupor for a week. I NEEDED to talk about it. I felt like I had at least 10 college essays floating around in my head at once. I had never had a book have an impact on me like that before. If only NGN had been there for me 3 years ago…
So yes, I am having a hard time figuring out how I felt about the movie. There was just scene after scene flashing before me, all of which was familiar, but I feel like it never slowed down long enough for me to process what was happening. I am not sure if you have seen ‘Ender’s Game’ but I felt the same way about it. Almost like reading in Fast Forward.
My boyfriend, who hadn’t read the book, said the first half of the movie was “too stiff” for him. He said it felt like a bunch of random scenes just stuck one after another, and the line reading was monotone. I think he has a point. They jumped from scene to scene with a very minor thread of the victory tour to string them together. And the parts with Prim and Gale were just too short to have any real emotional impact. This leads me to that extra Gale kiss. It rang very false to me and didnt seem to fit with Katniss as a character at that point in the story (I assume if it did it would have been in the book). Katniss made it clear in the woods that she just isnt thinking about romance and she wishes things were different. It makes sense for Gale to kiss her, but I wish they would have left it at that.
I feel like I needed more time getting to know the characters (even though I already know them well!). The parts of the movie that really shone for me were the ones that showed the changing sentiment of all the characters. The unrest in the districts, Effie’s growth, the brokenness of the other victors (I really liked this aspect), and of course the relationship between Peeta and Katniss. I really wish they would have spent more time on these things. Yes, we have the book to fill in a lot of this, but a movie shouldnt need the book to be impactful have a clear narrative.
Once they make it to the arena every scene where they are outrunning poisonous fog or baboons was time I wish I could have traded for more character development. That scene with the fog was really drawn out and not really that important. I would have traded that to have extra time for Peeta and Katniss bonding. I would have loved to hear Peeta’s full account of the wedding ceremony, but the baby reveal was just so perfect that it was easily forgiven. I also would have loved to see a little bit more of Peeta’s anguish when they decided to get married. I mean, here is this guy, and you know marriage means a great deal to him, and he is basically accepting at that moment that he is never going to have a life that isnt manipulated by the capital (something Katniss figured out long before). I see that as Peeta’s biggest sacrifice in the whole book, and I just wish they spent a little more time on it.
I know this is starting to sound like I hated this movie, but honestly I did enjoy it, and I know I will like it more the second time I see it. Its always a treat to see some of your favorite book scenes come to life. The cast was great, and I absolutely LOVED Joannah and Finnick. I especially loved those moments when you could see Katniss starting to respect and like Joannah. And of course Jennifer and Josh killed it.
I also have to say the closing shot of Katniss’ eyes was amazing. That change from confusion to grief to anger and determination all conveyed in her eyes is just dumbfounding in its execution. Bravo. Sadly, they had to go and ruin that closing shot with that fiery graphic before the credits. I thought it killed Jen’s amazing acting.
I am really interested to see what they do with the next movies. There is going to be a lot that needs to be filled in since Katniss’ awareness of what is happening is so limited. I am not even sure I can say I am looking forward to the next movies, because I know whats to come, and its gonna hurt. Luckily I will have a place to come talk about it 🙂
I’m so sorry it took me this long to respond, Shauna, but let me start by saying that I love this comment so much because I can feel your passion for this series just jumping through my computer screen. 😀
I agree with everything you said about the series being one that demands to be discussed. I was so lucky to be reading it at the same time as a coworker who also loves in-depth discussion about the media, but it would have been even better if I would have had a place like this back then to sort through all of my thoughts. Thankfully, the movies are reawakening my need to analyze and talk about this series, so hopefully there will be some more Hunger Games essays/posts in the near future over here (especially while all of my TV shows are on hiatus!).
I, too, felt the beginning of the movie was a little disjointed, but I knew I wasn’t going to love the first part. Catching Fire is my favorite book in the trilogy, but that’s because of all the stuff after the Quell is announced, if I’m being honest. The first half of the book was problematic, so I think the movie did the best it could with adapting the source material.
And, like you, my favorite moments were the moments of real character development—especially when it was unexpected (like Effie). That’s where my problem with Gale and Katniss’s relationship in this film stems from—it didn’t build enough to the point where that last kiss felt necessary. I understand that it was more of a goodbye than anything else, but the scene would have functioned just fine without it. In the books, Katniss specifically said she didn’t have time to think about kissing, and I wish that would have been reflected in this scene because it’s one of her defining character moments in the whole series, in my opinion.
I’m looking forward to how they handle Mockingjay when so much of the book happens inside of Katniss’s head. It’ll be a challenge to adapt some parts, but I’m so thankful that they have Jennifer Lawrence at the helm of this great character because I never fear that at least she’ll do everything she can to make Katniss’s thoughts visible to us in a way that feels natural and believable.
OK, this film had a high threshold to meet, especially because I was so horrifically disappointed in the ending of Hunger Games and the complete marginalization of both Peeta’s character and in doing so destroying any indication of Katniss’ loyalty to Peeta. For me Catching Fire had a lot of ground to make up and I am happy to say they did so in great form and with solid faith to the second book. My favorite aspect of the second book is the arena and it did not disappoint. I thought to myself as I watched the training sessions and film unfold how much it reminded me of the leap of difference in technical/visual effects from the first to second film (all hail bigger budgets). It was a similar feeling I had when seeing Empire Strikes Back after Star Wars. While this film was visually lush and stark in its color palate between District 12 and the arena itself. I was pleased to see the film use all its facilities to bring me in as a viewer. The film does a great job with reaction shots and conveying context where there wasn’t dialogue in the book. I enjoyed the knowing nods to the fact that a plot amongst the tributes was at hand. It was subtle enough that if you hadn’t read the novels you’d likely miss it and pronounced enough for those of us who have to fill in the gaps of storytelling that essentially play out in Katniss’ mind.
That leads me to Lawrence. I am a fan since seeing Winter’s Bone. Her ability to tap into emotion with every aspect of her body and posturing has given Katniss empathy and for me depth I think she lacks at times in the books. As a matter of fact, throughout reading the books I often needed to remind myself — this girl is 17. In the film Lawrence manages to balance the ignorance/naivete that drives decision making at that age without it feeling insolent. It’s a fine line that Katniss walks both in her emotional immaturity and reluctance to being thrust into a set of circumstances that were well beyond her choosing. In Lawrence’s hands she comes across as decisive in her convictions about her family, conflicted about her emotions with Peeta because they are directly tied to the Games and defiant in her disdain for being a part of the ‘show’ that has made her a pawn. Lawrence’s portrayal I think actually gives Katniss a level of depth that she lacked in the books. I root for Katniss in a way I didn’t while I read them. I root for her because I believe she is fighting against being controlled or becoming a victim of circumstance. That’s a part of Katniss I didn’t think shined through until Mockingjay when I was reading the books.
I so wholeheartedly agree with you about Elizabeth Banks. She was a revelation to me in this movie. I don’t know her acting well at all and she brought a sincerity to Effie that didn’t exist in the books. Her moments at the reaping and on the train especially gave Effie something more in the schematic of this system. Instead of being resigned to appearing irrelevant or pathetic Banks performance gave Effie a true sense of remorse to what the Quarter Quell meant and how it directly impacted not only her, but her entire perspective. It was a quietly heartbreaking piece that was beautiful in its depiction and added a wonderful layer to the storytelling.
As for the story. I must admit I was impressed at the films ability to make up the lost ground around Peeta and to really build out his character to the one I became so attached to in the book. Hutchinson did such a great job of giving us the array of emotions Peeta goes through in reconciling his love for Katniss, accepting it was not going to be reciprocated while overcoming the hurt of being like her, a pawn in a larger game. You mentioned part of the reason Katniss’ needs Peeta is because no one can understand her like he does. I thought the film did a great job of giving us that reality. Peeta’s character is selfless within a story of selfish acts. The only other truly selfless act is when Katniss volunteers in Hunger Games. I was so angry in the first film that they downplayed Peeta in order to keep Gale relevant or on a level playing field. I was grateful for the fact that they found the balance to let us understand Katniss’ loyalty and love for Gale wasn’t an either/or to her loyalty to Peeta. That’s the evolution we see Katniss go through and what makes the beach scene so critical. One of the most powerful moments in the book that brought Peeta and Katniss together was their skills presentation. I thought the film did a terrific job of staying on Lawrence and watching her go through the emotions of shock and despair to solidarity in understanding Peeta was someone she could trust and who understood her better than she understands herself at times.
I agree with you as well that the final scenes between Lawrence and Harrelson were gut wrenching. In a film that had a good deal of emotional highs this build up and betrayal was hollowing for Katniss and I believed every minute of it. The anger, the hate, the utter sense of being alone with no one to trust and ultimately the steeled resolve to not be the pawn and to seek vengeance against those who had taken from her.
I was pleasantly surprised at how suspenseful the film was in spite of having the knowledge of plot points from the books. I was dying inside in the run up to Cinna’s capture and bludgeoning from the moment she twirled in the dress. I also thought the entire sequence about the 1/4 Quell announcement was devastating. The reaction shots, but especially when Katniss comes to Haymitch and he quickly says you could live 100 years and not be worthy of him. It’s almost a throwaway line in the movie, but it was the absolute piece that set the table for Mockingjay. Knowing what comes next did raise the emotional response I had to the character interactions and I think you hit it on the head that because of it, the scene with Prim rings very hollow at best, and a touch false at worst. It is unfortunate given Prim’s role in Mockingjay. But Prim was never a character I felt was important to the overall story short of being the catalyst for the series of events that drive Katniss’ character.
As someone who preferred Mockingjay over Catching Fire I am very encouraged by where we are left for the films. I have a hard time thinking through where they are going to break Mockingjay in half to create two films but I think that the casting for the additional characters was strong this outing, especially Joanna and Finnick which bodes well for the upcoming two films. However at the heart of this story is a coming of age film. It is the self discovery journey of Katniss Everdeen within the constructs of a dystopia. It is the story of how we chose to define ourselves. Do we do so through our fears, the expectations of others or through the acceptance of the circumstances life has given us? Katniss’ journey is about not giving way to any of those things but to carve out a reality that is of her choosing and to come to an acceptance not only of herself, but the consequences of what those choices reap. Catching Fire did a solid job of setting up that journey and in doing so gives us an intriguing set of subplots for it to unfold in. For as much as I wasn’t sold after the first film, the second has left me greatly anticipating the 3rd and 4th installments.
I love this entire comment—everything you said resonated with me. While I liked the first film well enough (mainly because of the casting), this film brought so much more to the table in terms of creating a strong adaptation that even improved upon various parts of the source material. What they managed to do with Peeta and his relationship with Katniss in this film impressed me so much because I, like you, was incredibly disheartened by the way their relationship and Peeta himself as a character were treated in the first film. In Catching Fire, you could actually see not just what Katniss means to Peeta but what Peeta means to Katniss—to her stability, her sanity, and her sense of self. That’s such an important thing to establish before Mockingjay, and I’m still thrilled almost a month later at just how right it was.
I also echo your thoughts on Lawrence. I was rereading Mockingjay last week, and it struck me that this has been one of those very rare experiences where I prefer a character on film rather than on the page. Lawrence brings such steel but also such vulnerability to this role. In the books, I could never quite make the leap from caring about Katniss to really feeling for her, but I feel every emotion in Lawrence’s performance when she’s onscreen. She acts with such a raw, visceral, completely physical power, and I continue to love her in everything I’ve ever seen her in (which I’m sure will continue when I see American Hustle this weekend).