The sequel to “The Hunger Games” has taken an unusual and surprising step in the cinematic arena — it has surpassed the original. “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” burned through box office records starting with its opening 8 p.m. showings Nov. 21.
It had the largest November opening according to entertainment news site Deadline Hollywood, beating the previous record setter — “Twilight: New Moon” — by grossing more than 160 million.
Deadline Hollywood reports that not only did “Catching Fire” break the box office record for Thanksgiving Day with $14.9 million, but it also has had one of the most successful box office takes of the year, competing with movies like “Iron Man 3.”
The movie was also victorious with critics. It scored an 89 percent fresh rating on the movie information and review site Rotten Tomatoes and 75 out of 100 on the reviewing site Metacritic.
The story of “Catching Fire” begins shortly after the conclusion of the first “Hunger Games.” In the post-apocalyptic society of Panem, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark are the unprecedented co-victors of the brutal, children-killing-children Hunger Games.
Katniss quickly learns that winning the Games has only made her life more perilous. Many in the Districts — forced each year to offer 24 children up to the totalitarian Capitol — have begun to rebel, inspired by Katniss’ actions in the Hunger Games arena.
Jennifer Lawrence, now an Oscar-winning actress for her role in the “Silver Linings Playbook,” reprises her role as lead character Katniss. Josh Hutcherson returns as Peeta and Liam Hemsworth returns as childhood friend Gale Hawthorne.
Other notable actors, including Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland and Elizabeth Banks, also star, portraying allies and enemies.
These actors combine with a plot that never slows, stumbles or apologizes. Trimmed of the time delays and complications that flourish in a novel but bog down a film, the movie stays true to the book so closely it gives little cause for complaint. The slew of “Harry Potter” directors should be taking notes.
“Catching Fire” actually sported a different director from “The Hunger Games,” a change that concerned many fans considering the first movie itself adhered carefully to the books. Francis Lawrence — no relation to Jennifer Lawrence — did not disappoint in his handling of the adaptation though.
The intriguing thing about “The Hunger Games” series is that the Games themselves don’t start until at least halfway through the film.
This works, because while the Games do function as the main attraction, what grips moviegoers is the emotional grit, dilemmas and methods of survival that drive the film before, during and after the Games.
For all the darkness, the movie doesn’t lack spot-on comic relief, often courtesy of Banks’ portrayal as the victors’ guide, Effie Trinket. One of her foolishly delighted exclamations concerning Capitol fashion — “the library, all mahogany” — received laughter from the audience because it harkened back to a mahogany-obsessed remark she made in the first movie.
But at heart, “Catching Fire” is about consequences — it is about what happens after a reluctant rebel takes her stand and an entire nation witnesses it.
While Katniss always prioritizes her family’s safety, the movie makes it evident that ducking her head and trying to quell the rebellion just as the Capitol wishes may not protect those she loves any more than continuing to spark the anti-Capitol resistance.
As the second installment in a trilogy — granted, producers will split the final book into two movies — “Catching Fire” provides a lot of set-up for the grand finale in both character and plot development.
Regardless, it doesn’t feel like “set-up” or “filler” or “treading water.” The movie satisfies everything a well-executed story should, and it does so with flames and flair. ◼︎