I can see the appeal for this type of film. Building on the Harry Potter franchise and its proof that there is a market for a book to film adaptation targeting the teenager to young adult market segment. There is clearly money to be made here, but is the Hunger Games the next Harry Potter?
No. Not even close, but it's not bad. The premise is actually very cool. It's based on a future world, a little apocalyptic or post-war, and teenagers representing the "sectors" (ie: good guys) fight to the death in honour of "the capitol" (read bad guys). It's got romance, action, drama, and some deep themes. But I think something has been lost in the film to book conversion.
While the book seems to be heavy on the character development, little actually happens. There isn't much content, but the films are long. Catching Fire alone is almost 150 minutes long! Too long for the content included.
The main problem with this movie is pacing, pacing, pacing, and although I would usually blame a director for pacing, here Francis Lawrence gets off with a warning (although ultimately a director is in charge of the entire film). The blame therefore lies with the three people comprising the writing team. Since Suzanne Collins (the book writer) is part of the team, I can see the problem. She wanted EVERYTHING in it... Well you just can't do that. That's why its called an adaptation; Paper and film are very different mediums!
The story is coherent, but it is just too stretched out to be compelling. The last hour is actually very entertaining, but unfortunately by that time you have lost many people with the boring buildup. Which brings up another problem, buildup. If used properly you have people on the edge of their seat when it all goes down! But used incorrectly, as it was here, you have a, "dude wake up, something finally is happening!" moment. Not ideal.
The acting is quite good. Definitely a strong performance from Jennifer Lawrence and Woody Harrelson. Runners up Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks put in notable performances as well. Weak characters / roles from Josh Hutcherson and Lenny Kravitz unfortunately are noticeable. They just seem very weak next to the seasoned / talented co-stars.
Art direction is excellent and very detailed. It's a little over-the-top for me, but I can imagine it was very close to the book. The colors of the capitol contrast excellently with the sectors.
Filming is sharp and of the highest quality. Great, but expected at a budget of $130 million... The VFX were inconsistent. At times great, matching seamlessly, and at other times (notably the fire on Jennifer Lawrence's outfit while ridding the chariot thingy). Honestly, inexcusable at the plus $100 million mark, tidy things up people!
Overall, I found this instalment much better than the first, but some critical writing / pacing issues hurt the film quite a bit. I am looking forward to the next one though as the ending to Catching Fire does leave you wanting more. Let's just hope that one is more exciting from the onset!