Much is riding on The Hunger Games: Catching Fire when it hits theaters on November 22. All signs are pointing towards a sure-fire hit. Estimates project a weekend box office of $175 million domestically. But is incoming director Francis Lawrence able to please fans and a wider audience after Gary Ross’ excellent Hunger Games?

The answer, in short, is yes. The story follows Katniss as she embarks on the Victory Tour where she notices signs of a rebellion slowing taking shape. After President Show requests she help calm the Districts down, our hero learns that she and Peeta will be heading back into the Games for the Quarter Quell where they’ll face off against other “all-experienced killers.”

If you ask readers how they would rank The Hunger Games book trilogy, the vast majority who we talk to say the first was best, the second was second best, and third was the worst. That must be a daunting fact for producer Nina Jacobsen and Francis Lawrence who will be carrying the four-part film series to the end. They’ll have to keep the story interesting and clean up mistakes that Collins made in her books. Namely, the pacing of the story and the messiness of Mockingjay’s final battle.

Fans and the producers can rest easy until next year, at least. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a leaner, meaner version of its source material.

catching-fire-full-page-katniss-caesar

Leaner: Numerous chapters in the book are not in the movie. Like in The Hunger Games, Madge is completely absent from Catching Fire. Darius, Maysilee, Bonnie, and Twill are gone too. It’s only at the very end that Katniss learns of District 13’s existence. Specifically, chapters 9, 10, and 11 of the book are completely removed. Most of chapter 12 is out except for the very end where we see the Quarter Quell announcement.

Instead of this (arguably) slow area of the book, we jump straight from Gale’s whipping to his recovery and then the Quarter Quell announcement. Another example of a cut: There’s no scene where Katniss and Peeta watch Haymitch’s Games.

Meaner: In some areas, the film’s story is more gruesome than what you see in the book. A pre-Games scene depicts Peacekeepers entering District 12 and causing havoc for no apparent reason. This leads Gale to attack one of the Peacekeepers which is why he gets whipped (in the book, he gets whippings for poaching). In addition, Katniss’ goodbye to District 12 is very dramatic in the film whereas in the book she departs without making any commotion. Scenes like these emphasize the danger of the Capitol. During the presentation to the Gamemakers, Katniss actually sees Peeta’s painting of Rue (in the book she does not), which appears to set her off and inspire the hanging of Seneca Crane.

By making the story leaner and meaner, the story becomes a Hollywood epic. Clocking in at 2 hours and 26 minutes, we were actually surprised by how fast the story moves when you consider that it’s one of the longest movies you’ll see this year.

Acting with the heat turned up

Havensbee and Haymitch in 'Catching Fire' Catching Fire’s quick pace can be credited to the aforementioned plot cuts as well as stellar acting from a wide variety of cast members. The two standout roles in this film are from returning stars: Stanley Tucci who plays Caesar Flickerman and Woody Harrelson who plays Haymitch Abernathy. The two bring unique performances that make you think about how lucky producers were to snag both of these stars in the first place. Tucci in particular seems to have brought his portrayal of the tribute interviewer to a new level. His timing, dialogue, passion, and body language deliver some of the most pleasing acting you’ll see in the entire film. Meanwhile, Harrelson uses Haymitch’s drunkenness to bring comic relief into moments where you may least expect it even though his reason for drinking is quite depressing.

All around, the cast is stellar. Donald Sutherland’s President Snow has a cool temper as he winds down the Districts and gets into Katniss’ head. New roles have equally excellent actors. Sam Claflin’s Finnick surprised us with his charm and smooth attitude. Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Plutarch Heavensbee matches the stern and professional atmosphere Snow brings. Jena Malone’s Johanna Mason is exactly as she reads in the books.

The roles of Katniss, Peeta, and Gale have been brought to a new level thanks to the darker story and a second opportunity for stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and Liam Hemsworth to portray their characters. Lawrence in particular has become completely engulfed in Katniss and belts out raw emotion during several scenes like the attack by the peacekeepers on Cinna.

Line-by-line, a loyal transformation

Several lines that you hear in the movie are word-for-word what you’ll find in the book if you go back and compare like we did after watching.

Cinna in 'Catching Fire'Examples of Collins’ words being brought to the screenplay:
– Gale after kissing Katniss: “I had to do that. At least once.”
– Haymitch to Katniss about Peeta: “You can live a hundred lifetimes and not deserve him, you know.”
– Katniss to Finnick: “I don’t like jewels and I have more money than I need,” and Finnick’s “I haven’t dealt in anything as common as money for years.”
– Cinna: “I just want you to look straight ahead, as if the entire audience is beneath your notice,” and Katniss’ “Finally something I’ll be good at.”
– Johanna: “Make him pay for it” to Katniss in regards to making her wear the wedding dress.
– Cinna to Katniss: “Remember Girl on Fire, I’m still betting on you.”

If things weren’t word for word, the transfer of scenes from book to screen worked in most cases. For example, Effie drives hard the “team” theme between her, Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch as seen in the books and you can’t help but feel like you’re a part of their group. Another example: Plutarch and Katniss have a talk at the Capitol party, but the Gamemakers’ watch with the mockingjay is not seen. Instead, he drops a verbal hint to Katniss about where his loyalties lie. For a wider audience it may be a better hint and less confusing than a glimpse at his watch.

Additions to the film further enhance Catching Fire in unexpected ways. Effie makes a reference to mahogany which isn’t found in the book but will please fans who loved the line in the first book and movie. President Snow’s granddaughter is introduced and she takes a liking to Katniss which naturally must enrage the Capitol leader. And in one of the funniest moments in the movie, Haymitch is present while Johanna strips in front of Katniss and Peeta in the elevator (in the book, the mentor is not there). While the boys ogle at what’s happening right before them, Jennifer Lawrence offers perhaps one of her most JLaw-esque reaction faces that you’ve come to love her for on red carpets.

A whole new world thanks to IMAX

Our Catching Fire screening took place in an IMAX theater. The Games were shot using IMAX cameras, and as soon as the tournament starts, the screen in your IMAX theater will open to reveal a taller picture. This unique feature lends itself to the scope of the jungle and the gorgeous beach (Hawaii). You really feel like you’ve entered the jungle with Katniss and company. When the Games end, the screen shrinks back down to “normal” size and it’s almost jarring after getting accustomed to the larger view.

A sense of ‘Mockingjay, Part 0’

The final shot in 'Catching Fire'We think there’s an issue with how this film plays into the four-part series on a whole. The climax arrives at the same time as it does in the book when Katniss shoots the arrow at the forcefield and breaks down the system (By the way, Finnick feeds her the “Remember who the enemy is” line. She hears it earlier from Haymitch, but she needs a reminder from someone else.).

The end of the story moves at a pace that is quicker than what you’ll find in the book, and it’s because of this faster rate of motion that we were left feeling like Catching Fire is one big introduction to Mockingjay.

Why is this a problem? Mockingjay is being split into two movies, and by the end of this series we’re going to have essentially two prequels to the grand Mockingjay, Part 2 finale. To us, it felt like the story needed a bigger climax and some resolution so that we’re not left hanging for two movies in a row.

We are not letting this affect our overall impression of the film because it’s loyal to the original story. Put simply: The sudden ending of the Games and then the cut to black a few minutes later – coupled with how quick this film moves – made us crave more.

Conclusion

It’s not easy for a film franchise to keep the momentum going from one film to the next. We can say with confidence that Francis Lawrence has pulled off an amazingly worthy follow-up to The Hunger Games. The 20-month wait between the two films is made worth it thanks to the speed, action, dialogue, and acting you’ll encounter while diving deeper into a rebellion with Katniss. All we can do now is be happy that we only have a 12-month wait between the remaining two films.

Grade: A-

The good: Fast-paced storytelling, dialogue fans will eat up, and beautiful visuals thanks to better special effects when compared to The Hunger Games.

The bad: Little sense of resolution, some romantic moments that only YA-lit lovers will appreciate.

Rated: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire opens in theaters on November 22, 2013. Purchase your tickets now!

Look forward to our exclusive interview with Jeffrey Wright (Beetee) next week.

Moviegoers may be getting the Spidey we’ve all been hoping for! A new report reveals that Sony’s animated Spider-Man movie, set to hit theaters in 2018, will focus on the Miles Morales Spidey.

Update (January 18, 2017): Sony Animation confirmed on Wednesday, January 18 that their animated Spider-Man movie will star Miles Morales!

Read full article

Moviegoers may be getting the Spidey we’ve all been hoping for! A new report reveals that Sony’s animated Spider-Man movie, set to hit theaters in 2018, will focus on the Miles Morales Spidey.

Update (January 18, 2017): Sony Animation confirmed on Wednesday, January 18 that their animated Spider-Man movie will star Miles Morales!

Original story (May 2016): Heroic Hollywood, who has a good record of breaking superhero news, is the source behind the exciting development. As was previously announced, the animated Spider-Man movie will be produced by LEGO Movie helmers Phil Lord and Chris Miller. The duo are also set to direct the Star Wars Han Solo spinoff for Lucasfilm.

Who is Miles Morales? As we wrote in a lengthy tell-all about the character last year:

Miles Morales is the current Spider-Man in Marvel’s Ultimate Comics series. Introduced in 2011, Miles is a black-hispanic young man who, like Peter Parker, is a talented scientist and self-proclaimed nerd. However, unlike his predecessor, Morales steps into the superhero’s shoes at the surprisingly young age of 13.

Raised in Brooklyn, Miles was born into a family plagued by criminal activity. Before settling down with his wife Rio, Miles’s father Jefferson used to be crime partners with his brother Aaron (Miles’s uncle). However, where Jefferson tried to shrink away from the lifestyle, Aaron continues to embrace it — assuming the role of classic Marvel villain the Prowler. After pulling off a heist on Oscorp, Aaron unknowingly takes a genetically modified spider home with him. It is at Aaron’s house that Miles is bit by the spider and starts the transformation into Spider-Man.

Where Peter Parker relished the opportunity to become spidey, Miles is reluctant to enter the world of vigilantism. What’s more, his family’s criminal history causes him to question whether or not he can ever be a hero, or if evil is hardwired into him.

Oh, and one other cool thing about him: The guy is immortal, unlike the Peter Parker version of Spider-Man.

Related: Who is Miles Morales? We explain everything

The rumor mill was alive with chatter about the MCU’s Spidey being the Miles Morales version last year, but obviously those reports never panned out. The Peter Parker version of Spider-Man was introduced in Captain America: Civil War, played by Tom Holland. He’s getting his own spinoff film, Spider-Man: Homecoming, next year.

Telling the Miles Morales story on screen may be just the thing the animated Spider-Man movie needs in order for it to draw people into the theaters in December 2018. We’ve had enough Peter Parker stories!

2018 will be a great year for super hero diversity: Marvel’s Black Panther starring Chadwick Boseman will be released a few months earlier.

‘The Space Between Us’ set report: What if a human was born on Mars?

Hypable visited the set and spoke to the film's stars.

12:00 pm EST, January 17, 2017

Could a human be born on a distant planet and later survive on earth?

It’s not only a premise that the upcoming science fiction tale The Space Between Us asks, but a real question and concern that people at NASA have considered as well.

Inspired by his son’s obsession with Mars, and the kernel of an idea from another writer he works with, film producer Richard Lewis picked up the phone and posed the question to members of NASA.

Read full article

Could a human be born on a distant planet and later survive on earth?

It’s not only a premise that the upcoming science fiction tale The Space Between Us asks, but a real question and concern that people at NASA have considered as well.

Inspired by his son’s obsession with Mars, and the kernel of an idea from another writer he works with, film producer Richard Lewis picked up the phone and posed the question to members of NASA.

He never would’ve guessed what was going to happen when he spoke to them.

“I called a group of NASA scientists and said, ‘So what would happen if an astronaut turned out to be pregnant on a flight to Mars?’ and there was just silence on the other end of the call. And they said, ‘Are you listening to our phone calls?’ I said, ‘No, I’ve never spoken to you in my life.’ And they said, ‘It’s going to happen, and we don’t know what to do.'”

That was when he teamed up with screenwriter Allan Loeb and started fleshing out an answer. “I thought, wow, that’s the beginning of an interesting story.” Lewis even worked with his father, a heart specialist, to examine how that muscle would develop differently on Mars, and aspects of this research became a big part of the story.

The Space Between Us is an interplanetary adventure following a human boy named Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield) born on the distant red planet. His mother, an astronaut, only realized she was pregnant with Gardner after leaving on her mission to colonize Mars.

Once Gardner reaches his teenage years he becomes interested in leaving East Texas (yep, on Mars) and returning to the home of his species. Not only is he curious about Earth, but Gardner has also fallen for a girl named Tulsa who’s literally tens of millions of miles away in the state of Colorado. The two met online and can relate over their outsider perspectives.

There’s just one problem: Tulsa doesn’t realize that Gardner is literally living on Mars.

Hypable visited the Albuquerque, New Mexico set of The Space Between Us starring Butterfield, Robertson, and Gary Oldman in late October 2015. On the day we visited, Asa, Britt, and crew were at the tail end of their 37-day shooting schedule which took them through New Mexico, Las Vegas, and Malibu.

It was Day 31, and indoor and outdoor shoots were taking place at Highland High School located in the southeast quadrant of Albuquerque. Since it was a weekday, real classes were in session as Asa and Britt shot outdoor scenes.

The real students who walked by the production had mixed reactions. Some watched and Snapchatted the excitement, while others passed by as if a Hollywood production wasn’t filming right before their eyes. Later in the day, after the real students went home, production moved inside the school to shoot a scene where Gardner and Tulsa meet in person for the first time. It’s one of the more touching moments in the movie.

Earlier, Asa walked into our press tent carrying a drone in tow. He had recently purchased it to try and capture aerial footage for fun, and was learning how to operate it in between filming his scenes.

Both the aerial device and Gardner struggle to deal with Earth’s gravity.

When asked how he handles playing a character who has never been on Earth before, Asa describes it as a very unique experience. “It’s hard to put yourself in that kind of position because we [as humans] are so experienced in the world, and to completely strip all that back and be absolutely in awe at everything you see — a tree, a doorman — everything’s interesting,” he says.

space-between-us-asa-britt

Tulsa (Britt Robertson) experiences zero gravity with Gardner (Asa Butterfield).

Living on Mars your whole life doesn’t mean you’re missing hormones, so girls are also of interest in Gardner. On the relationship between his character and Tulsa, Asa tells us, “They both have this longing desire for being somewhere. Belonging somewhere. Tulsa’s been jumping around through various foster homes, she’s never really settled anywhere. Gardner spends his life on Mars. No one knows he exists. They’re kind of united by this experience.”

“He’s an alien, and she’s an alien, and this is the journey of the story,” Lewis tells us. “Watching these two characters connect, and the disconnects, the misunderstandings, and then ultimately they have a connection.”

Those good and bad connections were present in the scene we observed, which finds Gardner surprising Tulsa in her school hallway. As someone who is tough and reserved, Tulsa is understandably frustrated by Gardner’s sudden appearance. The two still haven’t communicated well with one another — Adorably, Tulsa is unaware that when he says he’s from “East Texas” he means the establishment on Mars.

With Gardner now on earth, the two begin to form a close bond as the Mars-born boy tries to discover his roots.

Co-starring in the movie is Gary Oldman, whose character originally organized the trip to Mars. He wasn’t on set the day we visited, but the actor has a very important role in the movie.

The Space Between Us opens in theaters February 3, 2017.

‘Rogue One’s’ best scene doesn’t involve the heroes

It's a nameless character who saves the day.

8:15 am EST, January 17, 2017

Among the many exceptional scenes in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, one of the most poignant ones doesn’t even involve any of the main heroes.

Rogue One  is full of memorable moments, some breathtaking, some endearing in the way we’ve come to expect from Star Wars, and all full of an epic sense of the lengths people will go to in the name of hope. It also stands out because of its representation, with a female main character and a diverse cast of supporting characters. But it’s the scene almost at the very end that makes its story truly unique.

It takes place after Jyn Erso and her band of rebels have already completed their mission, and the Death Star plans that they have given their lives to procure are being physically carried through the Profundity by a single individual, while the ship is under attack. Close at his heels is Darth Vader, finally revealed in all his lightsaber-wielding, terrifying glory, killing rebel soldiers left and right. The door jams in front of the man holding the plans, with only a slight gap left open – just enough for him to fit an arm through and frantically get the device to one of the fleeing rebels on the other side, knowing fully that this is the last action he’ll ever carry out.

Read full article

Among the many exceptional scenes in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, one of the most poignant ones doesn’t even involve any of the main heroes.

Rogue One  is full of memorable moments, some breathtaking, some endearing in the way we’ve come to expect from Star Wars, and all full of an epic sense of the lengths people will go to in the name of hope. It also stands out because of its representation, with a female main character and a diverse cast of supporting characters. But it’s the scene almost at the very end that makes its story truly unique.

It takes place after Jyn Erso and her band of rebels have already completed their mission, and the Death Star plans that they have given their lives to procure are being physically carried through the Profundity by a single individual, while the ship is under attack. Close at his heels is Darth Vader, finally revealed in all his lightsaber-wielding, terrifying glory, killing rebel soldiers left and right. The door jams in front of the man holding the plans, with only a slight gap left open – just enough for him to fit an arm through and frantically get the device to one of the fleeing rebels on the other side, knowing fully that this is the last action he’ll ever carry out.

This character has no name, and we know nothing about him beyond this scene. But faced by the most fearsome threat and terrible odds, he abandons fighting and uses his dying moments to get the plans across the doomed ship, and to Princess Leia.

It’s not common to see a scene like this one – scenes that convey the power of the collective action of many people across different areas – done so skillfully, especially in movies that are so character-driven.

In Star Wars, we’ve always focused on Luke and Leia and Han, and more recently on Rey, Finn and Poe. Although we knew that the Rebellion was the fruit of the efforts of many, we never had such a clear look into just how many lives were involved.

Rogue One the Rebellion

This final scene brings it all together, tying together the various storylines we know in an epic finale, and finally connecting them to Episode IV in a perfect mix of excitement and nostalgia. Without this character, driven by desperate hope rather than fear of his imminent death, Rogue One’s mission would not have ended successfully, Leia would have never received the plans… and none of the story we already know would have taken place.

For once, it was a character whose face we didn’t even see properly, dressed just like everyone else, fulfilling his own small role in a much bigger mission, who saved the day.

This ending, maybe even more meaningfully than the stories of the heroes we know and love, shows us the very essence of the Rebellion: a movement of dedication and sacrifice, full of people like the ones that died on Scarif, that put themselves between the plans and Vader, that drove the mission to success in their dying moments – and that stopped the race to save their own lives in favor of securing the mission’s objective.

We, as the audience, can find ourselves in the nameless rebel soldier and his sacrifice – a realistic and emotional portrayal of what makes any movement for change possible: the sacrifices of a vast number of people whose names and faces we may never know, whose stories may never be recorded, but whose lives were spent in search of a better future for the generations that follow.

What scene in ‘Rogue One’ impacted you the most?