Catching Fire is the highly anticipated sequel to the Hunger Games, the box office blockbuster, based on Suzanne Collin’s acclaimed book series. Reminiscent of the other summer movie, Iron Man 3, the main character, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) shows some effects of posttraumatic stress disorder, resulting from her survival of the savage Hunger Games. As the events from the games haunt her nightmares, Katniss unwillingly is made a symbol for rebellion against the Capital and President Snow (Donald Sutherland). In order to quell this rebellion before it becomes serious, new head game maker, Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) suggests that Snow holds a special “Quarter Quell” in honor of the 75th Hunger Games. This time, the tributes from the 12 districts will be chosen from previous survivors of the Hunger Games. Katniss will be forced to re-enter the games with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), but will they be able to survive again?
Francis Lawrence is the new director at the helm of this beautiful piece of escapism. Lawrence does not utilize the “shaky cam” technique utilized by series predecessor, Gary Ross. Instead, Lawrence brings his survival genre experience gained from directing “I Am Legend.” He effectively portrays how dangerous this game’s arena can truly be. Most shots are done in a more straightforward manner, which results in a huge improvement in visuals, abandoning the polarizing shaky camera.
Once again, the tone establishes that Panem is rife with striking political problems, as Lawrence further elaborates the great divide between the wealthy Capital and the poorer Districts. Throughout the Victory Tour, the audience is given a look into the growing insurrection within the lower districts. The movie contrasts this with the opulent lifestyle of the carefree citizens residing in the Capital. The citizens of the Capital are portrayed with out-of-touch and insensitive qualities. For example, at one point, it is explained to Peeta that Capital citizens will often make themselves sick in order to make sure they are able to taste all of the delicious food. This explanation disgusts Peeta, commenting on how people in District 12 are starving, while the Capital citizens are wasting food.
Catching Fire contains an all-star ensemble cast, presenting believable and strong performances. Woody Harrelson continues to amuse audiences as the drunken Haymitch Abernathy. In actuality, this character is given more of an arc than the last movie, making him more than just the stock drunk survivor, depressed at life. Liam Hemsworth is also given some more to do with Gail Hawthorne, but this character is still notably absent during much of the movie, since he is not directly involved within the games. The most notable performance in this film is the now Oscar winner, Jennifer Lawrence, who is able to make the audience understand the pain Katniss struggles with as a result of her survival. Lawrence’s changed demeanor throughout the story allows the audience to believe that Katniss will be able to eventually lead the Districts in a revolution against the Capital. This transition is essential to the future installments of this franchise.
Many newcomers are introduced in this movie, as we are given a whole new roster of tributes to fight in the arena. Sam Claflin was good in the role of narcissistic Finnick Odair. When first introduced, Odair is a very ambiguous character, described as being very full of himself, the result of being an attractive survivor of these cruel games. As the “Quarter Quell” commences, Odair becomes a viable ally to Katniss and Peeta, demonstrating more admirable traits than his persona appears to indicate. Boardwalk Empire fans may recognize Jeffrey Wright, who provides a serviceable performance as Beetee. Another new cast member, Hoffman brings much intrigue to Heavensbee. The fate of the previous game maker is brought up throughout the first act; perfectly establishing the consequences, if Heavensbee should fail President Snow.
Some pundits may complain about the identical structure to the first movie, but in reality, the movie is limited by what is present in the books. The “all-star” idea is a unique way to make Katniss and Peeta enter the games once again. A notable absence was the little scenes of play-by-play commentary provided by Stanley Tucci’s character of Cesar Flickerman. I thought these were interesting in the first installment, since the scenes bridge the inner thoughts of Katniss within the original book. This struggle to survive alone is not really present in this installment, focusing on the group over the individual.
It is clear that this time around, the participants are not nearly as deadly as the obstacles present in the arena. From early on, these games take on a team-like structure (even though there can only be one winner). Most of Katniss and Peeta’s worries revolve around whom they can truly trust. By the end of the movie, most of these decisions will make perfect sense, but audience members looking for a cat-and-mouse survival game, which was presented in the first movie, will be disappointed. While there are positives and negatives to this approach, this is again a situation revolving around the source material.
As an adaptation, Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a wonderful sequel that keeps the same suspense present in the first movie, while increasing the stakes and further exploring the deteriorating political situation of Panem. Personally, I read the books a while ago, but the movie’s “cliffhanger” ending has encouraged me to re-visit the books, as I eagerly anticipate the two-part finale of Mockingjay. I would definitely recommend this movie.
I give this movie an 8/10.