One of the most anticipated films of the year, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire satisfies in every way. This sequel to last year’s The Hunger Games and the second in Suzanne Collin‘s bestselling YA crossover trilogy offers an exhilarating and entrancing movie-going experience. A stellar cast, excellent acting, edge-of-your-seat action and true to the novel script make Catching Fire a sure-fire win for every fan.
Catching Fire takes off right where the first movie and novel left off. Katniss (the perfect Jennifer Lawrence) and her faux-love Peeta (a much improved Josh Hutcherson) have successfully won the Hunger Games together, after threatening to commit joint suicide by swallowing poisonous berries. Rather than stir the citizens of Panem to anger by having no winner at all, the game was stopped and Katniss and Peeta were declared a winning pair. They have now returned home, wealthy Victors suffering from post-traumatic episodes and confusion and upset over their new roles as Capitol pawns.
The movie opens with Katniss in her favorite solitary environment, the District 12 forest, alone with her bow and arrows. Viewers are instantly entranced by Lawrence’s portrayal of incredible strength, quiet intensity and beauty. Katniss is joined by Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and they discuss how parts of Panem are in uproar, since Katniss’s defiance in the games has turned her into a symbol of challenging the Capitol. Revolution is on the horizon. Katniss doesn’t want to be this symbol, she wants a simple life with Gale and her mother and sister and to be left alone. But unfortunately, her Victor’s tour begins today, sending her, Peeta and their mentor Haymitch (a wonderful Woody Harrelson) on tour to make speeches in every District.
A good portion of the movie’s first half focuses on the Victory Tour, allowing the audience to reunite with the characters and familiarize with each one’s headspace. The audience is shown and can fully feel the frustration Katniss and Peeta endure in being puppets in the Capitol’s game of manipulating district citizens. They must smile and act as though they are happy and thrilled to be part of it all. But the citizens continue to view Katniss as a symbol of rebellion, which the Capital cannot risk. They must eliminate her. The new Gamemaker, played with frighteningly calm affect by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, develops a new rule that lands Katniss and Peeta back into the next round of the Hunger Games. Horrifyingly, this 75th anniversary of the Games picks its tributes from the pot of surviving Victors.
This is where the movie picks up speed, despite the first chunk still being completely interesting and absorbing. Once the next Hunger Games training begins, the audience meets the new tributes, which is both thrilling and intimidating, as they are all viewed as threats to our beloved main characters. These new characters offer inspired casting choices in Jenna Malone, as the outspoken, nimble, ax-wielding Johanna Mason, Sam Claflin as golden boy Finnick Odair and Jeffrey Wright as the stoic electrical genius Beetee.
The characters are exhilarating to watch as they navigate inside the games, keeping the audience on their toes every second along the way by trying to figure out which ones are true allies to Katniss and Peeta. Catching Fire does an superb job portraying the second novel’s unnerving, daunting arena, with spine-chilling special effects that have you feeling as though you are standing right there next to the tributes in the Games. These effects have shown refinement since the first movie, Exhibit A being the difference between the first movie’s shabby-looking wolf muttations and Catching Fire‘s fearsome man-eating monkeys.
President Snow’s role is bigger in this movie, shadowing the looming threat of the Capitol against Katniss and the districts as the threat of revolution grows. The awesomely wicked Donald Sutherland plays Snow to a tee. Sutherland has an evil glimmer in his eye every time he is on screen and this part is just another in the long list of roles in these movies that are perfectly casted.
One of the most unexpected and appreciated improvements in Catching Fire, compared to the first movie, is Hutcherson/Peeta’s transformation. In the first movie, many did not feel Hutcherson looked the part and Peeta was written as a helpless mess. He had no pizzazz, no dynamite, nothing that would have drawn Katniss to him as she is in the book. In this second go-round, Hutcherson not only transformed physically into a more studly version of Peeta but he is written as more outspoken and competent, and therefore much more attractive to the audience and Katniss. The book’s love triangle becomes much more believable.
Lovers of the books and/or the trilogy’s first movie installment will be very pleased with Catching Fire. It seems like everyone on Earth wants to spend as much time as they can with Jennifer Lawrence and she carries the movie beautifully on her shoulders while being assisted by amazing costars and a mesmerizing, electrifying story. The only disappointment you will feel is when thinking about waiting another year or so until the next installment.