Plot: When Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) goes out on a victory tour with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) after their victory in the 74th annual Hunger Games, they seem to find that a revolution against the Capital is quietly starting. Katniss is seen as a hero for her act of defiance in the previous year’s arena battle, and the political head of the Capital, President Snow (Donald Sutherland), wants to put Katniss away. He enlists the help of former game maker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) for help, and the two devise a plan to end the defiant Ms. Everdeen, using a twist in the 75th annual Hunger Games reaping as a springboard to complete their wish.
The first Hunger Games film got some aspects of the story right in my eyes, but failed to impress me overall. There were elements that just didn’t work for me, but in essence I felt it was ok. Catching Fire, the sequel, was one I laid more interest in from the get go, as it is my favorite book in the series (well out of the first and second, as I still haven’t read the third). The arena itself featured in the follow-up is worth the price of admission alone, but the beauty of Catching Fire is that it introduces side characters actually worth a damn. From Snow’s new sidekick to new Games’ participants Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) and Betee (Jeffrey Wright), Catching Fire is a lot more active than its predecessor. That could be a problem, being that the film could lose focus from its main actors in Lawrence and Hutcherson, but the film succeeds in fleshing out the characters even better than I could’ve imagined.
Catching Fire gets a lot more right than the first film. And it also is lengthier which helps it quite a bit. While the pace never really drags, the running time does indeed cover a lot, which definitely makes the film feel more complete. I never got that feeling from the original Hunger Games. So that’s a point for the sequel there.
The actor that I felt was questionable in the first film, Hutcherson, really steps his game up here. I also felt that Peeta wasn’t matched as far as physical quality in actor form like he was in the book, but it appears Hutcherson hit the gym a bit to bulk up. Good move on the actor’s part. Also, everyone who wasn’t used enough in the first film gets more time to shine here, but the real show stealer is Stanley Tucci’s TV personality Caesar Flickerman. Tucci just brings an atmosphere that makes the character so adorable and innocent despite the fact that he’s advertising death.
Special effects look a lot better in this one too. The whole fire aspect used on Katniss’ and Peeta’s outfits is more realistic, and the baboons that appear in the arena show up at night, which renders the CGI more seamless thanks to the dark environment. The surrounding dome itself is obviously a tropical land that doesn’t exist, but since it is artificial anyway, the sense of realism achieved is strong enough.
And then of course, there’s Jennifer Lawrence, the girl on fire. Lawrence’s performance feels a bit wooden at times (may have been a point to be), but overall, she breaks through with an emotional act that makes us sympathize with Everdeen’s life. She’s been thrown into this world again she’s not quite ready for, is caught between lovers (that being Peeta and Liam Hutcherson’s Gale), and has nightmares about killing people. However, since Katniss is seen as this new symbol of hope without knowing why, Lawrence showcases the confusion and the anger with being an unsung hero quite spectacularly when it calls for it.
At 2 hours and 30 minutes Catching Fire is no walk in the park. Don’t get me wrong, it is infused with a lot of humor to keep the emotional moments at bay every once in a while, but the film is very dark and character choices do have repercussions. And unless you have been living under a rock, there is one more chapter in the Hunger Games saga, titled Mockingjay. Let’s hope this franchise goes out on fire, because Catching Fire stepped up the game so much that to lose steam as the series winds down would be unfortunate. May the odds be ever in the filmmakers’ favor.