(PCM) Following the events of the first film, Catching Fire focuses on Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and fellow victor Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). The two victors briefly return to District 12 before they are forced to once again leave their homes and loved ones behind. After their unlikely success in the 74th Annual Hunger Games the winners are required to embark on a “Victory Tour” across all the districts to celebrate their triumph. During the hollow celebrations it becomes clear that their unique victory and seemingly impossible survival has sparked a rebellion amongst the Districts of Panem. The Capitol remains firmly in control, but President Snow knows he must extinguish all sense of hope in order to maintain authority. During preparation of 75th Annual Hunger Games, known as a Quarter Quell, President Snow finds a way to use this special occasion to his advantage and potentially change Panem forever.
There is no denying the first film was huge financial success, but even die hard fans will admit it had its problems. Many have mentioned their dislike of the camera movements and “shaky cam effects” along with the empty and unimpressive environments and lackluster use of CGI. Despite its shortcomings The Hunger Games was still a success but fans of the franchise will be happy to hear that in comparison to the first film, Catching Fire is an improvement on every level.
Many fans will agree it was the cast and performances that carried the first film, and the same can be said for Catching Fire. Academy Award Winner, Phillip Seymour Hoffman joins the supporting cast along with returning members Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, Effie (Elizabeth Banks) their Capitol Escort and the pyrotechnic stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz). Stanley Tucci also returns to the role of Ceaser, the cheesy, government-controlled talk show host. Although his role is limited, Tucci delivers an amazing and memorable performance.
Director Francis Lawrence (I am Legend) has been brought aboard to replace previous director Gary Ross, and finish out all future installments. Lawrence does a great job creating a much heavier and grave atmosphere, an element that was definitely lacking in the first film. Do not let the PG-13 rating fool you, the premise of these books is incredibly dark and Lawrence does a great job translating that to screen. Many times during the film I found myself thinking about how truly horrific this story actually is, and weather or not “young adults” should really be considered as the target audience.
Building upon the overarching plot introduced in the first film, the bulk of the movie is told through the characters interactions. Many of the melodramatic plot points in the first film return but this time are actually crafted into tense, character building moments. The action sequences are few and far between, but they are far more effective then those found in the first film. The PG-13 nature of the film creates a challenge to imply violence. To successfully imply violence you must first show something that will then lead to the imagination taking over. Director Francis Lawrence proves that he’s up to the challenge, showcasing brutality without heavily relying on blood or shaky camera movements to mask the scene.
Despite these improvements Catching Fire does have its problems, primarily when critiquing it as a stand alone film. Much of the film feels like a rehash of the first installment primarily focusing on Katniss and the journey from her poverty stricken home to her inevitable participation in the Hunger Games. Excluding a few minor scenes we don’t actually see any additions to the set until the final hour of the film. For movie-goers just looking for a big-budget action movie, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire will probably fall short, and if you are unfamiliar with the story, the ending is sure to agitate you.
This highly anticipated sequel definitely treds familiar territory but overall I would consider Catching Fire a success and can faithfully recommend it to fans of the franchise. Despite its flaws, the movie manages to build upon the plot introduced in the first film and successfully leaves me wanting more.