After the first “Hunger Games” blew away my expectations, I was more than ready for the next entry in the series. Lionsgate heard our cries for another one after the masterful first installment that breathed new life into the young adult subgenre. More than just the 691 million dollars it took in, “The Hunger Games” was a huge hit with critics and audiences alike. The wait would be shorter than we would think. A little more than a year later, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” would be released. The very quick release date did not hurt this film one bit. “Catching Fire” is able to match its predecessor, with expanding its themes and exploring new ones as well. The characters continue to develop and the action also continues to dazzle, “Catching Fire” is a thoughtful thriller that makes you excited for what comes next.
Picking up shortly after the end of the first film, Katniss and Peeta are on their victory tour across the Panem after their act of defiance in the 74th annual Hunger Games. Fearing that Katniss is giving people too much hope, President Snow attempts to destroy their imagine, while Katniss just wants to live her life away from the spotlight and still has to deal with the choices she made in the Games. For the 75th annual Hunger Games, Snow changes the rules again. This time the tributes will be reaped from the past winners of the Hunger Games, where everyone are deadly warriors. Katniss and Peeta are selected once again. Meanwhile a revolution is on President Snow’s hands as he clamps down the districts on Panem.
When I first heard the synopsis I thought to myself, oh boy. It sounded like they were just repeating themselves going through the whole Hunger Games events all over again, but I was dead wrong. Although this once again features another Hunger Games event the whole tone and atmosphere is completely different. Katniss isn’t just afraid like the first time around this time she has to deal with the fear of having to go through it again, having to kill and barely survive by the skin of her teeth. The character dynamic and the social implications make this time around a more bleak event then even the last one.
Jennifer Lawrence once again returns to her biggest role. Fresh off her Oscar win for “Silver Linings Playbook”, Lawrence brings back her stubbornness yet caring nature for Katniss but opening up other sides to her character. Katniss is more venerable than ever, as we see the toll the games took on her in a form of Post Traumatic Stress and Lawrence continues to show why she is one of the best young actresses working today. She is easily likeable but has more emotional scenes to deal with in this entry and she handles them all well.
Here we see that the series isn’t really about the hunger games themselves but instead it serves as a catalyst for the eventual revolution. Throughout the film, we keep hearing talk about revolution against the capital making for a slow but proper story development. As with most sequels, “Catching Fire” attempts to raise the stakes and successful does. You’re never quite sure who to trust, who is safe, and what he capital will do next in their desperate bid to stay in power (unless you read the books of course).
Taking over in the director’s chair for Gary Ross is Francis Lawrence of “Constantine” and “I am Legend” fame. Lawrence tones down the shaky cam from Ross’s outing (which is one of the biggest complaints of the first film, which for me was one of the few times shaky cam worked.) Lawrence is more smooth and well handled behind the lens and creates a much more stable imagine for the action which is as exciting as always.
Many of the weaknesses of the first film do return. The CGI effects aren’t always polished as other big budget contemporaries. They are better than the first film and the practical effects look great just a few noticeable moments of less than average CGI. There were also some more I wanted to see of what was going on in Panem while Katniss is in the games. There were some dialogue that explains what was going on but I think it would have the film even stronger if we got to see some more of the social implications of Katniss’s actions. Perhaps it will be fully realized in the next installment.
The movie does end rather abruptly with a cliffhanger that is effective but is not a entirely great ending. Then again it got me more excited to find out what happens next, so in that sense it did its job. “Catching Fire” is a thriller every bit as good as the first one entry that continues to be among the best tentpole series around. Here’s hoping that “Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” can continue that trend.