To say that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a step up from the first installment of the trio would be a massive understatement. When audiences last left the fictional land of Panem, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) had attempted to kill themselves rather than give President Snow (Donald Sutherland) a victory in the Hunger Games. When Snow decided to pronounce them both winners, Katniss and Peeta were instructed to declare their suicide attempt as an act of love, not defiance. But their act did not fool Snow, who pays Katniss a visit in the beginning of Catching Fire.
In Catching Fire, Katniss and Peeta are about to begin their Victory Tour across the nation, and President Snow makes it clear that the two lovebirds must convince him — and the rest of Panem — that they are true lovebirds, and not two rebels trying to start a war. If they do not, President Snow makes it clear: The consequences will be deadly.
The two embark on their journey through the 12 districts, starting with District 11, home of former tribute Rue. The annoyingly bubbly Effie (Elizabeth Banks) gives both victors a card with a speech on it, and instructs them not to substitute any of the material with their own words. However, both Peeta and Katniss break the rules and go off-script. When Katniss finishes, an old man in the crowd kisses three fingers and holds them up in the air, which is the “silent salute” signifying respect for Katniss and Peeta. Suddenly, peacekeepers (Panem’s droid-like police force) grab the man out of the crowd and begin to beat him, to which Katniss responds by lunging forward to defend him.
The same thing begins to happen in all of the districts that the victors visit. However, this time, Katniss and Peeta stick to their cards and play up their love story, watching helplessly and silently as more and more people are punished for giving the silent salute — and the cue that they are ready to rebel.
Despite Katniss and Peeta’s efforts to convince President Snow of their love, they fail to impress him. Shortly after their failure, Snow announces that for the 75th Hunger Games, or Quarter Quell, a male and female tribute will be “reaped” from the existing pool of victors. Being the only female victor in District 12, Katniss is forced to go back into the arena, as well as Peeta, who volunteers in place of Haymitch.
Katniss and Peeta soon learn these games will be anything but ordinary, especially considering other tributes in the arena are trained killers. However, the two form alliances with some of the other tributes, including the odd geniuses Wiress and Beetee (Amanda Plummer and Jeffrey Wright, respectively), the handsome Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin), his old mentor, Mags (Lynn Cohen) and the sassy Johanna Mason (Jena Malone).
New head game maker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), creates the most astonishing arena that will surely be deadly for all of the tributes, unless they can figure out the secrets behind its workings.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a growth from the first film, but the reason why this change occurred is not obvious. Perhaps it was the new director, Francis Lawrence, who took the sequel and exceeded expectations — his vision of Panem is even more enthralling than the former film’s take. The arena itself is breathtaking, an amazingly accurate recreation of the book’s description. The costumes, particularly those in the Capitol, resemble Alice in Wonderland haute couture, as well as Katniss’s wedding/mockingjay dress. In addition, the shaky camera from the first film disappeared, likely because of the backlash director Gary Ross received for its use.
But the movie’s cast outshines the cinematography. Both Wright and Plummer embody the characters of Beetee and Wiress faultlessly. Claflin’s vain-on-the-outside, loving-on-the-inside take on Finnick Odair’s character is also commendable. The wonderful Stanley Tucci adds an energetically creepy, Mad-Hatter-like element to the role of Caesar Flickerman, and musician Lenny Kravtiz makes a wonderful return as Katniss’s kind stylist Cinna.
While Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth (who plays Gale Hawthorne) both bring passion to the ongoing love triangle between Peeta, Gale and Katniss, it is actress Jennifer Lawrence who takes the prize for best acting in the film. Her embodiment of Katniss’s character has become even more developed, and her emotions are so real and raw it will have audiences trying to keep their own emotions together throughout the entire movie, not to mention the final scene of the film, which requires so much emotional intensity that only a skilled actress like Lawrence could possibly pull off the acting required of her.
Catching Fire is overall an immense level up from the first Hunger Games installment, and is an absolute must-see for both diehard fans and those who don’t understand what all the hype is about — but they most surely will after seeing this movie.