The Hunger Games lit a spark, but its sequel Catching Fire is what will set the world ablaze. Performing better than any sequel in recent memory, Catching Fire gives audiences exactly what they want: bigger, better, and more. Director Francis Lawrence isn’t looking to reinvent the wheel with this movie, but it’s obvious special attention was paid to resolve the gripes made about The Hunger Games. The cast, Jennifer Lawrence in particular, all give exceptionally strong performances, clearly having grown more comfortable in their roles. Sequels are meant to satisfy our burning need for more of what we loved the first time around, and sometimes setup forthcoming sequels; Catching Fire does this all, and then some.
Minor Spoilers Below
The 74th annual Hunger Games ended in not only a dramatic fashion, but with an unprecedented two victors. Katniss’ actions with the nightshade berries, preparing for her and Peeta to commit suicide, enraged President Snow. To him, such arrogance and defiance only plants an even more dangerous seed: rebellion. And it is within this tense atmosphere, with Panem teetering on the brink of insurrection, that Katniss and Peeta must begin their new lives as the Hunger Games’ latest victors, The Capital’s darlings, and unwitting symbols of revolution.
Catching Fire builds off The Hunger Games with bigger set pieces, larger stakes, and an overall fear the worst is still to come. The film’s increased budget is apparent and welcomed, and not only when it comes to the arena, which takes the dangers witnessed last time and turns them up to 11. All locations feel grander in scope, no matter if they’re derelict and impoverished, as in the Districts, or grossly decadent like The Capital. Bonus fact, the Marriott Marquis hotel in Atlanta, which serves as the main hub for Dragon Con, was used as accommodations for the tributes in The Capital. It’s a stunning hotel with a world famous lobby and I was absolutely tickled to recognize it in the film.
Speaking of tributes, for the 75th Hunger Games a special tournament is held, the Quarter Quell, with different parameters than a typical Hunger Games. Somewhat similar to when the Harry Potter series replaced quidditch with the Tri-Wizard tournament, just far more sinister. For this Quarter Quell it is decided the tributes will be reaped from each District’s surviving victors. A real low blow to those who’ve already faced The Hunger Games and lived. Fearing the fire lit by Katniss, and only further fueled by her and Peeta’s sympathetic actions towards the families of the fallen on their Victory Tour, President Snow wants Katniss dead. Pitting victor against victor makes what was already an intense prospect – 24 teenagers fighting to the death until only one remains – all the more frightening. This change up for the 75th Hunger Games isn’t well received by either the victors or their adoring fans in The Capital, though fear forces them all to play their parts with smiles on their faces. In this way, Snow’s actions likely only further the cause of the rebellion he’s already fighting to suppress.
With a Hunger Games stacked with seasoned victors the cast for Catching Fire is aged over its predecessor, and the film is all the better for it. Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and Liam Hemsworth have settled into their roles with ease. Hemsworth especially improves over last film’s performance as his character, Gale, embodies the revolutionary spirit sweeping Panem and brings that struggle front and center for Katniss. Hutcherson, too, as Peeta has his own acts of rebellion throughout Catching Fire, and he and Katniss are on more equal footing. As for JLaw, the Oscar winner isn’t resting on her laurels. She surpasses her performance from The Hunger Games and aptly portrays Katniss’ growing defiance and disgust. It’s difficult, surely, bringing a character to screen whose thoughts and motivations are revealed in the novel through an inner monologue, but Lawrence manages to give us glimpses into Katniss’ inner turmoil. Seeing her hold her own against Donald Sutherland‘s President Snow is captivating and the tension between the two palpable. Sutherland, as expected, only intensifies the quiet menace he brought to Snow in The Hunger Games.
Newcomers Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair and Jena Malone as Johanna Mason are standouts, both bringing a mixture of levity and hidden pain to their performances. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is the new gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee, and plays his role so duplicitously you’re never quite sure what to make of him, but Hoffman does a fantastic job nonetheless. Back again are Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks as Haymitch and Effie Trinket, with Banks getting the chance to give Effie some much needed depth. Also appearing is Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, and though his role is downsized this time it’s far more impactful.
There’s no ignoring Stanly Tucci‘s Ceasar Flickerman who again steals every scene he’s in. Can we have Tucci as Flickerman host a nightly talk show? Please!?
In The Hunger Games we rooted for Katniss to make it out alive, in Catching Fire we want her to not only survive but take a stand. The seeds of political dissent and conflict are sewn carefully throughout Catching Fire. Never overwhelming the plot but giving every decision, every alliance an extra tinge of severity. These characters are navigating extremely dangerous waters and by the film’s end there’s no comfort of matters improving anytime soon. Catching Fire works very hard to build anticipation for its sequels, Mockingjay parts one and two, and because of this its ending’s a little abrupt, but no less fulfilling. Bottom line, if you enjoyed The Hungers Game, even marginally, you’ll adore where they’ve taken things in Catching Fire. It’s a shame the lackluster, follow up film has become the norm, but it’s fantastic when a sequel exceeds our expectations.