"Remember who the real enemy is."
Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) takes over director duty from Gary Ross in the sequel to The Hunger Games franchise which results in a much darker and better film. I know I gave the original Hunger Games film the same rating as this one, but I think I was a little too generous with the first film. Francis clearly sets the right mood and tone for this franchise by giving us a better picture of the world outside of the games. The districts and the Capitol are better portrayed here and we get a sense of who the real enemy is now. In the first film I felt like the enemies were some of the kids from the first districts, while in this sequel you get more of a sense as to why the Capitol and President Snow are the true enemies. The film takes more time to set up this world and it does so with a great sense of pacing and storytelling. The actual Hunger Games don't begin until the second half of the film, but I was ok with the buildup since it was absolutely necessary. Catching Fire gives us glimpses of what we are going to get in the next two films as sparks of a revolution begin to develop, and it also gives us new characters that are certain to play a key role in the upcoming films. These new characters are far better developed than the ones in the first film and the entire film sets things up perfectly for the grand finale. Jennifer Lawrence carries this film and she truly is a girl on fire showing both sides of her persona: her courage and her vulnerability. She balances these elements and the struggles she's going through perfectly and allows the audience to identify with her character. I don't think that two and a half hours have gone by so quickly for me as it did during this movie (I've seen 90 minute films that seemed to be longer than this) because it was just so exciting and engaging. The action during the actual games were also much better developed (no more shaky cams). Catching Fire is probably along with Star Trek Into Darkness the best blockbuster of the year.
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrece) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), the winners of the 74th Annual Hunger Games, have returned home. Katniss has turned into a symbol of hope for the people who are beginning to rebel against the totalitarian government of the Capitol under President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Katniss and Peeta's return home is short lived as they embark on a Victor's Tour around all the districts paying their respects to the falling tributes. Despite Katniss's love for Gale (Liam Hemsworth), she is forced to continue with the farce surrounding the media coverage of her relationship with Peeta. Effie (Elizabeth Banks) and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) join Katniss and Peeta as advisors during the tour. President Snow recognizes that Katniss has become a symbol of hope for the people outside of the Capitol and therefore has a surprise for the upcoming Quarter Quell (the 75th Annual Hunger Games). He announces that for this special event a male and female tribute winner from every district will have to compete against each other in this tournament of champions. Katniss and Peeta are the chosen tributes from District 12 who will face other tributes in a special arena designed by the new Head Gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Other tributes include Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) and Johanna Mason (Jena Malone) who form an alliance with them. President Snow is planning on crushing Panem's new symbol of hope, but Katniss will do what it takes to survive and protect her loved ones.
Francis Lawrence does a much better job here at exploring the different themes that the film is trying to get across. Catching Fire is more than a simple survival tale as other themes such as government oppression, heavily marked social classes, and society's obsession with celebrities are all explored very well. The characters are better developed as well. Take Katniss for example, as she's forced to live a double life feeling hypocritical and imprisoned at times as she has to hide her true feelings for Gale. She doesn't feel like a hero and doesn't want to be that symbol of hope that's she become. She has to come to grips with her new identity and the responsibility that has come with it. Jennifer Lawrence delivers a strong performance as she shows these inner struggles she's facing while at the same time proving she can be lethal. The film is also very well adapted by Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) and Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3) from Suzanne Collins' novel. The returning supporting actors like Lenny Kravitz and Stanley Tucci are phenomenal once again, while the new characters played by Jenna Malone, Sam Claflin, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and Jeffrey Wright have sparked my interest as to what they can bring to this franchise. They were all very well developed and add so much to a first part which in my opinion was dependent entirely on Jennifer Lawrence. She carries this film once again, but has an even more impressive supporting cast to leave us even more hooked with the cliffhanger ending. This film was great and I haven't even mentioned the amazing sets and awesome costume designs that went up a notch from last year's Hunger Games. Catching Fire is an upgrade over the original film and one you should definitely give a chance.