As The Hunger Games concluded and Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) were set to go home to District 12, one would think that it would be all champagne and caviar for the victors. As Catching Fire begins, it seems like anything but. Katniss is hunting (as she did at the beginning of the first film) and she is visited by Gale (Liam Hemsworth).
We learn that all that “romance” between Katniss and Peeta -- that in a sense spared their lives -- was all part of the show. It is clear that Gale and Katniss have something special, but for how long?
Anticipation could not be higher for the sequel to The Hunger Games, and with a new director in tow, Francis Lawrence, taking over for Gary Ross, there seemed to be more question marks than exclamation points. But fans have nothing to worry about -- in fact it is the opposite. Catching Fire is an extraordinary film that even more impeccably captures the spirit of Suzanne Collins’ blockbuster book series.
Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) could not have been a better choice to bring the second book in the series to the big screen. He gets it. And Beaufoy and Francis are a terrific tandem that capture the best moments of the novel and bring them to new heights.
Katniss and Peeta are set to embark on their Victory Tour when Katniss is visited by President Snow (Donald Sutherland, as evil as ever). Clearly the man has not gotten to the position of power he has attained without keenly being aware of his threats. And although she seems like the most unlikely of revolutionaries, he knows that Katniss has the potential to fan the fires of revolution in the Districts.
Almost immediately Katniss, Peeta, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Effie (Elizabeth Banks) hit the road, and as the victory rallies continue, the buck-the-system message that Katniss advertently or inadvertently displayed at the end of the Games has clearly taken root. As teased in this Catching Fire clip, after one crowd rises up, someone is shot and killed. Snow must put a stop to this before it… catches fire.
As we could see from that first Catching Fire trailer, he has summoned a Quarter Quell, which will put Peeta and Katniss back in the ring with a group of Hunger Games all-stars which will surely conclude with her demise.
The new cast members are top-notch, and each realizes the pop culture phenomenon that they are a part of and raise their games accordingly. Sam Claflin is Finnick, and he is every bit the “god” described in Collins' books. From Jeffrey Wright’s cerebral turn as Beetee to Jena Malone’s steely turn as Johanna, the filmmakers have done an impeccable job of bringing what readers have imagined in their heads to life on the silver screen. And the addition of Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch is a stroke of brilliance. Since, as fans know, he plays such a pivotal role in the series, it was important to get an actor of his caliber (Oscar winner!).
Then there are the big three. Lawrence is simultaneously vulnerable and vicious as Katniss. She amps it up from her last turn as the heroine in The Hunger Games and further illustrates why the casting director hit a home run with her. Lawrence captures the post-traumatic stress of Katniss after what she experienced in the first Games and how that would affect a person who has to head back into the arena to fight anew.
And Hemsworth and Hutcherson both raise their games also as each character clearly knows that the stakes are higher this time out. Something is brewing in Panem, and they know that in some manner they too will play a part in the drama that could result in all-out revolution.
Catching Fire is an even better film than The Hunger Games, and we adored the first. Having the new director initially seemed like a potential drawback. In fact, it could not have been a better stroke of fate for a fan base eagerly awaiting to see how Katniss’ story plays out on screen over Catching Fire and the two-part conclusion of Mockingjay.
Our Catching Fire review finds that the film moves at a rapid-fire pace, without sacrificing plot, power, emotion or action. The production design is otherworldly gorgeous, and for the two hours of the film, the audience is firmly in the throes of Katniss and her perilous situation. Yet, the film never feels two hours long. In fact, and this may be the best compliment of all, when the credits rolled, we wanted more -- much more.