“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is a smashing sci-fi commentary that is in many ways full of good old-fashioned escapism. It is often full of well-paced action, fluid drama and subtle romance, as well as ornate costumes and seamless CG effects. It is every bit an intense and gripping piece of entertainment with no line or character getting wasted on screen.
Cleverly helmed by Francis Lawrence, this follow-up to the 2012 blockbuster film takes the popular franchise into a deeper and more dramatic territory. It lifts the narrative far beyond the limits of mundane trappings. It transcends the material’s physical violence to a more palpable sense of danger that clearly digs into an existential level. In so doing, this cinematic version of the original tale engages with a pleasingly profound exploration of Suzanne Collins’ weather-beaten world.
Darker and grittier compared to the first movie, this sophomore outing continues the tradition of thrilling chases and escapes, the sight of poverty and oppression around the districts and the simmering rebellion against the Capitol. The story begins with the winning tributes from District 12 embarking on their “Victor’s Tour” around the districts. In no time, the Capitol announces the beginning of the 75th Annual Hunger Games, which is described as “The Quarter Quell” ought to bring together former victors inside the arena once again.
“Catching Fire” doesn’t water itself down to become a mere “link” movie that is meant to promote the franchise’s grand finale. Instead of serving as a technically polished filler, this thoroughly compelling second installment expands on the best elements of its source material to up the stakes of being a well-meaning middle chapter in the series.
This sequel succeeds in putting a genuinely emotional punch to its examination of the price of being a celebrity and the degradation of the social stratum. Using media as a form of social control, the story potently addresses the moral indifference of the powerful and wealthy to the oppressed members of the society, the dangers of idolatry and the casualties of fighting for justice and survival.
This engaging piece of entertainment strikes a good balance between characterization and audio-visual flair. The hefty running time works well in bringing the emotional investment the story needs. The narrative prioritizes a more character-driven route, which somehow outweighs the cinematic offering’s eye-candy treats. This is not to undermine the gripping moments initiated by the action-packed and adventure-filled proceedings. But clearly, the slower human drama and political subtext presented on screen ultimately mark the film’s strength. Together, they establish a very strong progressive stance against the oppressive rule of those in power.
The challenge to mount a dramatic piece that ends rather abruptly requires a validating build up. For this sequel, amidst a few parts losing some steam midway through, the key elements still tie up pretty well come resolution time. The emotional resonance they bring truly empowers the tale.
Jennifer Lawrence brings a visceral reality to her quick-draw archer and “Girl on Fire” role as Katniss Everdeen. Her glowing charisma is always a force of nature on screen. Her intensity as an inspiration and rebel fighter moves through the film like a fire spreading beyond any enemy’s control. The story clearly anchors on her searing portrait as a reborn heroine. The rest of the cast including Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark, Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne, Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket and Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman also render commendable performances that significantly help give this film its soul.