Set a few months since the event of the first film, Catching Fire opens with our victors and would-be lovers, Katniss (Lawrence) and Peeta (Hutcherson), preparing to go on their obligatory Victory Tour of the 12 districts of Panem. Similarly to the opening of The Hunger Games, the audience is shown Katniss going about her daily routine of hunting and gathering – but now everything is more sharpened in its bleakness, the snow and iciness of the woods and even the clothes she wears are in perfect contrast to how we were introduced to her in the first film.
It illustrates perfectly how much things have changed for the reluctant heroine from District 12 since her original bout in the arena. From the outside it looks as though Katniss’s life has improved astronomically, but looking closer you see how lost and lonely she is and how she’s struggling to find herself in this new world that her time in the games has carved out for her.
A struggle that is made so much harder when a visit from the vile and malignant President Snow (Sutherland) throws the fragile life she’s scraped together for her and her family into turmoil once again. He isn’t buying the star-crossed lovers story that the populace of the Capitol is salivating over and neither are the people of the 12 districts. In fact, she has become a symbol of rebellion and Snow is giving her the Victory Tour to quash that notion or he’ll wipe out everyone she loves.
The progress of the Victory Tour is a tense slow burn with Katniss in turmoil throughout, not being able to confide in anyone for fear of putting them in danger. Any hopes of convincing Snow of her innocuousness is snuffed out with the first stop on the tour which brutally brings home to Katniss how much a ripple effect her actions in the arena have had in the districts.
The villainous President Snow and the seemingly pitiless Plutach Heavensbee (Hoffman) respond to this by announcing that in this year’s Quarter Quell, a celebration held every 25 years to celebrate the downfall of the districts in which a very special edition of the games is held, that the tributes would be reaped from the existing pool of victors thus ensuring that Katniss would once again be forced to fight for her life in the arena.
Now, I'm a massive fan of the books – I've reread them countless amounts of times and even I was on the edge of my seat throughout. For what should be a purely bridge film to the next big action piece, Catching Fire is a real roller-coaster of emotions, perfectly capturing the trials and tribulations that Katniss has to go through to keep herself, her friends and family alive.
Lawrence once again shines as the reluctant heroine Katniss Everdeen. She gives such a real and emotional performance, well deserving of the Oscar that she won for Silver Linings Playbook. Flanked by Hutcherson and Hemsworth as the respective men in her life, there is the infusion of a love triangle that some would say has been brewing since the first film; but unlike most young adult films, it doesn't eclipse the main plot. It's wonderfully and simply done and weaves into the story nicely without overpowering it with the usual teenage drama.
Newcomers Clafin and Malone shine as Finnick and Johanna, the past victors who Katniss is wary of but must swallow down her natural propsensity for distrust and try to befriend. With Tucci, Banks, Harrelson, Sutherland, Toby Jones, Lenny Kravitz and Willow Shields, the supporting cast is pretty exemplary.
Fans of the books will undoubtedly be pleased with how faithful the adaptation is with only a few minor things omitted and on the grand scale of things they really don't matter. It starts off with a slow, steady build then it hurtles in to a ride of emotions and action that will keep anyone and everyone hooked until the credits roll.
EXTRAS ★★★ There's an audio commentary; a nine-part making-of documentary; deleted scenes; the featurette One Vision, which looks at translating Suzanne Collin's source material to the big screen; the featurette The Alliance, an inside look at the close-knit relationships of the returning actors; and the featurette Friend or Foe, finding the perfect embodiments of the new characters.