The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the rare sequel that will satisfy fans of the original film and actually impress fans of the book. The sharp directorial decisions and brilliant acting will leave you breathless.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire returns us to District 12, following Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) after her win in the 74th annual Hunger Games, the brutal sport where district children of the nation Panem are forced to fight to the death for the amusement of the oppressive Captiol. Katniss is feeling post-traumatic stress and survivor's guilt from her time in the Arena during the last year's games. By outsmarting the Captiol's game-makers, Katniss and her co-winner Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) have sparked rebellious feelings in the Districts. The romantic act she and Peeta put on for the cameras may have fooled the citizens of Panem, but it didn't fool Capitol leadership.
Katniss is trying to return to her life in District 12, and has been secretly sparking up a tentative romance with Gale (Liam Hemsworth), her true romantic interest. As the Capitol-mandated Victory Tour approaches, it becomes clear to Katniss that she's going to need to play the part of romantic lover with Peeta once again. With the Capitol threatening to kill everyone she loves if the Districts revolt, Katniss is forced into a shadowy game where her slightest slip could cause the deaths of her family, or even revolutionary war.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a masterful stroke for the director, Francis Lawrence. Solid scriptwriting and smart directorial decisions make for a fantastic film with a pace that quickens at a perfect pace. Every ounce of the film is believable. As Katniss and Peeta pander to the adoring crowds at Capitol parties, you'll feel the vapidity of their adoring fans, the trivial society and you'll be as made as a citizen of District 12 as you watch the stories unfold.
The character of Katniss has matured between films, more thanks to the stellar acting of Jennifer Lawrence. We knew she was an amazing actress from her other dramatic roles, but Catching Fire seems to propel her acting to all new heights. The subtle emotions that play out over Katniss' face as she hides her true feelings about the Capitol while acting for their cameras is flawlessly done. During the most important scenes in the film, you'll believe every ounce of her emotions as they play out in complexity mastered by few lifetime veterans. It was remarkable – something that transformed a popcorn flick into a gut-wrenching and truly inspiring story.
The excellent acting doesn't end with Katniss, though. Philip Seymour Hoffman is perfectly suited to the role of Plutarch Heavensbee, delivering an undercurrent of threat as he plots with President Snow (Donald Sutherland) towards Katniss' ultimate fate. You feel the wheels turning as he's scheming, and the effect is creepy and intriguing. He plays the audience's affections like the devil plays a fiddle. Donald Sutherland is to be commended in his own right. Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Elizabeth Banks, Sam Claflin – every single actor delivers a spectacular performance. But the shocking feat pulled off by the director is that none of these amazing acting jobs ever threatens to overpower the story.
Emotions flow strong when Katniss and Peeta's victory tour takes them to the district of Rue, Katniss' fallen ally from the first games. Moments you may remember from the book are a thousand times more powerful when shown on film, especially with Jennifer Lawrence's reactions driving the story forward. I defy you to not shed a tear, and that's only one of several deeply affecting scenes in the film. I was completely satisfied as the film drew to a close, especially with the complexity of the final scene. You'll feel it, and when you do I want to know what your reaction is.
The film succeeds at every turn, and I loved every minute of it. Catching Fire is the rare film that manages to completely eclipse the book. It takes teen fiction and turns it into high drama with complexity enough for any discerning fan of film. I give The Hunger Games: Catching Fire five out of five stars.