President Snow (Donald Sutherland) recognizes that after having saved herself and Peeta in the Games Katniss has given inspiration and hope to some of the Districts and he senses rebellion. Snow sees her as a threat and wants her to die as quickly as possible so he, along with the new Head Gamemaker (Philip Seymour Hoffman), does something never before done: For the 75th Hunger Games – the Quarter Quell – all the Tributes must be made up of survivors from all the years past. Since Katniss is the only female survivor from her District, this ensures she will have to once more fight to the death.
Terrified but determined, both Katniss and Peeta re-team with their old mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and their escort Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) to prepare for the competition. Haymitch warns the two young Tributes to forget everything they learned for the last Games because these Games will be very different in that this time around they’ll be going up against seasoned killers.
Compelling and exciting, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a superior sequel with strong performances and first-rate special effects. Most of the main cast is back and it’s evident that everyone is more comfortable with their roles this time out. Elizabeth Banks is superb as Effie, the escort and fashion ‘Cher’ of this world. She plays the role to the very hilt with all the style and flare she conveyed in the first film but there is something more this time…something deeper as she shows true guilt and real sadness for her two Tributes. Effie knows what’s happening to Katniss and Peeta is wrong and wishes these Games were not going to take place.
Josh Hutcherson delivers a stand-out performance returning as Peeta the baker boy who owes his life to Katniss and wishes she would take his love seriously. He’s always ready to sacrifice himself for her and seems to know a bit more than he’s sharing with Katniss about what’s going on behind the scenes with the Games. Hutcherson has made this role his own and has real chemistry with Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. Lawrence is still the focus of the film as its heroine Katniss and still conveys fear and horror wonderfully. The scene where she believes Peeta to be dead after an incident during the Games is powerful, with her pleading and yelling at his motionless body, “Peeta, please wake up please!,” conveying a deeper connection and emotion between the two young Tributes than she is aware of.
Woody Harrelson is back and still great as Haymitch, Peeta and Katniss’ mentor who’s also somewhat out of his depth with these new Games and the concept of bringing back survivors from other years to do battle to the death with each other. He brings a much needed comic relief to the dark subject matter as well as a touch of drama when he promises Katniss he’ll do what he can to save her and Peeta.
The production design of the film is a big improvement over the first, with the scenes in the Capitol and the new Games battle arena easily elevating the second Hunger Games over the first. The special effects are extremely impressive, with highlights being a scene showing Katniss and Peeta seeming to be on fire riding a chariot during the celebration of the event as well as a terrific segment featuring a creepy fog that covers most of the battle arena during part of the Games.
Strongly directed by Francis Lawrence, the action scenes are much better this time around, benefiting by not having the chaotic jumble of the camera that made it hard to follow the action in the first film. The only drawback is in the pacing of the first 50 minutes which is slow and takes too long to get started.
Overall, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a sequel that outshines and outdoes its predecessor in every way. Here’s hoping this is not the high point of the film series and the best installment of the franchise is still yet to come.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire opens in theaters on November 22, 2013 and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation and language.
– By Kevin Finnerty
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