Based on the popular books by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is bigger and better and delves further into the themes that made the first movie interesting. It is refreshing to find a book in the young adult fantasy genre, much less its Hollywood adaptation, which deals with mature content in a sobering manner.
The film opens with Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) a year after their unlikely survival in the 74th hunger games, as they embark on a “victor’s tour” to the 12 districts. President Snow resents Katniss for forcing the Capital’s hand into allowing two winners in the previous games and fears people will think of Katniss Everdeen as a symbol of hope. He warns her to play her part in subduing any possible resistance from the 12 districts. As the plot progresses, Katniss finds herself, along with Peeta and other familiar faces from the first film, being tested instead of being relieved at having survived.
“There are no winners in the Hunger Games, only survivors,” says one character in the film. There are few scenes where we are allowed to forget the full brunt of what the characters are facing and this makes it easy to relate and sympathise with most of the main characters.
The cast delivers good performances throughout, especially Lawrence, whose screen presence is captivating and whose character development is never rushed but well-controlled with plot progression. Unfortunately, this is only true for the main characters; some of the less important characters are never fully explored and seem more like props for Katniss’ story.
One of the new additions to the cast, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, gives a mostly unimpressive and underwhelming performance though the film hints at a bigger role for him in the next installment. Donald Sutherland as President Snow provides a nuanced performance as the film’s villain, who on the one hand is undoubtedly cruel and evil but always seems to have more depth, even if it is left unexplored for now.
Comparisons to other films in this genre are unavoidable but unlike the Twilight series there is no overbearing love triangle between Katniss, Gale and Peeta. The theme is there only so far as Katniss has time to deal with that reality, that is to say not a lot given the problems she faces.
The film is visually appealing and despite some repetition of themes from the first one, manages to be inventive and keep audiences on their toes. Audiences should be warned that those who have not seen the first film may find the plot predictable precisely because they have nothing to compare it to. The plot manages to keep itself original partly because it appears, at least initially, to be similar to the first one, so when it does something new, it adds to the feeling of surprise.
That said, there is just enough action to provide entertainment and escapism but also enough exploration of the dystopian Panem. The series clearly has something to say about class divide but the social commentary is not overpowering and gives the film a much-needed depth.
Though the film ends on an abrupt note, (specifically an awkward facial expression from Lawrence), it leaves audiences wanting more. The ending might evoke an impatient rush to a bookstore to read the third book to find out what happens. As far as the genre goes, and book-to-movie adaptations for that matter, the Hunger Games: Catching Fire is well-crafted, enjoyable and thought-provoking. There is no doubt that the film is more escapism than it is a serious message on the times we live in, but it excels at entertaining us on a deeper level than most comparable films in its genre, and its faults can easily be forgiven.