Near-parallel dystopian universes have been done before. Done to death at times. The Hunger Games franchise is no exception, with less than the most original instances of government oppression and war. That being said, it’s not so much the ideas, but how well they are presented. In the first installment, The Hunger Games showed us that survival is the best form of defiance. But alone, surviving is not enough; it’s not the same as living. Catching Fire starts a blaze that drowns you in flames, only to be fanned by the stunning visuals and great performances.
No actions are without consequences, especially when you have a tyrannical president watching your every move. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) have survived the 74th annual Hunger Games, and have been the first to be part of a game with 2 survivors/winners. After the games, Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) all live a community for only winners of the past games called Victor’s Village. Getting ready for their mandatory Victors Tour, Katniss gets a visit from a very unhappy President Snow (Donald Sutherland) warning her not to step out of line, and to keep up the fake relationship she has with Peeta, or else her family and her friend(/love?) Gale (Liam Hemsworth) will pay the price.
Forces beyond her control have started to take place, stemming from her defiant victory in the last Hunger Games. Seeds of rebellion have been sewn, and Katniss is the unwillingly leader of it. Wanting Katniss dead, President Snow enlists the help of new game master, Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman), to create a special quarter-centennial games being composed of nothing but past victors. Since Katniss is the only female victor from District 12, she automatically is chosen. With the help of Effie (Elizabeth Banks) and Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), she must once again find a way to save herself, Peeta, her family, and possibly the whole of Panem. No pressure, right?
With seasoned action director Francis Lawrence (Constantine, I Am Legend) at the helm, this franchise shows a notable improvement on nearly every front. The story in this film not only gives you a more defined view of the country of Panem, but it even goes as far as to give you details and characteristics of almost every district in it. You no longer leave with a vague notion of what their world is like, because everything is so well explained, that you even completely understand all the politics involved.
Aside from the expertly crafted action sequences, the visuals received an upgrade as well. This round of Hunger Games had some notable CGI baddies, that could have otherwise come off as funny if they weren’t done as well as they were. Speaking of pretty things to look at, the costume design for Catching Fire went above and beyond the call of duty. Book fans everywhere will be jumping for joy when they see all the different outfits and fashions shown in the film have finally started matching what they imagined as they read the novel. With all the changes used to create a more immerse world, one thing didn’t change all that , and that was the performances. In the first film, the main driving force were all the great performances by a star cast. This time around nothing has changed, with Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence making us feel he plight.
All fire puns aside, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a fearsome sequel to the first film Almost completely overshadowing the first film, loyal book fans and film fans alike will agreement that this is the level of quality that the film franchise should have started out with. Catching Fire was like pouring gasoline on an already lit flame; all you can do is sit back and enjoy as it engulfs you.
RATING: ★★★★★★★★★(9/10 stars)
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