The Hunger Games: Catching Fire - Review

Aside from the very obvious inspirations author Suzanne Collins took from the cult classic movie Battle Royale, last year's adaptation of the first book of The Hunger Games Trilogy turned out quite well and served as Jennifer Lawrence's best mainstream blockbuster hit next to the new X-Men films.
Mixing a dystopian sci-fi future with teen-appealing love triangle situations, The Hunger Games finds a fairly good balance of pleasing teen/tween-audiences (PG-13 rating) as well as usual movie goers looking for an entertaining action flick.
Although the first Hunger Games movie was a good movie overall, it did come with a noticable array of underdeveloped ideas and unused potential.
With the next entry of the trilogy now in theaters, is Catching Fire a step forward or does it rely too much on its predecessor's successful formula?   

The plot:
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has returned home safe after winning the 74th Annual Hunger Games along with fellow tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Winning means that they must turn around and leave their family and close friends, embarking on a "Victor's Tour" of the districts. Along the way Katniss senses that a rebellion is simmering, but the Capitol is still very much in control as President Snow prepares the 75th Annual Hunger Games (The Quarter Quell) - a competition that could change Panem forever.
(source: IMDb)

Catching Fire picks up the story right where last year's Hunger Games left off. In that regard it luckily doesn't feel like a tacked on cash-grab-sequel but a justified continuation of the story about the last movie's aftermath.
Now being the center of attention in the captiol as well as the other districts, Peeta's and Katniss' life is now pretty much turned upside down, being forced to travel from district to district to give the illusion of a love-relationship between them to advertise the capitol as well as the Hunger Games.
Although the love-triangle situation between Katniss, Peeta and Katniss' original love Gale (Liam Hemsworth) might feel a bit forced for some, it overall turns out to be a quite investing situation in which it is convincingly conveyed exactly in what dilemma and why the character find themselves in.
Despite the fact that Gale is still quite a bit underutilized in the entire structure of the love triangle (regarding screen time) and the love situation is mostly viewed from Katniss' and Peeta's perspective, the movie still does a great job underlining the topic how difficult- or life-threatening situations can bond two people together. Especially Katniss' situation, in which she is torn between protecting her district and family, looking over Peeta as well as surviving at the same time is very exciting and entertaining to watch throghout the enitrety of the flick.

*Play "Paint it Black" by The Rolling Stones here.*

Furthermore, Catching Fire, just like its predecessor, is built pretty much in a "two-part" structure.
The first part completely focusses on the aftermath of Peeta's and Katniss' win at the Hunger Games and the dystopian and tragic situations the districts are in due to the unjust reign of the capitol.
The poor and drastic situation of the districts as well as their inhabitants is shown in much greater detail than before resulting in a decidedly more depressive and sad mood throughout the first half of the movie.
Whereas the first Hunger Games movie lacked a better look at the districts' "hunger situations" and the capitol's harsh treatment towards the people, Catching Fire is a huge improvement giving the audience plenty of heavy and dramatic moments to chew on. Innocent people and Katniss' loved ones getting unjustifiedly shot or beat up fuel her rage and at the same time make this world far more believable.
With that said, the first half of the movie isn't exactly a sad and bloody massacre but finds just the right amount of showing just how dystopian this futuristic world is.
The trilogy is set in a dystopian future after all, so showing what exactly is dystopian about it is more than necessary and welcome.
The second half of the movie completely focusses on Katniss', Peeta and other victors of previously held Hunger Games finding themselves in "yet another" Hunger Games Tournament.
This is the point that might feature the most off-putting moments for some viewers, due to its many similarities to the first movie.
Although the set-up for the Games might seem a bit recycled, the reactions of the now far more unique and interesting victors/contestants towards the capitol's unfair decision to put them in yet another tournament (despite the capitol having promised that the victors don't have to be in the Hunger Games ever again) is very convincingly performed and presented.

*Play "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns n' Roses here.*

However, the Games themselves as well as how the second half of the movie plays out is quite a bit changed in a positive manner despite looking otherweise at first glance.
Now with the arena being set in a jungle, Katniss' approach surviving the Games is quite a bit different than before.
Due to the fact that most of the victors feel unjustifiedly put in another Hunger Games Tournament, they quickly form groups, in which survival quickly becomes far more important than winning. As a big step up from its predecessor (story- and continuation-wise), Catching Fire sucessfully focusses more on the survival aspect of the Hunger Games than the winning one.
Katniss therefore now finds herself in the position of a member of a group of survivors instead of the "lone wolf" of the first movie. Defending themselves against the arena's various and quite imaginative hazards and traps, the group of protagonists actually fighting other contestants is decidedly played very low-key, furthermore emphasizing Catching Fire's new surival-topic.
With the protagonists now trying to survive and escape the tournament arena instead of fighting their way through the other contestants, it is quite a very nice twist on the previous Hunger Games formula, which might seem very similar at first, but quickly makes sense regarding the character development of Katniss' and the other victors, who just have become sick of the capitol's cheating ways.
It is all accompanied by clever and entertaining action-scenes (even more so than in the first movie) without any of the predecessor's annyoing shaky-cam.
Acting-wise, it is no wonder that Jennifer Lawrence is the best actress in this movie by a lightyear. Whereas pretty much every actor across the board does a solid to great job in acting, it is her very believable performance as Katniss throughout various emotional and dramatic situations that sell not only her character but also the entire atmosphere of the movie and this dystopian world.
Other honorable mentions include Donald Sutherland's and Philipp Seymour Hoffman's great villanous performances as the movie's antagonists, as well as Elizabeth Banks' quirky but somewhat still likable performance as Effie.

Jennifer Lawrence is the best actress here...big surprise.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was made with almost double of the budget of its predecessor and it has been put to good use.
Seemingly improved in every aspect its predecessor was lacking in, furthermore emphasizing the love-dilemma, more intensively establishing the dystopian world as well as giving viewers even more entertaining action-scenes, Catching Fire is a big step up from the first Hunger Games movie.
Whereas the improvements over the first movie become obvious very quickly, even the movie's shortcomings in form of the repeated new Hunger Games tournament start making sense in the long run with their newly decided and strong survival direction.
All in all, Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a great movie for both teen/tween-audiences looking for a investing love story among the chaos, as well as usual movie goers looking for a good time with an entertaining blockbuster. Non-fans of the first movie might still not get convinced by Catching Fire, but regarding the movie's overall package, there's only little to dislike in this sequel build on improvements.  

Final Verdict: 8 out of 10 

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