Despite its silly premise, the second installment in the four-part sci-fi film series based on the novels by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a rarity and upends the teen romance movie genre completely. Despite the odds being against it, the film rises, spreads its mockingjay wings and takes off, devoid of cheese, delivering thrills and making social commentary about the world we live in. During its 146 minute run, the sequel colours in many of the empty spaces untouched in the original film, upping the stakes significantly, but ensuring that the ravenous target audience remains happy.
Katniss Everdeen: Haymitch, please. Please, just help me get through this trip.
Haymitch Abernathy: This trip doesn’t end when you get back home.
Peeta Mellark: So what do we do?
Haymitch Abernathy: From now on, your job is to be a distraction so people forget what the real problems are.
Jennifer Lawrence returns as the heroic Katniss Everdeen, a beacon of hope and the embodiment of rebellion, along with other key players, and a few new faces, including Jena Malone, Sam Claflin, Jeffrey Wright and, of course, Phillip Seymour Hoffman. With Twilight and Harry Potter out of the way, the franchise is finally given the freedom to deliver a film free of boring comparisons. In fact, you wouldn’t be comparing apples with apples. In what teen movie have you seen innocent people get executed? In what teen movie have you seen a lead character who cares about her fellow countrymen enough to risk her life? In what teen movie have you seen a heroine who is plagued with nightmares about her choice to kill? It might finally leave the moniker of “Battle Royale with cheese” behind.
Gale Hawthorne: People are looking to you, Katniss. You’ve given them an opportunity. They just have to be brave enough to take it.
The film opens with Katniss back in muddied woods of District 12 some time after the events of The Hunger Games. All she wants to do is be left alone. With Gale at her side, she lives in false happiness, struggling with post-traumatic stress. During the Victor’s Tour she comes face to face with the unrest in all the districts and slowly starts to realize that they are all looking to her as a symbol of hope. Intimidating fascist leader President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is really unimpressed with the results of the previous games. So much so, that he announces that there will be another round of games involving all the previous winners. And so, Katniss must team up with her ex, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), boozy coach Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), fashion designer Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) and Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) to survive another round.
President Snow: You fought very hard in the Games, Miss Everdeen. But they were games. Would you like to be in a real war? Imagine thousands of your people, dead. Your loved ones, gone.
Katniss Everdeen: What do I need to do?
While most of the setup is familiar, the outcome has very different results. The strongest element of Catching Fire, however, is its tremendous emotional characters. None of them are shadow puppets. Instead, they all have backstories and go against the usual stereotype profiles. Lawrence takes center stage and grounds the film with her intensity and conveys the character’s naivete perfectly, while the rest of the ensemble deliver believable performances. However, the love triangle seems completely unnecessary and dull. Neither one seems man enough for our heroine.
Catching Fire is good predictable mainstream cinema. Unfortunately, it also suffers from a small dose of middle-book syndrome. Nevertheless, it’s an entertaining bridge between the first film and what comes next. And yes, Catching Fire is a stronger film than the original.