By Lane Roberts
The second installment of the Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire, opens as Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) return to District 12, victors of the 74th annual Hunger Games. The two embark on their victory tour prepared to act as show ponies for the Capitol; however, they soon realize that their victory has served as a catalyst for revolution in the underprivileged districts of Panem. Katniss, the underdog going into the games, has become a symbol of hope and is therefore dangerous to the oppressive and authoritative regime of Panem.
In order to squash the rising rebellion, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) concocts a special edition of the Games for the upcoming Third Quarter anniversary of the regime: the Quarter Quell. Katniss and the audience realize that the stakes are higher than in the last Games.
“You fought very hard in the games,” President Snow threatens, “But those were games.”
The Quarter Quell includes only past winners of the Games, which means that Katniss and Peeta are to be thrown back into an even deadlier ring. New opponents this time around include badass Johanna (Jena Malone), pretentious Finnick (Sam Claflin) and quirky Wiress (Amanda Plummer). Most notably, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman makes an appearance as the extremely unlikeable Plutarch Heavensbee, the Head Gamemaker, who takes far too much pleasure in torturing the tributes.
With a run-time of two hours and 25 minutes, there was a chance that the film could have fizzled out, but Catching Fire is a whirlwind.
A sequel featuring another battle royale would have been repetitive, and, luckily, director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend) felt the same. There is a nice balance between the suspense leading up to the Quarter Quell and the action within the arena that leaves viewers both satisfied and aching for more. The sets are extravagant and sometimes gritty, perfectly capturing the dichotomy that exists in Panem between the luxurious lifestyles of those in the Capitol and the destitute conditions of the disadvantaged.
As always, J.Law is perfect (I may be a little biased, though). Katniss handles her “Girl on Fire” fame with as much grace and humor as Lawrence does with her own super-stardom. Even Hutcherson, whom I found to be whiny in the first installment, is more tolerable in the sequel, giving Peeta a little bit more of a backbone this time around, which was a refreshing change.
Together, along with the newbies and reappearances by the always excellent Stanley Tucci (Caesar Flickerman), Woody Harrelson (Haymitch Abernathy) and Lenny Kravitz (Cinna), they make a sequel that, against all odds, lives up to the hype.