The Hunger Games: Catching Fire continues the story of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook) and her new attention-fraught life as one of the two victors of the 74th Hunger Games. Along with her fellow winner, Peeta Mellar
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k (Josh Hutcherson, American Splendor), the “star-crossed lovers” journey throughout Panem, the dystopian country lead by President Snow (Donald Sutherland, The Mechanic). They quickly learn their feats in the Hunger games have made them symbols of hope for the oppressed people of Panem.
Mostly following the trilogy written by Suzanne Collins, the movie splits into two halves, the first of which opens with Katniss and Peeta’s victory tour. The tour allows them to cross paths with Panem’s people, who are eager for a revolution with Katniss as its leader.
In each district, Katniss and Peeta witness the full-fledged totalitarianism enforced by, ironically enough, the Peacekeepers, whose repressive tactics now pervades throughout the 12 districts. Such is the case until Katniss and Peeta arrive in the lavish Capitol. The Capitol, whose inhabitants are addicted to the celebrity cult it generates, lies at a far distance—geographically, politically, economically and socially—from Panem, where the people must find a way to survive each day. It is, we are reminded, the way of Panem. The paradox is as vivid as it is repulsive.
The second half of the movie begins with Katniss and Peeta’s return to District 12. On the state-run television station, they learn that the 75th Hunger Games will draw from the victors of each of the 12 districts in Panem. Suddenly, the two are off to compete in the Hunger Games for the second time. In most sequels, this would be a repetitive convention expected to yield a paralleled plot line. This second installment, however, does what most sequels cannot: it advances on all fronts.
There are, for example, a slew of new characters who steer the games in an unpredictable fashion, each adding some flavor to the survivalist aspect within the arena. Thanks to the new game maker, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote) the 75th games are vastly unfamiliar, in both setting and style. The only constant in the games is its cruel nature, which forces innocent civilians to kill one another all while surviving the menacingly creative obstacles of the arena.
Katniss develops as a character as well. The bow-and-arrow-bearing heroine has a heightened awareness of her “Mockingjay status” in Panem. And, with so many people looking to her as a symbol of hope, she must face the challenges that lie ahead, putting her friends, family and self at risk.
Catching Fire is leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor. The story of this dystopia, where the elite live in bliss while the poor are subject to organized labor, is as chilling as the Hunger Games themselves. The director is not hesitant to create this atmosphere through the movie’s dialogue, mood and tempo, and the results are generally fulfilling. Some of the target audience may not pick up on the complex themes of addictive entertainment, state-controlled violence and vicious oppression, but Catching Fire tells a tale movie-goers everywhere can enjoy.