‘Catching Fire’ hits all the right marks

Emma Peters

After a year of waiting in ravenous hunger for more flying arrows, love triangles and crazy costumes, audiences’s resilient and cheeky heroine Katniss Everdeen is back to ignite the flames of rebellion in the much anticipated second installment of the Hunger Games Trilogy.

TRAUMATIZED by her experience in last year's Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), hugs her sister Primrose Everdeen (Willow Shields). Lawrence captured Katniss's emotions with just her eyes.
TRAUMATIZED by her experience in last year’s Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), hugs her sister Primrose Everdeen (Willow Shields). Lawrence captured Katniss’s emotions with just her eyes.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, based on the bestselliing sequel to Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games, premiered Nov 22. After giving the first movie a decent review, I was skeptical of how the second installment would improve. But the movie is unexpectedly superb.

The movie opens with a pan of the roaring hills and all-around beauty of the prohibited area of District 12, with a silhouette of the lead character, Katniss Everdeen, serenly crouching over a lake. One would expect the bad-ass-yet-vulnerable protagonist to be happy after winning last year’s Hunger Games, in which children from each of the 12 districts of the country of Panem fought to the death as punishment for a previous insurrection against the totalitarian government.

But that would be far too easy, especially after her suicide threat with the poisonous berries at the end of last year’s Hunger Games, which kept her and Peeta, the other District 12 tribute, alive despite the long-held rule of only one victor of the Games.  Thus, Katniss’ rebellious gesture with the berries has since made her the number one target of Panem’s President Snow, played by the delightfully menacing Donald Sutherland, whose icy blue eyes and heavily arched eyebrows give him a characteristically evil look.

Instead, Katniss, played by Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence, comes home to District 12 visibly shaken. Her archery skills are useless, as she remains haunted by the human bloodbath in the arena, and can’t even kill animals. Contrarily, Lawrence uses her acting chops far better in this movie than in the previous installment. Where she was once dull and uninspiring, the 23-year-old actress encompasses all of Katniss’s strength, courage, and humility with just the frantic darting of her eyes.

Katniss’ post-traumatic stress is a direct consequence of her time in the arena, so it is heartbreaking when she and Peeta, played by the endearing Josh Hutcherson, are thrown back into the arena for the 75th annual Hunger Games, called the Quarter-Quell. But instead of facing children, President Snow announces with glee that this year’s contestants will consist of the previous victors of the Games.

The movie is thus divided into two parts: Before the Hunger Games and During the Hunger Games. Both are equally entertaining, although the events before the new games dragged on for too long.

HUNGER GAMES victors Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) deliver a speech to the different districts of Panem. They will soon be back in the arena for the 75th Annual Hunger Games.
HUNGER GAMES victors Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) deliver a speech to the different districts of Panem. They will soon be back in the arena for the 75th Annual Hunger Games.

This is redeemed by the deftly rendered sub-plot of Katniss’s torn love life between Peeta and her more-than-friend Gale, played by Liam Hemsworth. The romantic scenes are far less awkward and far more genuine than the previous movie, although one must block the exaggerated sighs of tween girls in the theater to appreciate the romance.

The supporting cast also makes up for the few dull moments in the movie. Stanley Tucci is freakishly lovely as the flamboyant talk show host, Caesar Flickerman. Elizabeth Banks reprises her role as the vivacious Effie Trinket, continually surprising us with her outrageously eccentric outfits, ranging from a frosty pink poodle dress to a feathery blue monstrosity, and a nod to her famous one-liner “that is mahogany!”

But it is the new cast members that truly make the film shine, as they round out the realm of Panem as the supporting cast of the Harry Potter series did to the world of Hogwarts. Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee, Jeffrey Wright as Beetee, Sam Claflin as Finnick O’dair and Lynn Cohen as Mags are all wonderful contributions to the story line in the mysterious new arena.

If it appears like this review is very plot-based, it is because this movie is driven on pushing as much of Suzanne Collin’s novel into two-and-a-half hours to near-perfection. With a blockbuster budget of nearly $130 million, a superb cast and engaging story, it certainly fulfills readers’ expectations of staying true to the novel.

Even if you haven’t read the books, the result is the same. This is a movie for the youth, the daring, the romantics, the adventurers, an audience who believe in the symbol of the Mockingjay, who trust the “girl on fire” to instill people with hope. For now, that is plenty enough.