From the very first shot of the film, it is evident that “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is about far more than a survival competition between unfortunate kids from 12 distinct districts.
The film opens with Katniss, played with artful commitment by Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence, perched on a rock in the woods outside of her hometown of District 12.
The icy snow covering the ground and the frozen blue sky above her symbolizes exactly what has happened. Life in Panem has frozen, and when it melts, there’s no telling who will be safe.
For those who have not read the series, “Catching Fire” may come as a bit of a disappointment.
The ending is an unsatisfying cliff-hanger, and while it stays true to Suzanne Collins’ best-selling book, it is still frustrating.
That said, director Francis Lawrence — replacing Gary Ross from the first film — does a phenomenal job of crafting a plot that essentially serves as a bridge between the first and third installments into an enticing two-and-a-half hour film. It helps that he is backed by a bigger budget that makes District 12 even more barren and the Capitol even more luxurious.
After Katniss returns from the woods, she is surprised to see President Snow, played by Donald Sutherland, in her new home.
Snow is not pleased with her behavior, and her acts of defiance in the games have sparked rebellion across Panem. He warns her that if she does not act fully committed to Peeta — a humble and devoted Josh Hutcherson — he will have her family and loved ones killed.
Peeta and Katniss embark on their victory tour, and despite their best efforts, Snow is not pleased. He announces the 75th Annual Hunger Games as a Quarter Quell, in which victors from previous games will be back in the arena competing once more.
Katniss and Peeta are then thrown back into the games, this time with new allies and new foes.
While the film is a great adaptation of the book, what really separates the film from being a dragging developmental story into a lively tale all its own is the acting.
Jennifer Lawrence is captivating as Katniss, a character who has transformed from a scared innocent girl into a jaded young woman. Her eyes are constantly alert and are filled with merciless nightmares from the murders she committed in the first games.
When it is announced that the 75th Annual Hunger Games will see winners returning to the arena, the pure horror on her face is a moment of acting genius.
Hutcherson once again plays the supporting role to Lawrence, but his determination and passion make him universally likeable.
Newcomers Sam Claflin and Jena Malone as Finnick Odair and Johanna Mason, respectively, shine as the movie reveals glimpses of their background stories that tease the audience for more to come from the third installment.
Phillip Seymour Hoffmann makes his debut as Plutarch Heavensbee, the new head Gamesmaker. Hoffmann plays the part with such subtly that one is never quite sure whose side he is on.
One of the most surprising performances came from Elizabeth Banks, reprising her role as the eccentric Effie Trinket.
The night before Peeta and Katniss are to return to the arena, Effie gives a gold bracelet to Haymitch and a gold necklace to Peeta.
Afterward, she breaks down into tears saying how sorry she is and how they both deserve so much better.
Banks’s performance reminds us of the true meaning behind these films. The world is full of horrible situations, and suddenly even the ones in power and the ones with the money are realizing that it’s not right.
While the special effects and relationships are intriguing, “Catching Fire” really sparks when it dives into social commentary, at a time where it is utterly appropriate.