Simply put: amazing. It is the best movie I have seen in 2013. I had low expectations going into the first movie. I came away blown away and in love with the story. I had high expectations for the sequel after reading the books and my expectations were significantly exceeded by the movie. Do not get me wrong. The book is much more thorough and detailed. However, it would have taken a much longer movie to cover everything in the book. The movie does a great job compacting and combining different story lines and scenes together into a brilliant 2 ½ hours. While I have seen some reviews criticizing the length of the movie, I respectfully disagree. The only thing that I did not like about the movie is that it ends and was not longer. Of course, there is a lot of great source material as “Catching Fire” is generally considered the best book in Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games trilogy. The film does justice to the novel and the cast is perfect. Jennifer Lawrence is flawless as Katniss Everdeen and she has solidified herself as one of the best actresses in the business. A lot of the scenes in the movie are exactly how I imagined them when I read the book. I feel chills when I watch a great movie and I had a lot of them watching Catching Fire.
The movie begins after the first Hunger Games movie. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) wants to forget she was ever a part of the Games and live her regular life. However, it is impossible. She still has nightmares from the horror of the Hunger Games, especially images of killing other tributes. Next, her relationship with her best friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) is strained. They definitely have a lot of chemistry and affection for each other. As such, Gale feels a lot of jealousy towards Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) for his televised romance with Katniss during the Games. Of course, the romance was all an act for Katniss as she faked her feelings for Peeta to survive. On the other hand, those moments were very real for Peeta as he truly loves Katniss. Unfortunately, her heart belongs to Gale and Katniss feels indifference for Peeta outside of the Games. Nevertheless, Katniss and Peeta are still forced to feign a true love story for the cameras to sell to the country of Panem. Of course, these ties lead to a complex love triangle. Nevertheless, it is a very intriguing one. Liam Hemsworth does an excellent job playing Gale. He is very similar to Katniss. They hunt together. He is also stubborn and defiant. Moreover, he is very charming. He is the only man Katniss shows her feminine side to and trusts enough to tell him her secrets. On the other hand, Peeta is the opposite of Katniss. He is calm and comfortable in speaking to and charming large crowds. He is a very caring and open person that leaves his heart on his sleeves. As such, Katniss has two options: 1) Gale who is like her and will fuel her fire or 2) Peeta who is her opposite. Katniss and Peeta were a great pairing in the Hunger Games because his strengths are her weaknesses and vice versa. While she does not warm to him outside of the Games, it would be a case of opposites attracting.
Nevertheless, nightmares and boy problems are the least of Katniss’s problem as she also gets a visit from President Snow (Donald Sutherland). At the end of the Hunger Games, Katniss pulled out poisonous berries, Nightlock, in a bluff to commit suicide with Peeta to deny the Capitol a victor. Of course, the Gamemaker Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) panics and declares Katniss and Peeta the winners. Accordingly, Snow talks to Katniss to explain the problem she has caused him. This conversation is one of favorite moments in the book and the movie brilliantly portrays it exactly how I imagined it. This scene also explains a lot about Catching Fire. When Katniss took out the berries; most districts, including the Capitol, saw it as the ultimate story of true love. However, other districts saw it for what it truly was as an act of defiance. While Katniss tries to keep up the lie about love, Snow is no fool. He tells Katniss that it will be much easier if they are truthful with each other. Katniss’s responds that it will definitely save time. Snow lays out his problem for Katniss. As she is merely a girl from District 12, it gives other’s hope that they could also defy the Capitol like she did. If President Snow was the Gamemaker, he notes he would have blown both Katniss and Peeta up on the platform when she pulled out those berries. Moreover, he explains to Katniss that he had Seneca Crane executed for his failure to do so. Now, Snow has to figure out how to contain the situation based on the current circumstances. As Katniss and Peeta are soon to embark on a Victory Tour to all the districts, he wants Katniss to convince the country that her actions were due to true love and not defiance. More importantly, he wants her performance to convince him, who is the ultimate skeptic. In addition, he threatens the lives of her loved ones to control her. It includes Gale as Snow shows a hologram of Gale and Katniss kissing. Donald Sutherland is brilliant as President Snow. He is a cold and calculating dictator. Although he may have the grace and elegance of a grandpa and statesman, he is a ruthless person that will do anything to hold on to power. The contentious relationship between Snow and Katniss is captivating. Although Katniss is completely afraid of Snow as she should be, she is still able to remain resolute and stand up to him. Nevertheless, she has to eventually submit because he has the power to harm her loved ones.
As the Victory Tour begins, Katniss has every intention to being a puppet for the Capitol out of fear of Snow’s threat. Moreover, she is a reserved and private person anyway. As such, she does not plan or want to speak much at the public ceremony. Accordingly, Peeta offers to give the speeches. He is a charismatic public speaker and more than able to handle a crowd. As such, he is much better in this arena while she is much better in survival and the Hunger Games. The first district they visit is District 11. Of course, it is the home of Katniss’s ally and friend, Rue. As we recall from the first movie, Rue’s death sparked a rebellion in the district. As Katniss and Peeta enter the city, she sees a spray paint of a Mockingjay in the tunnels and an army of Peacekeepers within the district to pacify the population. While she does not know exactly what is happening, she definitely deduces that something is wrong. When they are at the podium to speak to the district, they are given cards with their prewritten speeches. As Peeta is unaware of President Snow’s threat to Katniss, he decides to ditch the cards and speak from the heart. He is aggressive in noting that the other tributes died too young and promises that Katniss and he will donate a month of their winnings for the rest of their lives to the families of the dead tributes. Of course, it is an act of dissent against the Capitol and he unknowingly fuels the Rebellion and the ire of the President.
While Katniss knows better and wants to remain silent, she is unable to contain her emotions as she looks at the family of Rue which includes her young sisters. In the first movie, Rue’s death is the most emotional scene in the movie. Similarly in Catching Fire, Katniss’s eulogy for Rue is a very touching and powerful moment. Although she is normally tough and stubborn, she is heartbroken with her memories of Rue and tearfully speaks toward Rue’s family “She’ll always be with me. Everything beautiful brings her to mind. I see her in the yellow flowers that grow in the Meadow by my house. I see her in the Mockingjays that sing in the trees. But most of all, I see her in my sister, Prim.” The first movie did not clearly touch upon how Rue reminds Katniss of her sister, Prim. As such, I like how the second movie makes that clear link. Of course, Jennifer Lawrence delivers the lines perfectly and I really feel the pain in her words. The speech inspires the already rebellious crowd. An older gentleman gives the District 12 salute of farewell and goodbye that Katniss gave to the cameras after Rue died. He also hums the tune that Katniss and Rue used for the Mockingjays to mimic during the Hunger Games. The tune signaled that they are ok. To Katniss’s horror, the Peacekeepers immediately grab the man and publically execute him to intimidate the crowd. It is a terrifying moment as Katniss fully comprehends the seriousness of Snow’s threats. It is one of the most memorable scenes in the book and is very haunting on screen. In addition, Peeta becomes aware of the perilous situation. Accordingly, they finish the rest of their tour reading their speech cards robotically in support of the Capitol in a poor attempt to appease the President and calm matters down in the country. Of course, it is not believable as their actions are clearly coerced by the Capitol. It is clear that their thoughts in District 11 are representative of how they truly feel about the savage nature of the Hunger Games and the cruelty of the Capitol.
Their mentor from the Hunger Games and fellow former winner, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), remains at their side to guide them through the Victory Tour. Woody Harrelson does an excellent job reprising the role. While his drunkenness is a source of comical relief, he is very resourceful and intelligent when he is sober. Katniss and Peeta lean on his guidance. After the petrifying events in District 11, Katniss pleads for Haymitch to help her through the Tour so she can return home and move on with her life. However, Haymitch delivers a morbid fact that there are no winners in the Hungers Games. There are only survivors. Once one is involved with the Hunger Games, there is no escape. Every year, the victors are mentors to tributes every year going forward. Moreover, they are paraded in front of the country to provide a distraction from the miserable dystopia they live in. Due to Katniss’s ploy with the berries to save her and Peeta, the country will always pry into their private lives. The public will always follow the status of their love story and follow their lives through marriage and children. Accordingly, Katniss comes to the unfortunate realization that the Capitol will never allow her to live in peace. If the status quo continues, she will never be able to live her life freely or choose who she wants to be with and love. As much as victors are glorified and loved by the country, even they are pawns for the Capitol. This reality is a key reason Haymitch loses himself in a bottle to avoid living in it. One of the few disappointing points about the movie is that it does not get more into Haymitch’s backstory. The Hunger Games he won was the second Quarter Quell, the 50th Hunger Games as there is a special emphasis on every 25th Games. In the book, Haymitch won his games in an act of defiance. It definitely explains why he has an affinity for Katniss. Hopefully, it gets covered in one of the next two films.
Of course, the Victory Tour does nothing to stop unrest in the districts as Katniss and Peeta are unconvincing in their farce support of the Capitol after their outburst in District 11. Accordingly, Katniss only grows as problem for President Snow. She has become a symbol and favorite of the nation. For the Capitol, she is adored for her beauty and love story. Even President Snow’s granddaughter has her hair braided like Katniss. For the rebels, she is the Mockingjay, a symbol of defiance and the revolution. As such, Snow needs to figure out a way to destroy the hope Katniss represents. He knows fear will not work to keep the order so long as there is hope. Snow does not face this problem alone. He is aided by the new Gamemaker of the Hunger Games, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Similar to the first movie, the conversations between Snow and the Gamemaker are excellent. As the books are from Katniss’s point of view, these scenes do a great job in adding to the story by also presenting the events from Snow’s point of view. Philip Seymour Hoffman is an excellent addition to the cast. He does a fabulous job appearing to be more sadistic than Snow. It is a characteristic that endears Plutarch to Snow. When Plutarch schemes, Snow listens and smiles like a proud father. Both men understand that they cannot just kill Katniss. She has become a champion of the people. As such, executing her will only make her a martyr and more of a symbol. It reminds me of a scene in “Gladiator”. As Russell Crowe’s character, Maximus, has won the crowd in the arena and is a hero to the people, the Emperor cannot simply kill Maximus. In the words of one of Maximus’s friends, “You have a great name. He must kill your name before he kills you.” The same concept applies to Katniss Everdeen, the “Girl on Fire” and the “Mockingjay”.
At first, Snow and Plutarch try to control Katniss so she acts like a sellout that has fallen for the life of luxury provided to victors. They want to show the country that she is now like one of them in the Capitol and has abandoned the people. While Katniss plays along at first out of fear, it is against her nature. As such, Snow and Plutarch devise a plan that coincides with the 75th Annual Hunger Games, the third Quarter Quell. In a televised broadcast, Snow announces the twist in this year’s Games: all the tributes will be reaped from the existing pool of victors regardless of age. By design, Katniss is the default female tribute from District 12 as she is the only female winner in the district’s history. After she hears the announcement, she is distraught and wailing at the thought of entering the arena again as she has not even begun to get over the horrors of her first experience. The plan is twisted but genius in relation to Snow’s objectives. First, it will likely lead to her death as she has to go up against much stiffer competition in the other victors. In the words of Haymitch, “Last year was child’s play. This year, you’re dealing with all experienced killers.” Next, it will prove that an act of defiance will not go unpunished. Not even Katniss Everdeen or any of the victors are above the Capitol. Moreover, the other victors are very popular in the Capitol and the country. Whether she wins or dies, she will be forced to get her hands dirty and kill other popular victors. Accordingly, Snow and Plutarch believe that the people will turn on her for doing so thus destroying her image as the Mockingjay. Snow wants her dead along with her legend. Accordingly, it kills two birds with one stone.
The fanfare leading up to the Quarter Quell is similar to the previous Hunger Games but amplified due to the star power of the tributes. In essence, it is an All-Star Hunger Games and the movie does an excellent job capturing the excitement around such an epic event. It also introduces a couple of great characters in the series. The first is Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin), who was the winner of the 65th Hunger Games. He used his superior skills with nets and a trident to win his games. On the surface, he is pompous and promiscuous with the physique of a Greek god. However, he is a much more complex character and the movie does an excellent job in developing him. Another fan favorite is Johanna Mason (Jena Malone), who is the victor of the 71st Hunger Games. She is unpredictable and vulgar. She says whatever is on her mind and is deadly with an axe. Jena Malone does a superb job portraying the character. The movie also includes her striptease from the book that unnerves Katniss. Katniss’s facial expressions during the scene are easily the funniest moment in the movie.
Of course, the tributes also have to go through the regular itinerary for the Hunger Games: opening ceremonies, pregame interviews with host Caesar Flickerman, and practicing and showcasing their skills in a training center. It includes some of my favorite scenes in the movie. In the first movie, Katniss and Peeta entered the opening ceremonies wearing suits that catch on fire as designed by her stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz). Accordingly, it is the moment Katniss earned the nickname “Girl on Fire”. In Catching Fire, Cinna gives Katniss the button to set the suits ablaze whenever she is ready. As Katniss is furious with President Snow for forcing her back into the games as a tribute, she gives him a death stare while he responds with an evil smirk as she rides into the arena in her chariot. In that moment, she presses the button to set herself ablaze. It is a nice touch in the movie as it represents her anger at Snow and her intentions to defy the Capitol more. In her first film, Katniss was also flustered by a large audience in her interview with Caesar. However, she is flawless in charming the crowd this time around. As such, I like seeing the growth in this dimension of Katniss. In addition, Haymitch advised Katniss to hide her skill with a bow and arrows before the first Games. As it is no longer a secret, Katniss fully demonstrates her abilities. In the most awesome moment in the movie for me, she is able to dodge all the holograms attempting to hit her and shoots them all with perfect marksmanship in a training simulation. As the other tributes watch the stunning display of skill, half of them want to ally with her. On the other hand, Katniss is an independent person and hates the idea of allies. As such, some of the comical scenes in the movie are when Haymitch is frustrated with Katniss’s inflexibility and stubbornness in accepting the fact that she will need strong allies against superior adversaries. As such, she will be killed quickly if she tries to go it alone like she did in her first Games.
The greatness of the movie is driven by another flawless performance by Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen. She captures every aspect of the heroine. At the beginning of the film, she is recovering from the trauma of the games. In her words, she has felt nothing but fear [for her family, friends, and herself] since she volunteered at the Reaping for Prim. Sadly, she has no room for any other emotion, not even love. From President Snow’s perspective, Katniss is motivated by self-preservation and does not want to be a leader of a rebellion. He is half correct. While she is definitely reluctant to be the Mockingjay, she cares for the safety of her loved ones rather than herself. When pushed and bullied, she is stubborn and defiant by nature. As such, she will eventually fight. Her strength is that she has natural qualities of a great leader. Just by being herself, she inspires the nation with the purity of her heart as much as her skills with a bow and arrow. It is great watching the development of the character. Jennifer Lawrence does a perfect job portraying every facet of Katniss. While she gained mainstream popularity for her role as Mystique in X-Men: First Class, she has really distinguished herself as a top actress since that role. She is also stunningly beautiful and it is refreshing that she is humble and down to Earth.
Her co-star, Josh Hutchersron as Peeta, also delivers an excellent performance. Peeta is a noble boy who is completely in love with Katniss but knows that she does not feel the same way about him. Nevertheless, he only wants Katniss to be happy even if it means her being with Gale. Even though Katniss avoids him outside of the public appearances and cameras, Peeta continues to take care of her. He understands that Katniss saved their lives in the Hunger Games and that he cannot hold her to her words during them as she did what she needed to do to keep them both alive. When Katniss is forced to fight in another Hunger Games, Peeta has no hesitation in volunteering even though Haymith is randomly picked as the male tribute. Hutcherson does a great job playing the character. He is definitely a good guy you root for in the movie. In Haymitch’s words, he says to Katniss “You know, you could live a thousand lifetimes and not deserve him.” While Katniss’s feelings for him are initially an act, one can only pretend for so long before it starts to be real. It is an interesting part of the movie and series as she sorts out her feelings between Gale and Peeta.
Catching Fire also brings back other strong supporting characters that have short but important roles. Katniss’s sister, Primrose Everdeen (Willow Shields), has a significant role in the series. In the first movie, she is the sweet, innocent, and scared girl who gets selected for the Hunger Games before Katniss volunteers for her. I really like the development of Prim in Catching Fire. She has really matured. When Katniss is worried and petrified about how her actions could affect her family, Prim is able to give her a pep talk. Prim inspires Katniss by noting that things have changed since the last Games and that Katniss has given the people hope. Moreover, Prim does not want Katniss to worry about them as they are with her. An interesting aspect of the story is that Katniss’s loved ones seem to understand her importance to the country more than her. As such, they are selfless in their support as they know Katniss can make the world a better place. I like the role reversal between the two sisters. In the first movie, Prim relies and leans completely on Katniss as her big sister. It is an excellent moment when Katniss is able to confide in and be inspired by the strength of Prim.
Of course, the other returning, supporting characters are also good. Stanley Tucci is entertaining as the over the top, enthusiastic show host Caesar Flickerman. Similarly, Elizabeth Banks is great as the exuberant and colorful Effie Trinket, who has mentored Peeta and Katniss in elegance and etiquette since the first Hunger Games. She is all about being proper so Katniss’s rebellious attitude typically makes Effie uncomfortable. Nevertheless, she has come to love both Katniss and Peeta. As such, their return to the Hunger Games gives her a sense of sadness as it feels like she is sending her own children to their deaths. Another great supporting character is Katniss stylist, Cinna (Lenny Kravitz). He has been a friend and confidant of Katniss’s since the first Games. Katniss completely trusts him and he guides her through the nervousness of being a public figure. Moreover, he designs gorgeous yet creative dresses and clothes for her to wear. Similar to the first movie, Cinna gives Katniss final words of encouragement before she reenters the arena: “”Remember, girl on fire, I’m still betting on you.”
The Quarter Quell is excellent. The former victors bring a higher skill level to the Games. Moreover, the arena is also designed to up the stakes. It presents extreme dangers in each section from natural disasters, mutated animals, and other horrors to greet the Tributes. It is definitely not the child’s play of the previous Hunger Games. Of course, alliances form. However, there is tension and fear of your own alliance as there can only be one victor. Accordingly, you have the fear of the fact that your alliance will turn on you eventually once the opposition is eliminated. Accordingly, you need to backstab and kill them before they can do the same. Moreover, all is not as it appears in the arena. If you have read the books, you already know all the fantastic twists in the movie. Even though I knew all the plot twists going in, it is still a very dramatic and exhilarating movie which speaks to its quality. Fans of the books will be very pleased. If you have not read the books, the movie will be even better for you as I remember being completely blown away by all the plot twists when I read Catching Fire. I would not watch the movie believing you know where any of the characters besides Peeta and Katniss stand. In addition, do not expect the Hunger Games to end anywhere similar to the last one. The movie significantly exceeded my expectations in every way. In my opinion, it is the best movie I saw this year and I recommend it to everyone. The themes, story, and characters in Catching Fire are amazing and the movie really brings all of it to life on screen.