Expectations are high for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the second installment in the iconic series based on the novels by Suzanne Collins. The first film was well received, even if it was a bit campy. And though a last minute director's change created some doubts, this film is able to do what few sequels ever accomplish by outperforming its predecessor and living up to the insurmountable hype.
Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson return as Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark respectively, the recent victors of the 74th Annual Hunger Games. Each character builds on their respective performance as they reveal a darker, more troubled persona that is quickly linked to the events of the arena through the occasional (though thankfully not overused) flashback. Each actor complements the other to near perfection, allowing them to serve as a moving unit within the confines of the story, something not easily pulled off.
Before either of the Victors can get too comfortable in their surroundings, they are sent off on a "Victor's Tour" to commemorate their performance. It is here that they each begin to see signs of a brewing rebellion amongst the other Districts, and while neither of them are fully aware, a surprise is awaiting the upcoming Quarter Quell announcement that helps give Catching Fire the grit and bite that allows it to soar.
Joining the already highly regarded cast of returning actors is Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Toby Jones, and Sam Claflin as the infamous Finnick Odair. But it is Jena Malone's turn as Johanna Mason that really got me to the edge of my seat. Her aggressive personality, her "who gives a shit" delivery, and her flawless comedic timing creates an iconic character out of the District 7 tribune. She keeps the film moving, and for what it's worth, keeps you in a state of limbo as she never seems entirely sane"”then again, none of the tribunes do.
At just over 145 minutes, Catching Fire moves with a brisk pace, never skipping over the details, though refusing to dwell on them either. The film is darker, edgier, and more confident than its predecessor, moving through its characters and story with a sense of pride and experience that can only come from a veteran.
I've read the books, so I knew where the story was heading from the very beginning. However, I still found myself in a state of sadness as the credits began to roll. The film took me for a wild and adventurous ride, one I can't wait to experience again. But even more so, I was left with only one burning question: When can I see Mockingjay: Part 1?