Following their joint victory in the 74th Hunger Games at the end of the first film, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) of District 12 embark on a victory tour of the country. This journey allows the two young adults to witness the oppression present in the country, as well as exposing them to the uprisings in other districts. Katniss’ survival in the Hunger Games is seen by many as an act of defiance against the tyrannical President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who brutally tries to suppress any false sense of hope amongst the people of Panem. This allows for the grander story of political repression and revolutionary sparks to take form, as such themes were paramount to the books and elevate the film.
As the two leads don’t even venture into the arena until well over an hour into the film, Francis Lawrence takes his time showing us the world of Suzanne Collins’ novels brought to life. Whilst in the Capital, Katniss witnesses the extravagance and decadence of their lives, so indulging that many citizens of the Capital intentionally throw up at balls only to be able to sample even more food. This is grotesquely contrasted with the poverty of the districts, where Katniss’ friends are struggling to get and food at all. The political undertones are strong in this film, furthering our emotional investment in Katniss’ thrilling exploits.
Francis Lawrence may be new to the series, but his direction on this film displays his talent at balancing blockbuster effects with human emotionality. This leads to a more beautifully shot film, with wider frames being employed opposed to Gary Ross’ shaky-cam from the previous film. The material is slightly darker this time around as well, though still within the confines of the PG-13 rating to the dismay of some older fans of the books. While Lawrence paints a grander picture of Panem and the suffering of its people, his film is not devoid of cliché. In fact the overemphasis of Katniss and Peeta’s romantic tension leads to many moments of cheesy dialogue that take away from the seriousness of the rest of the film. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is loyal to its source material, as well as improving upon the first film with more mature content and with some appeal to harder-hitting and broader ranging themes of rebellion. The costume, set-design, and visual effects teams have all done some fantastic work here, and through a combination of factors such as Francis Lawrence’s direction and higher quality performances, Catching Fire is a more ambitious and enjoyable film than its predecessor.