It is important to advise audiences intending to see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire that it won’t have much impact if they have not seen the initial film.
This sequel, the second in the series, takes for granted the characters and actions from the first film. Audiences familiar with Suzanne Collins’ books were pleased with the film version of The Hunger Games. And many audiences, and critics, were surprised to find how well done the film was and how interesting and entertaining. They won’t be disappointed with Catching Fire.
Although this film runs for almost 150 minutes, the filmmakers have relied on audience memory. For instance, there was huge fanfare to introduce the contestants, the tributes from the 12 districts, who would fight in the hunger games, television interviews, lavish costumes, dramatic introductions with spectacle. There is something of this in Catching Fire, but we remember the first film and supply the atmosphere which means that, for the budget, there is only a small presentation of the contestants this time. It is the same with showing the television audience with its costumes, make up, and intense reaction to the contestants.
The familiar characters are back, the opening with Katniss and Gale Hawthorne back in district 12, with the prospect of a victory tour around the districts for the victors of the games. She and Peeta are unwilling. But, there is unease in the districts, the oppressed populations signalling possibilities of revolution. The President, Donald Sutherland, is also scheming to use Katnisss to promote popularity for himself and for the capital. He wants her to foster her public relationship with Peeta, the populace identifying with her in her (alleged and publicised) romance.
Jennifer Lawrence, who, between the two films, won an Academy Award for her performance in The Silver Linings Playbook, is still a strong presence as Katniss. Challenged in her ability for personal relationships, she nevertheless is a sympathetic warrior. Josh Hutcherson is back as Peter, sharing the victory to with Caithness, and showing some smartness in his dealings with the manoeuvres of the President.
Liam Hemsworth has a few more appearances this time as the man from the district who loves Katniss. It is a great pleasure to see Woody Harrelson back as the former victor and coach, Haymitch and Elizabeth Banks as the fey and fashion-conscious, Effie Trinket, still managing the victors. And Stanley Tucci once again relishes his role as the hyper-enthusiastic manipulative television compere - Peter Malone, ACOFB
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Liam Hemsworth, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Plummer. Directed by Francis Lawrence. 145 minutes. Rated M (Mature themes and violence).