In this second film of the popular sci fi Hunger Games series, Hunger Games: Catching Fire continues the saga of embattled couple Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), winners of the 74th Hunger Games.
For those who may have missed viewing the first Hunger Games film, the plot is this: a civil war erupted between the impoverished people, who live in 12 Districts, and the wealthy elite which has left a post apocalyptic world and fueled the wrath of President Coriolanus Snow (a deliciously venal Donald Sutherland).
The uprising is eventually contained, but Snow wants to ensure that the country (which is now called Panem) will continue to be controlled by Panem’s wealthy.
As revenge for the uprising, Snow selects young people from each district to compete in the Hunger Games. Opponents must fight to the death until there is only one victor standing from each district.
The victors receive fame and enough money to lift their family out of poverty. Katniss was plucked from District 12 to compete in the first Hunger Games due to her skill with a bow and arrow.
Feeling that she and Peeta would not survive the Hunger Games, Katniss and fellow survivor Peeta entered into a suicide pact to eat poisoned berries. But just before they eat the berries, it is announced that the two have won the Hunger Games.
Katniss’ near desperate act to end her life has made her a symbol of unrest among the poor that sparked uprisings throughout the districts.
Snow sees Katniss as a threat that must be eliminated. He decides to make her an example by announcing that she and Peeta will participate in the newly formed Panem’s third Quarter Quell right after they complete their victory tour. The Quell will pit former tributes (previous winners of the Hunger Games) against each other to once again fight to the death.
Snow orders Katniss and Peeta to complete a victory tour of the 12 districts to pay homage to the fallen tributes and to profess their love for each other, which will be widely televised (a ploy by Corolianus to keep the masses distracted and to quell thoughts of rebellion).
Right before the victory tour, Snow hands Katniss a white rose and implies that he will kill her and her family if she does not complete the tour. He tells her that she must convince the districts that she and Peeta did not try to commit suicide because they felt they would not survive the deadly Games, but because they were in love and wanted to die together.
(Snow is actually secretly hoping that Katniss will be killed during the Quell.)
A reluctant Katniss and Peeta are placed on a train to embark on the tour without getting a chance to say goodbye to their loved ones.
The first stop is District 11, where Katniss lost her ally, 12-year-old Rue, in the previous Hunger Games. As Katniss and Peeter express their sorrow over Rue’s death to the crowd, an old man holds up the three finger salute, the symbol of defiance in the 12th District.
The crowd follows suit, holding up three fingers. When Katniss and Peeta return the salute, enraged Peacekeepers (robot guards) immediately drag the old man away and kill him, much to Katniss’ horror.
Not only must she try to survive, but Katniss is locked in a complicated love triangle between Peeta and her childhood friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth).
Although the two started off as friends, Peeta has grown close to Katniss during the Hunger Games. On the victory tour, Peeta reveals his feelings by publicly professing his love for her. Even though the two announce a public engagement, Katniss still harbors deep feelings for the rebellious Gale.
Katniss tells Gale she wants to run away with him and escape, but Gale is determined to remain in District 12 and help the people.
After the old man is killed, vicious new head Peacekeeper Romulus Thread and his vicious guards are transported to District 12 to maintain order. Thread starts beating an elderly woman in the district. Incensed, Gale attacks Thread in an attempt to stop the beating.
Gale’s ‘”insolence” is rewarded when he is publicly whipped in District 12’s town square. Horrified, Katniss ferrets Gale away to her family home, where she and her family members tend to his wounds.
Snow, who can survey the districts’ activities through an all-seeing hologram (shades of the future)! enlists Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), to mastermind the Quell.
Heavensbee looks disarmingly cuddly and harmless, but his milquetoast looks are deceiving. He carries out the deadly Quell with chilling efficiency, but Heavensbee harbors a surprising secret that is only revealed toward the end of the movie.)
After the tour, Katniss and Peeta are immediately thrust into the jungle to participate in the Quell. Not only must they battle the other tribute survivors, but the jungle is wired with mind-boggling booby traps—poisonous gas, rampaging monkeys, killer birds, and rain filled with blood. It’s the survival of the fittest—and one by one, the tributes meet horrific deaths.
Tribute competitor Wiress (Amanda Plummer), who goes into shock after experiencing the horrors of the Quell, cannot stop uttering a phrase, ‘tick, tock’. Despite her delirium, Wiress has unwittingly furnished the words that turn out to be the keys to a harrowing escape.
Do Katniss and Peeta survive? Go see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
Catching Fire is chock full of colorful characters, including tech wizard Beetee Latier (Jeffrey Wright) Wiress (Amanda Plummer); flamboyant dress designer Cinna (Lenny Kravitz!); mentor Hamitch Abernathy (a live wire Woody Harrelson); sympathetic chaperone Effie Trinkett (Elizabeth Banks); and Hunger Games television announcer Caesar Flickerman (an over-the-top, coiffed and nearly unrecognizable Stanley Tucci.)
The sensationalistic televised games broadcast In Catching Fire seem to reflect a disturbing trend in our own society—as the media continues to chase the bigger, the better, and the more shocking, we seem to be morphing into a culture that is “hungry” for more and more sensationalism.
The movie also touches on a number of universal themes: the crushing disparity between rich and poor, man’s inhumanity to man, the omniscience of corrupt leaders and governments, and good versus evil.
Katniss (played by the plucky Jennifer Lawrence) with her razor sharp instincts, quiet intelligence, compassion for the impoverished people of the districts and skill with a bow and arrow, has emerged as a character who battles evil with courage and grace.
In case you haven’t heard, Katniss has amassed a huge and devoted fan following around the world. Onscreen and off, women—and men–have embraced the fictional Katniss as a symbol of bravery and courage.
(And I’m pretty sure that archery lessons have gone way up.)
Released by Lionsgate Films and based on novelist Suzanne Collins’ young adult series, there are some spectacular special effects in this film and a number of striking performances. But the star of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is unequivocally Jennifer Lawrence, whose charisma lights up every frame.