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The Girl on Fire is back, the Mockingjay and the symbol of hope against a repressive regime returns in The Hunger Games Catching Fire, a film that fans of the novel will be extremely pleased with.
After winning the Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has been suffering nightmares and has been unable to spend time with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), after it was revealed that her love for him was fake. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) demands Katniss that she needs to keep the presence going, in order to stop an uprising happening in many Districts of Panam. Snow threatens to kill her family, if she does not comply. With many of the Districts rioting, seeing Katniss as a symbol and the Capital citizen looking her as a cultural icon, the new Gamesmaster, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) advises Snow to bring in more oppressive measures and for the 75th Hunger Games, the Third Quarter Quell, by using the existing pool of winners to fight to death, forcing Katniss and Peeta back into the arena.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a very loyal adaptation of the novel, only omitting a few elements and adding or expanding scenes. Director Francis Lawrence and writers, Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt have taken over the series and the trio keep what worked from the first adaptation, while dropping things like the shaky cam, in order to improve on the quality of this second entry.
Francis Lawrence and the writers greatly realize the expanded world of Panam and showing the political situation in the mostly engaging way possible. We get the wide range of political symbolism of the world, the use of the three finger hand symbol, the mockingjay bird and getting quick graces of the rebellion in the screens of a control room. We get to see what events are like on the ground, with the tour of Districts in a montage and the repression used in District 12 with the enforcement of corporal punishment. On the other side of the coin, the citizens in the Capital copy Katniss’ style, including Snow’s granddaughter, which leads Katniss into becoming a Che Guevara-like figure, where the citizens do not realize what she stands for.
The sequel also retains the themes about politics, particularly the media as both Snow and Katniss’ team battle each other in the media world, making power plays, in order to get one over the other. Commentaries about the other indulgent society in The Capital is also in play, compared to the poverty that the other Districts live in. Katniss herself has to go through some changes, as she wants to protect her family, but is forced to become this symbol and every action The Capital takes drives her closer to the role.
The Hunger Games: Catching Games has a bigger budget then the previous entry and it shows on the screen, as Francis Lawrence is allowed to craft a grander and more expansive world, than director Gary Ross had previously done. Lawrence gets to visit more of Panam and has big wide shots during the opening parade and seeing more of the skyline of The Capital. There is more CGI and Francis Lawrence greatly realizes the topical arena for the games.
Lawrence preserves the same color schemes that Ross used for The Hunger Games, District 12 and the other district being gray, grim and industrial, compared to The Capital being bright and colorful. Lawrence also maintains the same level of violence and brutality of the first movie and the book, such as the flogging scene and does push the 12A rating in the UK during the Quarter Quell (the UK version is uncut).
New actors have joined the existing cast of The Hunger Games and the results are mixed. Hoffman is the competent professional that he usually is and Jeffrey Wright is excellent as the intelligent, inventive Beetee, adding plenty of gravitas. Sam Claflin, who won the convened Finnick Odair, continues to be his bland self, ever since he was in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Patrick St. Esprit does deserves a special mention, for his gusto and overacting as Commander Thread, the new strict head peacekeeper in District 12.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is an excellent sequel that improves on the original and should easily pleases fans of the books and the first movie. It is a blockbuster with substance and despite the long running time does not drag at all.