The second segment in the Hunger Games trilogy is on a par with the first, pretty much. Perhaps that isn’t much of a surprise, given structurally the plot in many ways reprises the first, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Other popular franchises (including the Harry Potter series) follow a particular formula whilst being part of a larger, gradually unfolding story. The trick is to within the formula give the audience what they want, but not the way they expect it. Catching Fire does this very well.
Director Francis Lawrence takes over from Gary Ross but the look and style is much the same, albeit with an increased budget this time. After barely surviving the previous Hunger Games, victor Katniss Everdeen (the always excellent Jennifer Lawrence) is understandably suffering post traumatic stress disorder. But her actions in the games have caused a spark of revolution that is, as the title suggests, catching fire. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) warns Katniss that unless she clearly demonstrates she is “one of them”, there will be consequences that threaten the lives of those she loves.
If you are unfamiliar with the previous story and indeed the premise of this series, I suggest you read Suzanne Collins’ excellent novels on which these films are based. Like the first film this isn’t as good as the books, but the adaptation is solid and entertaining. The supporting cast (including Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Josh Hutcherson, Lenny Kravitz and particularly Stanley Tucci) are all good, and although events end with a whimper rather than a bang, a suitable sense of outrage at the appalling injustices perpetuated by the Capital keeps the viewer gripped throughout.
Like the first film, this imagined future reflects not only the bread and circuses of the Roman Empire but also our present world in miniature, with the “Capital” essentially standing in for the West and the various districts reflecting the various nations exploited by the West (via sweat shops and the like). These undercurrents were more interesting in the books, but they still provide a provocative backdrop for the story.
In short, if you are a fan you’ll definitely enjoy this. But expect to be hungry for more at the end.