Building on the robust foundations of last year’s opening salvo, Catching Fire is a lean and muscular sequel, striking a pleasing balance between brawn and brains.
Time is invested in developing emotional bonds between characters, but Catching Fire is every bit as unrelentingly grim and brutal as its predecessor.
The film opens with heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) back in District 12, hunting alongside her beau, Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth). They steal a kiss in secret before Katniss returns to the Victors’ Village to continue her fake romance with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) for the cameras. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is waiting for her and he threatens Gale’s life if Katniss steps out of line.
Flanked by booze-sodden mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) and sartorially daring escort Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), Katniss and Peeta tour the districts, scenting rebellion in the air. Meanwhile, Snow recruits a new Games creator, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), to stage a special tournament which will pit the darlings of District 12 against former winners in the ultimate duel of death.
In the arena, Katniss and Peeta risk everything once again to keep each other alive.
The script turns up the heat on the central love triangle, while Lawrence and Hutcherson expertly navigate their characters’ conflicting emotions, leavened by comic relief courtesy of Stanley Tucci as flamboyant TV host Caesar Flickerman.