I have a confession to make: I've read all three books and I certainly cannot call myself a "Hunger Games" fan. The first novel was my favorite, being a simple story about survival and loss, with some emotional spikes to compliment the action. The second and third novels demonstrated needlessly complicated plots, illogical story elements, and just poor writing altogether. Thankfully, some of these stigmas seem to be on the mend with this new film series, although as Catching Fire proves, the movies are still held back by their unwavering faithfulness to the source material.
After "cheating" the 74th annual Hunger Games, an event in which kids are forced to fight to the death in a gigantic arena, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) returns traumatized to her home in District 12. Along with fellow victor Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), Katniss is forced by the government to go on a "Victory Tour" in which the two are shown off to the districts and families of the lost combatants. Although told to look convincing by the ruler of the nation President Snow(Donald Sutherland) and the new game designer (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), the two disappoint in pacifying the public and an uprising begins across the country of Panem. As indirect punishment, Snow announces that the next Hunger Games will consist of those who had won in years past. As she fights once again for survival with Peeta and a group of new allies, Katniss must become the symbol for hope across the nation and find a new way to cheat the system.
Fans will be happy to know that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire stays almost excruciatingly true to the novel, to a complete fault. My biggest problem with this story is its nearly complete lack of originality, with many plot elements frustratingly rehashed from the first installment. At first, one would think the story is going in an interesting direction, with Katniss being paraded around the country becoming a symbol of inspiration for the people, while dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder caused by the game. The story could have been more effective if she were to escape the clutches of the government and go on the run with Peeta, as she uses what she learned in the game to survive the real-world situation. Unfortunately, that story could have happened, but is interrupted by another game, in which all of the story points from the first are repeated with little-to-no variation.
Thankfully, it's great filmmaking techniques that turn this mediocre story into a truly enjoyable theatrical experience. To begin with directing and cinematography, Catching Fire is a massive improvement over its predecessor. The camerawork is much steadier and makes the action much easier to make out than the shaky-camera effect used in the last movie. Thanks to director Francis Lawrence, the action set pieces benefit from a massive improvement, while the acting proves to be stellar across the board.
Speaking of acting, Jennifer Lawrence just gets better and better with every movie she's in. Lawrence can convincingly portray a wide range of emotions, from confusion to confidence to terror, sometimes many at the same time. She makes Katniss a truly believable character. The rest of the cast does well too: Donald Sutherland as the movie's omnipresent villain, while Phillip Seymour Hoffman is as irredeemably unlikeable as many of his best-known roles. The week link is Josh Hutcherson, who has yet to shake his look of constant discomfort, even when that's not what he's supposed to emote.
From what I said above, it's probably pretty clear that the Hunger Games franchise is fairly "meh" for me. The main character is certainly compelling and a much more ideal role model than Bella from the Twilight series, while the themes are inspiring and relevant to today's real-life situations and public mindsets. However, all of these themes and character traits have been portrayed in much better ways in better film and literature, but that doesn't make The Hunger Games: Catching Fire a bad movie. See it for some fantastic acting and character moments, with good directing and action, along with the promise of a more original sequel.