I had zero expectations going into this film. I thought the first film in the series was horrible and made my worst list of 2012. With that being said, Hunger Games: Catching Fire, although with many flaws, was a drastic improvement in the Hunger Games film series.
I didn't know what was going to happen in this film. I knew the basic premise and that the only thing the series could do would be to improve. Major improvements came in story-telling and special effects. The dialogue and major actors (Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson) weren't good. If anything, Woody Harrelson received the best lines and brought the best out of his character. Jennifer Lawrence does as much as she can with a character who can't grow past the horrible screen written pages that put her there. Josh Hutcherson is bland as Peeta, and every competitor, except Sam Claflin's Finnick, was a generic stereotype. Sam Claflin brought a different spark of drama to the film that was much help in a daunting story. Other characters that shined were Donald Sutherland's President Snow and Stanley Tucci's Caeser Flickerman. Sadly, this was the Jennifer Lawrence show and she did not bring the fire. Lawrence was dreary throughout the entire film, with her emotions either angry or very sad.
As a story, Catching Fire is far better than the first film. However, there were plot holes. I would have liked to see more of the Commander of the Peacekeepers, a fight between Katniss and the woman with the shaved, sharp teeth, and more love story between Katniss and Peeta. The film moved at a good pace, but it seemed like the film didn't know when to slow down. At two and a half hours, the film is pretty long and moves very fast. It also felt like the filmmakers tried putting in everything the book had and I couldn't feel much for some things. I didn't care for Katniss's post traumatic stress. It was too much to handle for a stuffed movie. The love story seemed to be reduced and I never felt that there was any rebellion happening. I recognized the story as one woman's journey as a Joan-of-Arc-type finding herself and how she can change the world. Everything else fell to the waist-side.
Thematically, this film is dark. There's whippings, brute violence, and a lot of despair. A few times the comedy shined, but the hopelessness was overwhelming. This wouldn't be as much of a problem if there was a good balance of comedy, but there were barely any comical moments in the film. The cinematography is dark and generic, with some beautiful shots, but not enough to create a beautiful film. I also felt that this film failed on shooting on an epic scale. I have no doubt that the Suzanne Collins trilogy is epic, but these films are having trouble portraying it. There are moments where it starts becoming epic, but the director can't push it forward. Special effects-wise this film did not have Made-For-TV effects like its predecessor, but that's not saying much. Hunger Games had horrible special effects. Any upgrades in the effects department would be a major improvement in the series. In the costume department, the Peacekeepers wore uniforms that seemed to be taken out of the G.I. Joes film series. Everything that the Capitol citizens wore seemed like knock-offs and scraps from Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland.
Lastly, the way this film ended was horrible. I know there are two more films to come, but I don't think any film I've seen has ended as bad as this film. It's because it just ends. There's no conclusion to what's going on in the film. Moviegoers who have not read the books will feel cheated, confused, or underwhelmed.
Hunger Games: Catching Fire was mixed. Sometimes it was great then other times it was bad. Jennifer Lawrence's acting prowess was gone and the film felt under scaled. The ending was a cheat for me. There was better action and story-telling than the first film, and great special effects, but not enough to save the flaws of the film.
Good Qualities: Great special effects and a better story than the first film. Good supporting cast.
Bad Qualities: Lawrence and Hutcherson did not bring their best acting chops to the big screen. The ending was too abrupt. Costumes felt like they were reused from other films. Even though the story was better, the story had plot holes and never took a breather.