“Tick tock.” Time is an odd thing in most dystopian movies.
Dystopian stories fold in the past, present, and future to create a discombobulated but still recognizable world. These stories are simultaneously intriguing and unnerving since they take contemporary societal ills and stretch them to their extremes. The results can come across as regressive, so we may try to situate dystopian fiction in the past. Yet, because these films usually have futuristic settings, we have little choice but to view them as our potential future.
Many dystopian movies do this well, but few have reached the heights of popularity as The Hunger Games. The four-movie franchise, starring Jennifer Lawrence, rode a pop culture wave in the early-to-mid-2010s. While all four movies were both commercial and critical hits, one of them captures the genre-bending spirit of Suzanne Collins’ novels best: Catching Fire.
Catching Fire takes the first movie’s dystopian, survival premise and turns it into a full-on political thriller. Full of tension, action, and emotion, the second Hunger Games movie is the most electrifying of the film series. Here’s why you should watch Catching Fire now that it's streaming (for free) on Amazon Prime.
Directed by Francis Lawrence, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, arguably, feels like two movies. The beginning half chronicles the time before the Games. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is back home in District 12 with a new house next door to Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) in Victors’ Village.
But Katniss is on edge. She doesn’t like her new opulent life and finds solace hunting in the woods with her childhood friend and secret (sort of) love interest, Gale (Liam Hemsworth).
Katniss is right to feel tense because she’s soon graced by a visit from Panem’s President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who insidiously threatens her not to step out of line during her and Peeta’s victory press tour. Snow also reveals that he knows she isn’t in love with Peeta, and for her to stay alive, she’ll need to convince not only everyone but also Snow of her undying love for Peeta.
In the first Hunger Games film, Katniss defied the Games by setting up her and Peeta to die by suicide, rather than allowing them to kill each other and be the sole victor. Because their played-up romance enthralled Panem during the televised Games, President Snow made the unprecedented decision to allow two winners.
Katniss’ defiance, however, planted seeds of rebellion throughout the districts, which becomes apparent as the victory pair visit them in Catching Fire. The “Girl on Fire” and the Mockingjay become symbols of rebellion. And so, unable to assuage the growing dissent in Panem, Snow decides to make an example of Katniss and throw her back into the Games.
In a turn of events, the 75th Hunger Games requires each district to choose two previous winners to play in the upcoming tournament. Katniss is the only female victor in District 12, so she’s immediately chosen, and Peeta volunteers to be the male tribute.
The first half plays out as so, with the pair once again preparing for another game. Although, there is a new edge to their attitudes and strategy. While this may seem like a rehashing of the first movie, the underlying tension builds in a shocking and devastating fashion as Katniss and the others are finally ported up into the arena.
Once the Games begin, the action kicks off, and this is when Catching Fire feels like a different movie. However, the suspense doesn’t let up as these Games are more overtly political than ever before. Whereas the first Games initially began with the mentality that every kid was on their own, this one is all about building alliances and strategies.
It’s also in Catching Fire where the world of The Hunger Games expands. Its cast of characters, for instance, grows as key players enter the mix who will make unforgettable impacts on Katniss’ journey. Fan-favorite Finnick (Sam Claflin) is Katniss and Peeta’s first ally in the Games. Westworld’s Jeffrey Wright portrays Beetee, another critical partner who helps Katniss. The late Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Plutarch, the new Head Gamemaker hiding something up his sleeve.
The stakes in Catching Fire make it the most exciting movie in the series — maybe even one of the most thrilling dystopian movies ever. If there’s one Hunger Games movie to revisit, Catching Fire is never a miss. Like Katniss, it always hits its target.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is now streaming on Amazon Prime for free via IMDb TV.