The Hunger Games: Catching Fire continues after the events of the first film and has Katniss and Peeta trapped in a victory tour where they are coerced to continue the love facade that developed during their time in the hunger games. Throughout the tour unrest among the many districts is clearly shown to be growing which has been sparked by many viewing Katniss and Peetas willingness to sacrifice themselves in the hunger games not as an act of love but as an act of defiance. Meanwhile President Snow and Plutarch Heavensbee the new game master prepare for the 75th Hunger Games which unlike previous games will pit previous victors of the Hunger Games from the twelve districts against one another.
Thematically Catching Fire is a more fleshed out and poignant exploration of the themes present in the first film which range from interdependence vs dependence, identity, love, sacrifice and more. Thankfully unlike so many films that are as thematically dense and ambitious as Catching Fire the films never gets weighed down by said ambition and doesn't force the themes to the forefront. Rather Catching Fire lets them present and grow in an organic manner steaming from the characters present and the situation they find themselves in. Likewise the film slowly introduces what is at stake in a manner that allows for the film to build itself to its conclusion in a very methodical and tense manner. That is until the finale which is overly abrupt and largely unsatisfying and clearly meant as bait for the next film in the series. Whilst I have no issue with this per se I found it rather ineffective in this case and certainly the weakest aspect of Catching Fire.
Unlike the first Hunger Games film which featured some delightful cinematography, Catching Fire features jaw drooping cinematography throughout. Furthermore Catching Fire doesn't feature the nauseating and overused shaky cam that was used in the first film that was more often then not to its detriment. The budget of Catching Fire has also been reported as being almost twice as large as the first film which no doubt has helped allow for the at times cheap looking effects from the first film to be absent. Simply put Catching Fire is a more polished film with less technical distractions present (such as the extremely fake and cheap looking fire effects which have not only been significantly improved in Catching Fire but actually now look good).
The single biggest stand out of Catching Fire would have to be quality of actors and actresses and the performances they provide. The performances are simply superb and Catching Fire easily features among the strongest casts I have seen in a film for quite some time. Most notably the weaker and underutilized roles from the first film such as President Snow, Haymitch, and Effie are given more substantial scenes which allows for the characters to be more rounded and fleshed out compared to their relatively limited characterization in the first film. The leads Katniss and Peeta are once again superb and along with the rest of cast elevate the film well above what most casts could hope to achieve. With that being said Catching Fire much like the first film does feature a love triangle Between Katniss, Peeta and Gale. Sadly Gale once has such a limited screen time we have little reason to care for his character and thus the love triangle whilst not forced could have benefited from more scenes fleshing out Gale as an actual character to allow us to relate to what Katniss may or may not see in Gale. However as it is the relationship between Katniss and Gale does fall relatively flat compared with the rest of the film and whilst not forced it also doesn't fell necessary.
Catching Fire most notably features a major leap in quality when compared to the already strong first Hunger Games film and features more confident film making featuring superlative performances, gorgeous cinematography and a thematically interesting and gripping plot. Hence The Hunger Games: Catching Fire comes highly recommended.
Note: A sizable portion of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire has been shoot using imax cameras similar to The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. So if you have a real imax nearby it may be worth considering viewing this film in such an environment which I find to immerse in a way that normal cinemas simply cannot hope to achieve. Sadly I was unaware of this until after I had viewed the film so cannot comment further.