There is no denying that the second installment in The Hunger Games series looks better than its predecessor; the fact that second film's budget was nearly twice that of the first is apparent from Catching Fire's onset. When you add the change in directors from Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit) to someone with a résumé that would at least suggest more comfortability in the genre, Francis Lawrence (Constantine--which, for all its flaws, looked good--and I Am Legend), the fact that the film looked better should come as little surprise to anyone. When grouped with the facts that Josh Hutcherson steps up his game (his performance in the first installment was more than a little lacking) and Wes Bentley is traded out for Philip Seymour Hoffman, and that Jennifer Lawrence, Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson, and Elizabeth Banks are as good as they were in The Hunger Games, it is not difficult to see how the product on the screen is going to be better than the one trotted out a year ago.
When you combine that with a major anticlimax, you've got a film that just doesn't quite work. As a chapter in a longer series, perhaps one can move past the shortcomings inherent in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire; but when isolating the film on its own merits, it falls significantly short of where it could have gone.