The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

New to cinemas – 21st November 2013

Catching Fire

 7.4

The Hunger Games films are probably more entertaining for me than for those who’ve read the books. As well as not knowing the whole story in advance, I get to watch the films without having to moan about casting choices and story omissions, i.e. the kind of stuff I complained about with Carrie. Having said that, I was strongly aware of the first film’s lack of consideration for those who aren’t aware of Panem’s rules and mythology; plot points and such were given rush introductions seemingly reliant on the viewer’s preexisting knowledge. And whenever director Gary Ross wasn’t showing off stylistically, you could see the individual parts moving beneath the action, going through the motions as though putting the film together was a labour of love.

Not the case this time round. New director Francis Lawrence brings confidence to this second installment, and as a result the film is more streamlined than its predecessor. He rejects the restless camera used by Ross in the first film which allows him to build proper tension. We also get more President Snow this time, Donald Sutherland’s drawling omnipotence heightening the sense of menace, something the first entry sorely lacked. With Lawrence set to direct the rest of the series, the Hunger Games finally seems on course for greatness.

We left Katniss and Peeta surrounded in glory after their unconventional win in the 74th Hunger Games, staging love to reap TV ratings as instructed. Upon return to District 12, they slip back into their normal lives – which involves not seeing each other whatsoever – until they are called upon to take a victory tour of the country. Their evident lack of chemistry combined with their deviation from prepared speeches portrays a rebellious nature which infects citizens of Panem, causing them to riot. To demonstrate his intolerance for such behaviour, President Snow organises a special rule for the 75th Games: only previous victors will be taking part.

Issues of trust and loyalty are considerably heavier in Catching Fire. The participants have all suffered the Games before and they know there are no loopholes this time, so passions are high and making allies is the biggest risk anyone can take. The characters are varied enough to bring an interesting range of approaches to the Games, which affects each character’s deadliness or selflessness and ultimately their impact on our heroes. One of Fire‘s strongest points is its critique of fame, which complicates the character development and allows the series to move further away from those damaging Battle Royale comparisons.

We also get a sense of Panem’s corrupted politics, which explores its fascistic rule and makes the situation more tragic; Katniss and Peeta’s actions at the end of the last film dictate most of the bad stuff that happens in the first half of Catching Fire, even though they only acted towards survival. However, Peeta is still the biggest girl in the entire film, and his whinging got on my nerves. Whenever he’s not the victim he’s playing the victim, and Josh Hutcherson’s damsel-in-distress portrayal only makes matters worse. He’s the weakest link in the series, and he needs to sort himself out before the The Hunger Games can work its way to greatness.

And after spending roughly 140 minutes bettering the first entry, Catching Fire lets itself down with an annoying cop-out ending. But before that, the film shows real promise for the next two parts, and is immersive enough to consistently entertain for its extended running time. Jennifer Lawrence shows great subtlety in her performance and perfectly encapsulates Katniss’ conflicting emotions during her speeches, her rushes of confidence during the games and her thinly masked stubbornness when she knows she’s treading on thin ice. As a movie franchise, The Hunger Games is gathering storm, and Catching Fire is a refined beast that expands the series’ thematic palette and this time makes you excited for the next one.

Also see:
The Hunger Games (2012) The first film in the series. 6.3

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