The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Review
Catching Fire is the highly-anticipated sequel to 2012’s Hunger Games, the film adaptation of Suzanne Collins’s best-selling young adult novel about terrifying and sadistic games set in a futuristic dystopia. The story continues in this second instalment of the epic trilogy and follows the fallout of Katniss Everdeen’s victory.
What’s it about? Years after the catastrophic destruction of the USA and the creation of the nation Panem, the totalitarian government – ruled by President Snow – holds annual Hunger Games tournaments to keep the populace under control. Two tributes from each of the 12 districts, between the ages of 12 and 17, are chosen to participate in a televised fight to the death with only one survivor. The prize is a year’s supply of food for their starving district, all for the entertainment of the rich and opulent Capitol.
Last year, Katniss Everdeen volunteered as tribute to save her sister and managed to walk away intact – saving her fellow district 12 tribute Peeta at the same time. But her victory has angered President Snow, as dissidents in the districts see it as an act of defiance, rebellion and hope. As pressure mounts, Katniss is forced to be a pawn in the President’s game to quell dissent in the districts and keep her family safe. But the spark of defiance isn’t so easily put out and Katniss finds herself in the middle of a ruthless political game of control and brutality, and it soon becomes clear she was never as safe as she hoped.
Verdict: Whereas The Hunger Games was a bleak but utterly captivating story of sheer determination and familial loyalty in a hopeless and terrifying world, replete with harsh musings on mortality and survivalism, Catching Fire goes in a different direction, exploring the wider scope of political ideology and social control in Katniss’s world. Having lost Gary Ross as writer-director, his choppy, unpredictable cinematography is replaced by something more mainstream and visually elaborate in director Francis Lawrence’s work. Best known for his directorial outings in I Am Legend and Constantine, Lawrence is familiar with the action and special effects required for a story as immense as Catching Fire and the style does fit the story well. As befits a blockbuster sequel, the sets and special effects have been amped up too and both are more spectacular and realistic than in the film’s predecessor. The eye candy of the Capitol still stands in stark contrast to the industrial wastelands of the districts, and the scale of the piece just keeps getting bigger.
Katniss, still traumatised from her experiences in the arena, remains one of the film’s best virtues: an absolutely compelling heroine, her fear and anger slowly transforming into something with bigger implications for everyone around her. Jennifer Lawrence is typically faultless in a role which requires her to carry an epic story, and she does so effortlessly. Josh Hutcherson brings a real empathy to Peeta, whose storyline requires less ambiguity than before. Woody Harrelson brings an edgy wit and warmth to the fan favourite Haymitch Abernathy and Donald Sutherland gets to tread a fine line in President Snow, whose character is a twisted blend of kindly old man and downright sociopath. And the newly introduced supporting characters all make for exciting viewing.
The film is a faithful adaption of the book and follows the structure of the novel fairly closely, which should please fans. But that means it inherits the book’s problems. At almost two hours and thirty minutes, the film might strike some as a little overlong, especially as, unlike The Hunger Games, the story doesn’t gradually build to a climax, but instead meanders with new and chilling developments cropping up throughout the narrative. The book’s problem is that it is the second instalment in a trilogy and has the hard task of following up the explosively brilliant first instalment, whilst also laying the groundwork for the finale. It’s because of this that the film has the occasional moment of expositional, clunky dialogue and adds some extra angst to the less-interesting love triangle. Seeing the character of Katniss so angsty might put some viewers off, but if the last shot of the film suggests anything it’s that she will be on fine form in the last two films to come.
Final Words: Like the books, the story follows on from the first film and manages to remain compelling, action-packed, and layered with uncompromising thematic content. A visual spectacle, a rich story, strong characterisation, and a fantastic heroine all make this a film to watch, and will surely build plenty of anticipation for what promises to be a must-see two-part finale.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is in UK cinemas on 21 November.