Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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The second of, what will be, four films in the Hunger Games trilogy (quadrilogy?) came out this week amid frenzied anticipation. The first film set up the history behind The Hunger Games and the utter devastation it causes among the population of Panem, especially the outlying, poorer Districts like District 12, where our heroine, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Laurence), is from.

The story in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire picks up under a year since Katniss and Peeta Mellark managed to cheat the odds and both win the Games. Since then they have been living in the Victor’s Village, in mansions – separate ones – on the outskirts of… wherever it is in District 12 they came from – this is the first time I’ve thought about the fact that each District only seems to have one small settlement! The problem is that the relationship they displayed on camera and which won the hearts of the Capitol’s population was just that; a display. The reality is that Katniss’ affections lie with her friend, Gale (Liam Hemsworth).

President Snow (Donald Sutherland) visits Katniss just before she and Peeta are to go on a victory tour of the Districts, he demonstrates his knowledge of her deceit and her true feelings for Gale. With all the understated malevolence and actor like Sutherland can muster he tells Katniss she must convince the country that her relationship with Peeta is true. He then lets her in on the fact that she has become a symbol of a resistance that has started to rise in the Districts after her trick with the poison berries, effectively showing the president’s regime as weak.

Things on the tour don’t go completely as planned and a new Gamesmaker, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) colludes with President Snow to devise a new Games that would surely put an end to Katniss and quash the fledgling rebellion. His plan is to put one male and female victor from each of the Districts into the games to fight to the death and, as Katniss is the only female victor from District 12, she would have to be entered.

As you can tell from this huge set up, there is a lot of hunger before you get to the games. This is a long film, clocking in at just under two and a half hours, and the majority of the plot takes place before the games. This is much like the book and actually give you a wider understanding of the political and social make up of the country you only saw brief glimpses of in the first film.

This also gives the supporting cast a chance to shine. We all know Jennifer Lawrence can act, but Donald Sutherland gets to be overbearing and scary, Philip Seymour Hoffman gets to be slimy, Woody Harrelson gets to be hilarious as the permanently plastered mentor to Katniss and Peeta,  Haymitch and Elizabeth Banks’ character, Effie Trinket gets to evolve from the distant social-climbing Capitalist into a person realising the horror the Capital puts the Districts through in order to control them.

The minor characters are also back; Lenny Kravitz as the costume designer, Cinna, provides Katniss with a grounded character from the Capitol she can trust, Stanley Tucci’s maniacal game show host, Caesar Flickerman, is even more of a caricature of modern-day TV presenters, even Toby Jones returns as Flickerman’s co-host, even if he is reduced to a single-lined blink-and-you’ll-miss-it performance. There are also the past victors, the most prominent of these being Finick, Mags, Johanna Beetee and Wiress, played with various levels of sympathy and mistrust.

There’s a great set-up to the games arena this time round, which I won’t spoil. I had a fear that a specific aspect to it wouldn’t work, but was put at ease by the handling of it. In fact, the whole story stays very close to the source material, which is a nice surprise. However, I do feel that parts could have been cut out to save on time.

This is not the action packed thrill ride the first film was. Even the fact the contestants in the games this time round are older, in some cases middle-aged, the shock value of the violence isn’t as bad. But this is made up for by the widening of the world and the progression of the characters in it. I would also argue that the theme is just as dark, if not more so, thanks to the tone coming from the events set in motion by president Snow right from the beginning of the film onwards. A nice twist at the end of the film sets up the next movie perfectly, just as the book did, and as with all book-to-film adaptations of late, the final (most tricky) book will be split across two films. *Sigh*

With acting as brilliant as that on display here the slower pace of the plot is easily forgiven and further cements Lawrence’s credentials as a grade-A leading lady who can do everything from violent action to tender understatement. This is a perfect central film that gives a lull in a series that is about to go all-out, off the chain crazy! Roll on The Mockingjay.

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2 Responses to “Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”

  1. In the end it’s a great addition to the series, even if the first still ranks a bit better. Good review.

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