Oh look, it’s another review of that new film everybody has been talking about. You know the one, with the kids and the killing and stuff. No, silly, not Battle Royale, it’s The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Just over a year has passed since we witnessed Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark defy all the odds and emerge alive together out of the fantastical and savagely cruel arena of the annual sacrificial spectator sport that is the Hunger Games. In this latest instalment, the pair have been elevated to idol status throughout the twelve districts of Panem, and the threat of a revolution inspired by Katniss’s previous actions looms overhead. As far as President Snow is concerned, this new flame of hope must be extinguished, and in a cruel twist Katniss and Peeta, along with several other past victors, must once again face the perils of the Games.
This is not going to be a compare and contrast review between the film and Suzanne Collins’ 2009 novel. I may be one of the only people under the age of twenty-five to have never read any of the Hunger Games trilogy, I suppose you can blame my undying devotion to a certain J.K. Rowling for that. Young adult fiction that doesn’t contain a single horcux? Not for me, thanks. I did, however, very much enjoy The Hunger Games, and whilst Catching Fire is vastly different in tone and content, the sequel is on par if not slightly better than it’s 2012 sibling. Two thirds of the film is taken up not by action packed drama of the actual Games, but rather the internal politics and consequences that Katniss, Peeta and the rest are forced to work around to try to maintain relative calm within Panem. Of course, these tensions rise to near breaking point as the picture progresses, but this ‘behind the scenes’ approach to the story provides the audience with much more background and interesting information than the full on gladiatorial feel of the first film. That is not to say, however, that Catching Fire is without action. When we do eventually arrive in the arena, we see a vast improvement in creativity and technological proficiency with regards to the look and feel of the arena. From killer fog to crazed mandrills, there is more than enough threat and danger to satisfy ones thirst for adrenaline.
As for the performances, I really don’t think the internet needs another paragraph of writing conveying just how good Jennifer Lawrence is. I will be as brief as possible and just say that she is simply an extraordinary actress. The heart and soul of the film, I cannot imagine anybody else playing the role of Katniss Everdeen. Lawrence seems to be one of the few actresses of our time who is able to so effortlessly shine in a role as big as this, whilst at the same time pick up a Best Actress Academy Award for something as unassuming as Silver Linings Playbook. She’s a keeper, this one. Josh Hutcherson is understated and suitably bland in the role of Peeta, but I suppose that is really the summation of his character thus far. All of our weird, wacky and wonderful faces are back including Elizabeth Banks and Lenny Kravitz as Effie Trinket and Cinna, and the introduction of Philip Seymour Hoffman as head gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee helps to create a layering and texture that the original film did not possess.
Catching Fire, however, is not without its flaws. I am told that the film is a remarkably faithful retelling of the novel, but at times that commitment to Collins’ prose is arguably detrimental to the cinematic medium. At over two hours in length, it feels at times as if certain sequences are included solely out of respect for the source material, and rather than progress the main plot they serve to slow down the pace of the film and halt momentum. This obedience of the novel also raised another concern for me in the sense that some of the logic surrounding the action that takes place within the Games arena strikes me as rather questionable and problematic in relation to the revelatory climax of the film. I will say no more for fear of revealing spoilers, but some of the decision made by certain characters at certain times left me lamenting both the lack of Suzanne Collins’ ability and the unwillingness of the filmmakers to make any changes.
That being said, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a thoroughly enjoyable cinematic experience. I am rarely pleased by a blockbuster of this proportion, but the attitude and integrity that this franchise appears to have impresses me. This is not the kind of series that you can drop in and out of, very little will make sense if you haven’t seen the first instalment, and, refreshingly, the filmmakers make no apologies for that. This is, ultimately, a very dark and sinister children’s film that doesn’t do its young viewers the disservice of assuming they need to be signposted at every turn. Bring on Mockingjay – Part 1.