h u n g e r  g a m e  s :  c a t c h i n g  f i r e

katniss-effie-peeta-catching-fire.jpg

21st November 2013

Francis Lawrence

J-Law, Hoff, WOODY

146 mins

15

Jo

10th November 2013

UK Release

Director

Starring

Runtime

Certificate

Reviewer

Reviewed

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire soars comfortably above the often difficult mid point curse in the cinematic triptych about the girl on fire.   

Picking up our story from the end of The Hunger Games, we are back with Katniss Everdeen who is living in splendour after her ‘win’ at the 74th Games. Being from District 12 ‘splendour’ means living in a house and not starving; and for her mentor, Haymitch, it means having enough booze to drown out the thought of events past present and future. Katniss and her pseudo beloved, Peeta, are preparing to go on their victory tour through Panem and resume their showmance for the leering vultures of the Capitol to feast upon. However it is not just the Capitol who is watching and in the other, poorer districts unrest is beginning, the scent of rebellion is wafting through the sulphur-coated air and the President is painfully aware of this. It must be quashed,  or more importantly its symbol, Katniss Everdeen - the Mockingjay must be quashed. An anniversary version of the games is contrived and back into the arena our plucky two must go although this time the rules of the game are much altered. Last time they were merely playing to live, much more is at stake this time. 

I tremendously enjoyed the first instalment of this surprising and intelligently handled franchise so I must be honest I wasn’t expecting greatness from this middle segment. I was expecting mediocrity. Well they showed me didn’t they?  Whilst it would be impossible to replicate the excitement and initial meeting of these wonderful characters Catching Fire has more than enough merits to equal the enjoyment of the previous outing. It is pacy and exciting and I spent most of the time on the edge of my seat or watching through my fingers. This instalment has a lot more to pack in, the ‘politics’ of the world Suzanne Collins created are ramped up as the film makers must pave the way for the last instalments; if you’ve read the books you’ll understand that’s quite a big deal. Credit to Simon Beaufoy’s script and Francis Lawrence’s directing, the film does not feel stuffed full of exposition or endless unrelated scenes. The story remains coherent and interesting and could probably be picked up by someone who was a stranger to it all although it is undoubtedly more enjoyable with the knowledge of the first part firmly tucked away in one’s memory. It moves at a breakneck speed and if anything I wanted to linger a little sometimes but as the film is already at 146 mins any more lingering would put us level with The Godfather or Lord of The Rings. The final instalment IS being spit into two films to make more money…erm sorry I mean to give the story full justice.  In fairness actually there is so much going on in the last book I suspect two films is necessary for it to really satisfy.

Director Francis Lawrence was a interesting and unusual choice, his previous films include I am Legend and Constantine and he’s continued the good work here. There aren’t too many visual surprises, more of a feel of safe and familiar territory from the first part. I am curious to watch what he does with the last instalments, but this is obviously good ground for him. My one niggle was the score which unfortunately I felt was heavy handed and obvious. 

One of the things for me that made the Hunger Games shine first time around was the consummate casting choices. Golden girl Jennifer Lawrence was an inspired choice for Katniss and the producers must have been rubbing their hands in glee when she won the Oscar. Lawrence is an extremely likeable actor who breathes more life into Katniss than countless other one-dimensional female ‘heroines’ that young women of today get forced on them. As I watched Aliens the other night I started thinking how depressing it was that Ripley is such a standalone in the film world – a strong intelligent, kick ass, emotional, fully rounded female character. Maybe Katniss Everdeen could be some way of a Ripley for the teenagers of this generation and certainly better than wet blanket Bella from Twilight (no offence Kristen). It’s refreshing to see a young female character that isn’t rewarded for the way she looks and who fights for things such as poverty and starvation rather than the love of a maudlin teenage boy. Lawrence deserves every accolade she gets; she is quite simply a class act. Josh Hutcherson has more to do this time around than just lie down and pretend to be a mossy rock and the film is better for it. Hutcherson injects Peeta Mellark with some much-needed gumption and confidence, summed up by what he says to Katniss, “Stop looking at me like I’m wounded and I can stop acting like it ‘. Thankfully she does. Hutcherson handles the role confidently and starts letting the audience see the spark starting in Peeta and allow for believable potential for an actual love story between the two.  

The sublime supporting cast are back - Woody Harrellson cementing my adoration for him further with loveable rogue Haymitch, a part he was born to play. Elizabeth Banks as crayon box with a heart, Effie Trinket, is a delight. Stanley Tucci is Liberace fabulous as white toothed showman Caesar Flickerman, Donald Sutherland as terrifying steely-eyed President Snow and Lenny Kravitz as charming super stylist Senna. Must mention poor old Liam Hemsworth who clearly is a lovely young actor but really doesn’t get to do too much again this time around. Next two are his time anyway. Newcomer Jena Malone has an air of both familiarity and rawness about her and is an energetic and commanding presence as fiery aggravator Johanna Mason whilst Sam Claflin is top notch as the confusingly charming Finnick. Standouts also are the wonderful Jeffery Wright as Beetee, Amanda Plummer as Wiress and Lynne Cohen as Mags. Lastly, the most exciting new addition is the inimitable Phillip Seymour Hoffman as games maker Plutarch Heavensbee, a divine piece of casting that I hope will further come to fruition as the last two films emerge.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a beautifully acted, exciting, action packed ride. A wonderful way to spend 146 mins on these bleak winter evenings. What more could you possibly want?   

Check out the trailer here.

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