Saturday, 23 November 2013

Film Review: The Hunger Games - Catching Fire



Director: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Jenna Malone, Sam Claflin, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland, Lenny Kravitz
Runtime: 146 minutes

A dystopian future where teenagers are made to battle to the death amidst a looming revolution and social uprising? Another Twilight for tweens this ain't - The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a brilliant sequel that transcends the 'tween' market association and places itself firmly amongst a more adult and mature market with this assured and exciting second instalment.


With the first film in the franchise one of the runaway successes of last year (third highest opening-weekend of all time), a sequel based on the second novel, Catching Fire was assured. The good news is, for anyone who didn't enjoy the first movie (it had its faults), Catching Fire is an improvement in every way.

Liam Hemsworth as Gale 
After the events of the first film, Katniss Everdeen (everyone's dream BFF Jennifer Lawrence) is suffering from PTSD - memories of her time in the Hunger Games creep into her dreams and her waking moments are no better. Her actions in the Games have sparked hope in the hearts of the masses being controlled by the Capitol and President Snow (a sinister Donald Sutherland) is out for her head.

Forced to live a lie and maintain her 'love' for fellow survivor Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), Katniss is trapped - a key piece in a game of chess that she does not control, she is once again forced into the Games (a bumper 75th Anniversary Quarter Quell) and pitted against a host of past champions. However, not everything is as it seems as the Capitol is planning to eradicate them all and crush all dissent amongst the rioting masses in one decisive swipe.

The most notable improvement over the first film the direction. Taking over the reigns from Gary Ross, director Francis Lawrence steadies the camera and allows shots to linger. The result is more assured and coherent action sequences that aren't shaky or disorientating. We see a lot more of Panem this time around, which can only be a good thing. We start to get the sense that this series is about a lot more than just Games, with cogs in motion that will lead into the final two films, Mockingjay Parts 1 and 2.

The narrative is split down the middle into two distinct halves; the first an intriguing drama piece that reveals the political and social implications behind the Games followed by the pulse-pounding action-driven Games themselves. Both have their strengths, as they provide context and consequence to the other.

Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair
Jennifer Lawrence is once again the stand-out performer in the cast. It's hard to find fault with her acting here, and it's a delight to see her take the pressure of leading the film in her stride. She just keeps getting better and better as time goes on.

The same can be said for Josh Hutcherson's understated acting in the role of good-guy Peeta. Hutcherson comes across as less of a gushing romantic this time around with a more mature performance, which is refreshing.

Liam Hemsworth was good in the parts he was in (Gale is once again sidelined fairly early on) whilst new addition Sam Claflin will make girls go weak at the knees for hunky fisherman Finnick. The casting of Claflin is spot on and he subsequently does the surprising deep character justice.

Another new addition to the cast is Jenna Malone as the badass Joanna Mason. Like Claflin, the casting of Malone is great and she nails it. It'll be great to see all of these actors get more to do in the following films as they grow into the roles. Philip Seymour Hoffman also joins the cast as Plutarch Heavensbee, the new Head Gamemaker.

Woody Harrelson once again injects some levity into proceedings as drunken past victor Haymitch. One particular scene in an elevator with Lawrence, Hutcherson and Malone where Harrelson gets some hilarious quips is great.

I'm sure some viewers may be let down by the absence of blood, but the film is aimed at a young adult audience, like the books were. What did you expect, The Walking Dead? Some may also find that the pacing of the film is a little slow at first but the same can be said for many literary adaptations that have to cover a whole book.

The script is as close an adaptation as you can hope for; there are some scenes from the book that might have fleshed out the film a little better but the runtime was already pretty long so something had to end up on the cutting room floor.

One of the most divisive sections of the film will no doubt be the end - I thought the final 15 minutes of the film could have been structured a little better, with the action cutting between numerous characters rather than just solely staying with Katniss like in the book. This is just a minor quibble however; the bombshell ending (literally) will leave non-book reader reeling as it delivers a knock-out blow which will lead into the next film beautifully. Jennifer Lawrence is especially stand-out in this final cresendo/rug-pull.

The end result however is a film with many improvements that outweigh any negatives. The cast is impressive and the script is loyal to the book; fans of the series will cherish this adaptation, one of the best mainstream adaptations in a while.

The Verdict: 9/10


Bigger, ballsier, and all round better, Catching Fire is the best blockbuster of 2013. Move aside Stark, Kirk and Clark, it's Miss Everdeen who commands your attention in this gritty and determined drama with absorbing action and a killer ending. A confident sequel that improves upon every aspect of the original and then some. The odds are most certainly in this ones favour.

2 comments:

  1. Nice review. I'm truly excited about how the next two films are going to play out, especially how they leave us with this ending.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks man! I'm pretty excited for the next two films too; Mockingjay is the weakest book so it'll good if they can make it work on screen.

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