The Hunger Games has divided audiences around the world. Not so much teens, who completely love it, despite its unsettling subject matter and brutal teen-on-teen violence. Many compare it unfavourably to Battle Royale, but it’s a little different and is nothing short of a modern phenomenon; the natural successor to Harry Potter, as a book-turned-film teen franchise. For those of us a little older, it gives us an opportunity to return to our teenage years in the books or to enjoy them as well-made, immersive films.
The first film was spectacular in every sense of the word; we were thrown into the dystopian world of the Capitol and its Districts with a blunt, upfront and fantastical 142 minutes. It really helps your appreciation of the second film if you’ve seen the first, or at least know what happened: there are certain elements and references that are made all the more shocking if you know what they relate to. Having said that, it’s a really great film on its own, and absolutely worth the numb bum you will get after 146 minutes.
Catching Fire rejoins Katniss in the woods outside District 12, hunting with Gale. Everything seems normal enough, until an unexpected visit from President Snow confirms our suspicion that everything is not as it seems. Rather than simply kill Katniss, the symbol of hope for rebellions across the Districts, he uses the 75th Hunger Games, or the 3rd Quarter Quell, to force her and 23 other victors back into the arena, in the hope that they will kill Katniss and, with her, the smatterings of rebellion.
…many of them are by now strong and experienced fighters…
As you can imagine, the victors aren’t best pleased to be reenlisted into the games as, although many of them are by now strong and experienced fighters, they’ve been living in luxury since they won and would rather be left that way. We’re introduced to fantastic new characters such as Joanna (a scintillating Jena Malone), Finnick (Sam Claflin) and new gamesmaker Plutarch Heavensbee (a slightly flat Philip Seymour Hoffman). Effie (Elizabeth Banks) finally allows some emotion past the glitter, shedding a tear as she announces Katniss and Peeta are to return to the arena.
This film makes the first instalment look like child’s play: Catching Fire ups the ante in violence, intensity and emotion, highlighting Katniss’ role as the unwilling symbol of District-wide rebellion and President Snow’s carelessness with her life and the lives of others. More than once I found myself jumping out of my seat: yes, I was scared and surprised that the film received the same 12A rating as the first instalment. The visual effects are stunning and the new arena exactly as I imagined after reading the book.
…Stanley Tucci is an absolute delight…
The real strength of the film is that every actor is cast perfectly, to the extent that you imagine the auditions to be absolute walkovers. Jennifer Lawrence excels throughout, Donald Sutherland’s President Snow is dark and menacing, and Stanley Tucci is an absolute delight as Caesar Flickerman, pink eyebrows and all.
The film drives along the plot line with fire and fury, bringing it to a conclusion that shocks those who haven’t read the book and delights those who have. Catching Fire avoids the tragedy that often befalls films that are second in a trilogy: it’s not just a plot developer, rather it’s a spectacle in its own right and should be taken on its own with a useful splattering of background knowledge. Thrilling, visually exciting and brilliantly acted, Catching Fire is a delight to watch and, thank goodness, goes much faster than its lengthy running time.