The Hunger Games is very easy to dismiss as the latest Harry Potter/Twilight/Benjamin Sniddlegrass and the Cauldron of Penguin series. However, underneath that young adult fiction sheen it’s a film about a dystopian future where young children kill each other… Okay that’s not that under the radar, but the reality is that’s it a film that does a lot of things right. Not least in it’s portrayal of a strong, independent female character that has an actual personality beyond sitting in a chair moping after a sparkly vampire. Therefore, the second film in the series, Catching Fire, shall undeniably come out to a load of attention and make a shit load of money. (Just as a quick disclaimer I have once again read the book but will be reviewing the film as a separate entity).
As the film kicks off our heroine, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), has returned as a victor to District 12. However, all is not rosy in her life. Outside the games her and Peeta’s (Josh Hutcherson) relationship has cooled, while she also has to deal with the jealous Gale (Liam Hemsworth). Meanwhile President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is threatening everyone she ever loved, if she doesn’t convince the other districts that her stunt at the end of the first film was not an act of rebellion but one of love. Add in some post traumatic stress and it’s not surprising that she’s not feeling her best. All these troubles pale into insignificance however, when she discovers that Snow plans to get rid of her and many of the other victors by forcing them back into the games to celebrate their 75th year.
Firstly it has to be made clear that if you haven’t seen the first film there is no point jumping into this one. Go back and watch it first or you will just be lost. On the other hand, the biggest weakness this film has is that it’s formula is far too similar to that of the first one. It’s basic premise is almost identical and while the time in the games is cut down in order to focus on more character development, it does feel a bit deja vu. It also feels that they have tried to ram far too much in here, which is obviously more down to the source material. But, we get characters making huge sacrifices and it just being passed over in a blur, without really being allowed to make the impact it should, because they are already off doing something else.
Despite these weaknesses this film has a lot going for it. Jennifer Lawerence is one again fantastic as Katniss and it is just wonderfully refreshing to see a strong female lead being followed around by a male character who’s personality is essentially just being in love with her. It’s a role reversal from the Hollywood norm and is very fun to watch. Meanwhile Sutherland’s Snow is fabulously evil and cold blooded while Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s game master Plurtarch Heavensbee is a nice little riddle for watchers to figure out. Woody Harrelson also continues his great form from the first film, as the alcoholic with the heart of gold Haymitch.
The plot is what it is and it has to be said doesn’t quite have the bite of the first one. However, they have done well with what they were given and considering this is definitely a literary series that deteriorates as it goes on, it will be interesting to see how the third and fourth go.
Watching Catching Fire is a bit like being put through a grinder as it just hits you with moment after moment. It’s also incredibly good fun and will have you sitting on the edge of your seat throughout. If you want your blockbusters a little more intelligent than the average fare, but not intelligent enough that you’re ever going to get bored, then get down to your local cinema now.