mon 22/04/2024

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire | reviews, news & interviews

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Jennifer Lawrence steps back into the ring, but will the odds remain in her favour?

Josh Hutcherson and Jennifer Lawrence are plunged back into the titular death-match in 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'

The Hunger Games franchise is blessed with Jennifer Lawrence as its heroically defiant protagonist Katniss Everdeen. No matter how much darker, more drastic and deranged developments get in the world of these Games, Lawrence is a touching, authentic and watchable focus for our sympathetic attention.

This second instalment — in what will be four films from the phenomenally popular Suzanne Collins book trilogy — finds Katniss, haunted by the ordeal of her inspirational victory in the 74th Hunger Games, back in dystopian, post-Apocalyptic Panem’s miserable mining community District 12 with her mother, sister and stoic sweetheart Gale (Liam Hemsworth). When she and devoted comrade Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) are dragged on a victory tour it becomes apparent revolt is brewing and Donald Sutherland’s coldly calculating President Coriolanus Snow is unsettled by the public’s embrace of charismatic Kat.

Appointing a devious new game maker in Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Plutarch Heavensbee (dig those wacky Romano-Rowling names) he announces a shock twist in the rules: the 75th Anniversary "Quarter Quell" will pit 24 past champions against each other to the death in the ultimate merciless smack-down. It’s abundantly clear to the canny Kat that these games are rigged to soil her image, or at least kill her. Her independence served her well the first time around, but interdependence becomes a principal theme here, with Kat needing friends and allies to survive.

So confident is this in its brand appeal after the success of the first film, there’s not a lot of re-capping exposition (prepare to be mystified if you didn’t actually read or see The Hunger Games; I was wishing I had seen it again more recently to get back up to speed). And still it takes ages to get going. This plays very much like the bridging “middle bit” in a multi-part epic, complete with cliffhanger ending. After an hour and a half of youthful angst, fascistic oppression, love triangle teases and sinister exchanges with Snow, one shares with the ridiculously decadent elite of Panem and Stanley Tucci’s hyperbolic TV presenter an unbecoming enthusiasm to get on with the killing.

Inheriting the franchise from writer-director Gary Ross, music video veteran Francis "no relation" Lawrence (claims to fame, er, Constantine and I Am Legend) enjoys a budget nearly double that of the first film. The costume and visual effects teams work hard for the Oscar nominations that eluded them last year and there's spiffing handheld IMAX camera action in the arena where our heroes – a few mean-looking bad-asses and a bunch of other contestants we never actually meet – find themselves in a  tropical jungle dome laid out like a clock with a wicked surprise in every sector. The more fun competitors, Jeffrey Wright and Amanda Plummer – who obviously won their Games with brains not brawn – are memorably eccentric.

Can I just say that a society that has the technology to create and fund this horribly thrilling murder-dome, with its blood rain, poison gas, mutant psycho-killer ape animatronics and sundry other extravagantly lethal gizmos, ought to be able to provide a few more amenities to appease the starving enslaved masses simmering with rebellion. But the satirically depraved ruling class will surely get their comeuppance in The Mockingjay, Parts I and II, currently filming. Meanwhile, amid the adolescent mythology there is some real emotion and character development, especially from the tough, transfixing Lawrence, who keeps us hungry for more.

This plays very much like the bridging 'middle bit' in a multi-part epic


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters