The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Director: Francis Lawrence

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Stanley Tucci

Written by: Simon Beaufoy, Michael Arndt and (based on the novel Catching Fire) Suzanne Collins

Running Time: 146 mins

Cert: 12A

Release date: 21st November 2013

For me, the first Hunger Games film, based on the series of novels by Suzanne Collins, took a long time getting going and once we hit the games themselves, the film really took off. So entering the first sequel, I was hoping that the introduction that slowed down the first film would have been looked into. I wasn’t disappointed. The first two-thirds in this much pacier film is both interesting and zips along. The problem, this time, is the Hunger Games itself.

Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark have become the darlings of the Capital after winning the 74th Hunger Games. However, President Snow isn’t so keen, as the world he commands are turning to Katniss as a figure of respect. Trying his best to ruin her, the Districts are going under martial law and anyone who celebrates her will be shot. With revolution hanging in the air and as a last resort, Snow decides that the 75th Hunger Games will include winners of previous games from all the districts, meaning that Katniss and Peeta will have to face death once again.

The sequel follows exactly the same path as the first film, separated into three acts: the introduction, the training and then the Games. Things are very different though, as the world which Katniss now lives, as a fully fledged celebrity being toured around district to district and manipulated into reading cards written for her and her male partner, makes for a really fascinating message about how political figures will do anything to control their world and the celebration of celebrity.

We get a huge celebrity party for the engagement of the leads, filled with wannabe hanger-ons who the youngsters have no clue who they are. A sign of our times, I’m afraid. We get the power of television and spectacle as the contestants are paraded in front of their public in a gladiatorial sequence that wouldn’t look amiss in Ben-Hur. The most interesting part of the film is how President Snow will do anything in his power to use Katniss for his own means and when she refuses to play ball, how he can bring her down. It makes the film have a much darker tone than the first and we are slipping away from the teen audience that these films are aimed at.

The main problem comes when the Games start and we are in familiar territory. Now set in a controlled environment and battling between allies and enemies, it drags the film’s pace to a grinding halt . Incredibly repetitive and slow, it shows the errors like pointing an arrow at the mistakes. For example, how many arrows does Katiness have in on her. Seems she only has five and yet she uses hundreds of them. The other frowning moment is the death of the other contestants. These are supposed to be the best of the best and in the training scenes, they seem like terrifying killing machines and yet they die without any real effort made by anyone.

Thankfully the performances manage to keep the interest. Jennifer Lawrence is fast becoming one of the best screen actresses, bringing a wreath of emotions to Katiness, a vulnerable young girl who has the heart of a hunter, she commands the screen in every scene she appears. Donald Sutherland is given more to do this time and he relishes in playing the power-hungry, Snow, proving he still has it after all these years. Philip Seymour Hoffman manages to sleepwalk through his role yet still being extremely impressive, although how he got out of wearing the outlandish costumes, we have no idea.

I was concerned that the excellent Toby Young’s role was reduced to a few umm’s and ahhh’s and not else.

If they could merge the first part of this film with the final part of the first, this would have been a five-star film. Even though the final part here drags the score down, it’s still worth seeing just for that first two-thirds. Just switch off the brain when you get to the finale.

4/5

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