The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
With a hardcore fanbase only recently seen with the likes of the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises, it’s understandable to view the Hunger Games series with a sense of trepidation. Under the watchful eye of Gary Ross, the first entry in the series – replete with shaky-cam and dumbed-down morality – can at best be seen as “not bad”, possibly the best outcome to be had in recent years from a “young-adult” literature adaptation (although I can make a pretty solid case for the first Percy Jackson movie).
Catching Fire then, presents a bit of a conundrum: whilst the first film, in spite of it’s flaws, opened to a reasonably happy fan base and made a shedload of bank at the almighty box office, here we have what (based on its source material) is ostensibly a “bridging story” – the connective tissue between the initial set-up that was the first film/novel and the all-out revolutionary tale that apparently makes up the finale.
It’s with a great sigh of relief then that Catching Fire manages to not only deliver on its low-bar potential, but somehow manages to elevate its concept higher than its predecessor. A fairly rehashed storyline (the previous film’s victors are now seen as beacons of hope and are sent back into the arena to destroy their public image before a full-on revolution arises) is given just the right level of exploration and added depth. Lawrence is on her usual fine form (now packing an Oscar-enhanced resumé) and even Hutcherson seems to have grown into his role nicely, making his character of Peeta more rounded and investible this time around. While it’s nice to see the supporting cast given more to do (Lenny Kravitz and Woody Harrelson again own the show), the film’s strongest asset this time out comes in the form of a beefed-up role for its antagonist, the oppressive President Snow – played with literally biscuit-chomping villainy by the always enjoyable Donald Sutherland.
It’s very telling that the addition of a prominent villain makes the film so much more enjoyable than what came before, and with an arena set-up this time out which actually serves a point (as opposed to being simply a barrage of PG-13-friendly off-screen child-murder), director Francis Lawrence proves himself the better helmer. The arena’s IMAX scenes simply eclipse the first film’s, which is just one aspect (along with an overall more grisly aesthetic) that places it an entire level higher than the rather neutered series opener.
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Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland