Written by Guillermo Troncoso.
Suzanne Collins’ bestselling novels, The Hunger Games trilogy, accumulated a world-wide fan base that almost ensured that a sizable audience would watch the first adaptation. The fact that The Hunger Games was generally considered a good film by the masses locked in the series as a decent box-office draw-card. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire has now arrived to the many waiting with bated breath. Not only does it rise above the general mediocrity associated with sequels, but it confidently stands tall as a damn good example of how to deliver quality blockbuster entertainment.
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) have returned victors after surviving the 74th Hunger Games. Their victory – and Everdeen’s defiance – has sparked the beginnings of a revolution in the nation of Panem. As Katniss and Peeta reluctantly take part in a “Victor’s Tour” of the districts, they begin to realise the sense of hope they are bringing to the people. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) fears Everdeen’s influence over the nation and, along with Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbe (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), goes about preparing the 75th Annual Hunger Games (The Quarter Quell) – a competition that will be decidedly different from the ones previous held. Apart from the games, Katniss’ reluctance to embrace her heroic status, and President Snow’s stranglehold on the entire nation, Katniss is also caught up in a love-triangle with Peeta and Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth).
There’s a lot going on here, and it’s to the credit of the screenwriters (Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt) that it all unfolds so smoothly. Everything is more confidently presented this time round. While Panem was a slightly awkward mash-up of different stylings in the first film, it’s convincingly portrayed here. The different districts, while only shown in quick moments, feel tangible and they add layers to the film’s subtext of social and political ideology.
The games themselves don’t actually start till past the half-way mark. Instead, attention is placed on this oppressed society. The frustration of the people is expertly explored, preparing the kettle for the inevitable boil. As the malicious President Snow, Donald Sutherland gives a great performance. He captures the screen and gives us more than a moustache-twirling villain. While he doesn’t have too much screen-time, Hoffman also brings class to his role.
Of course, the film belongs to Jennifer Lawrence. The 23-year-old Oscar-winner brings a reinvigorated sense of maturity to the role. She perfectly balances the juxtaposing aspects of the character; deeply emotional, but tough as nails when she needs to be. Even the love-triangle, which could have so easily been laughable, manages to come together thanks to Lawrence’s performance. Her torn emotions feel real, paling the performances of her young male counterparts. In fact, much like the first film, the men vying for her affections don’t exactly come across as anything special. Their roles feel increasingly minor, given the extremity of Katniss’ overall situation.
As is expected in a sequel to a highly profitable film, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire has a much bigger budget to play with. While many films blow the cash on dizzying effects that add little to the film, Catching Fire smartly holds its big cards close, throwing one down every now and then to raise eyebrows when the time is right.
Director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, Water for Elephants) directs some truly robust action sequences that manage to get the adrenaline pumping. Highlights include an edge-of-your-seat primate attack and a rotating man-made island. There’s tension and excitement to be had in equal measure during The Hunger Games themselves, finishing off a third act in an exhausting sequence of events that set up what is to come in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 and Part 2.
There are moments when the film seems to have bitten off more than it can chew, as certain characters are left by the wayside and certain moments don’t quite add up upon closer inspection. These are but minor qualms, Francis Lawrence directs with confidence, every scene punching home a point before moving on. Also, Francis Lawrence makes the smart decision of settling the camera down from the shaky-cam aspects of the first film. It’s a long film, clocking in at 146 minutes, but you don’t notice the time fly by. Nicely paced, with a story that constantly grabs your attention, Catching Fire manages to do something that many blockbusters forget to do: it entertains, pure and simple. A B-Grade concept pushed to A-Grade levels in a sequel that ups the first film’s commentary, excitement and entertainment.
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10