Katniss Everdeen is a hero. A true hero, not a hero for hero’s sake but on page and screen she has a truly admirable resourcefulness and courage which makes comparisons to other sagas left only to the uninformed. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a perfect blockbuster, oozing a compelling concoction of horror, satire and style which takes it far beyond the unfair assumption that it has a certain target market. ‘The Hunger Games is Battle Royale With Cheese‘ was the joke repeatedand retweeted at the time of the first film. There is nothing cheesy about The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, it’s a thematically rich satire and utterly horrible. It is an exceptionally good film, slicing edge of the seat tension with gorgeous, garish social commentary. For all my problems with the first film, specifically the lack of substance and terror really felt in this dystopian world, none of these faults are evident here. Perhaps I need to re-evaluate the first installment but new director Francis Lawrence makes a phenomenal effort to make this world feel dense, with enormous gravity attributed to every decision whilst capturing a plausible malevolence to the horrific system our characters are trapped within.
The plot picks up not long after the first Hunger Games. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is ordered by President Snow (Donald Sutherland) to show that her love for Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) at the last Games was genuine. The public relations angle before the film’s action commences is smart and absorbing, really immersing the viewer into how this world works. After a show of rebellion on the ‘Victory Tour’, Snow reasserts the Capitol’s power by initiating a ‘Quarter Quell’ for the 75th Hunger Games, forcing previous champions to return for another battle to the death.
It is extraordinary that a plot which is essentially ‘let’s do the same thing again’ works so well but such is the strength of the setup and direction, owing greatly to the richness of Suzanne Collins’s novels and how much we care for Katniss. Jennifer Lawrence is the perfect Katniss, even more assured in her role as she was last time, perfectly capturing the character’s steely resolve, whilst Josh Hutcherson has also improved. Then supporting roles from the likes of Stanley Tucci – who I genuinely believe deserves an Oscar nomination for his over-zealous and nightmarish chatshow host – along with Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson all click perfectly to make every moment compelling in the expertly designed Panem. The costumes and makeup are simply divine. The Games themselves are agonising, paying off all the stakes built up in the first half.
The film ends without an ending. After 146 minutes, I’m desperate for more. Francis Lawrence has commented how television has influenced his desire to make audiences leave still on the edge of their seats (incidentally, he’s signed on for the next 2 films). Catching Fire‘s ‘to be continued’ ending naturally annoyed me upon leaving the cinema, but to what extent does a film, particularly a continuing saga have to be self contained? I’ve always thought at least an attempt at containment should be made in cinema, whether it’s a thorough wrapping-up of plot or through a sense of emotional or thematic completeness. But then, television has always borrowed from cinema so why shouldn’t cinema borrow from television? Maybe I can re-evaluate my own assumptions because when things are this good, I can applaud a great cliffhanger from a great movie. For now at least, I am reading the books. A three fingered salute to you, Catching Fire.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is out now in the UK and US. Running time 146 mins. mins. Certificate 12A (UK).