The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

Remember where the enemy is.

With a plethora of fans already rooting for the film’s success, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire runs no real risk of disappointing its already vast target audience. While without doubt, Suzanne Collins’ second instalment from her trilogy about teenage warrior Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a safer, smarter and leaner follow up to the 2012 hit The Hunger Games. Although Catching Fire had a rushed and chaotic production due to the original director Gary Ross dropping out and being replaced by Francis Lawrence, the picture shows no signs of difficulty or haste.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire begins as Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has returned home to District 12 safely after winning the 74th Annual Hunger Games along with fellow tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Victory comes at a price for the pair as winning means that both Katniss and Peeta must now turn around and leave their close family and friends behind in order to embark on a ‘Victor’s Tour’ of all the Districts, where they are forced by the Capitol to continue their ‘madly-in-love’ act. Along the way Katniss senses that a rebellion is slowly simmering amongst the people as a result of her triumph over the Capitol in the pervious games; she quickly realises that this uprising could eventually break out into a revolution against the Capitol’s totalitarian rule. The wealthy Capitol rapidly becomes aware of this revolt, and President Snow (Donald Sutherland) subsequently puts his sly sidekick Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymore Hoffman) to the task of devising a new version of the games to eliminate Katniss in the public eye.

'My dear, that perfume is quite seductive.'
‘My dear, that perfume is quite seductive.’

It’s later announced that for the 75th Anniversary of the Capitol’s ultimate victory against the Districts, a different set of games will be played where former winners, one male and one female from each District, will compete against one another for the title. With many victors being old friends and national heroes amongst their people, dread breaks out in the land of Panem. But in District 12’s case, Katniss will be pitted up against either her old mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) or her partner Peeta Mellark; however this time it’s Peeta who volunteers himself as a tribute to spare Haymitch from re-entering the arena. Now with the odds staked up against Katniss, she is forced to fight her allies for survival and defeat the best of the best in an Olympics style Hunger Games.

While a large chunk of the story pretty much mirrors the previous film, almost beat for beat, the stakes are much higher this time around and the script by Simon Beaufoy and Michael deBruyn is much more focused and tighter, even though the film still runs for a whopping 146 minutes. As you’d expect everything is bigger this time around in terms of effects, lavish costumes and production values as the success of The Hunger Games has allowed for a boost in budget. The film not surprisingly seems to have drifted into ‘darker’ territory, which seems to be mandatory in the book-to-film translation world, just look at the Harry Potter series, although in Catching Fire’s case this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Salute to the work of Suzanne Collins!
Salute to the work of Suzanne Collins!

Most significantly, the games themselves, taking place in an Amazon-style rainforest, are more entertaining than those of The Hunger Games, with tidal waves, poison smoke and angry CGI baboons all obstacles in the way of securing victory within the arena. In addition, the new tributes have more distinct personalities opposed to the bland stereotypes from the first film making their interaction more compelling. Scenes in the arena are tighter and more thrilling as a whole with pumping action sequences that expertly convey the tension and ferocity of the moment. Gone are those pesky shaky camera movements that made The Hunger Games somewhat frustrating to sit through. Alas, the picture isn’t as violent as it’s predecessor, but new director Francis Lawrence, I Am Legend (2007), still manages to shock without ever crossing the line as he knows his intended audience particularly well.

The cast is uniformly good, even Josh Hutcherson, Bridge to Terabithia (2007), who plays Peeta Mellark seems to have loosened up a bit and is more animated in his second attempt at playing the character; he is clearly feeling more comfortable in the role. Jennifer Lawrence, Sliver Linings Playbook (2012), steps it up a notch as Katniss Everdeen with some solid physical and emotional work and anchors the picture well. As expected Elizabeth Banks, The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005), continues her flawless portrayal as Effie Trinket and Stanley Tucci, The Terminal (2004), is still a riot as the game’s wild host Caesar Flickerman. Liam Hemsworth, The Expendables 2 (2012), strikes a chord this time around as Gale, Katniss’ pre-games romantic interest and provides some of the picture’s more engaging scenes back at District 12. In terms of new comers Phillip Seymore Hoffman, Moneyball (2011), is a welcome addition to the cast portraying his complex character well, Jeffrey Wright, Casino Royale (2006), is interesting as the tech-savvy tribute Beetee, but Sam Claflin, Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), comes off as rather one-dimensional as the hunky Finnick Odair. Oddly enough, it’s Jena Malone, Sucker Punch (2011), who steals the show as the feisty tribute Johanna Mason taking the limelight several times throughout the film.

'You seem to be missing your wedding ring?'
‘You seem to be missing your wedding ring?’

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire not only improves vastly upon its predecessor: it’s a great cinematic ride within itself, touching on important topics about society without losing it’s thrilling core. It’s certainly not perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction for the series. As a mainstream picture, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire has no qualms dealing with several political issues conveying the despair and tyranny imposed by the Capitol over the rest of Panem in a rather detailed fashion. It’s remarkable to think that while this is a work of fiction, this kind of oppression still happens in the world today. It’s just unfortunate that most teenagers who will be flocking to theatres to see Catching Fire are only interested in the saga for its thrilling action and beautiful cast, yet the series has so much more to offer. Nevertheless, with The Hunger Games: Catching Fire elevating this series and ending on an interesting note, Mockingjay couldn’t come soon enough!

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia