Top 10 films of 2013: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Feature Sarah Dobbs 24 Dec 2013 - 23:10

This adaptation of a YA novel makes our top 10 list for its intelligence and heart, as Sarah explains

Over the past few weeks, Den of Geek writers have been voting for their favourite films of the year. The votes were weighted, calculated, and compiled into a list of our favourites of 2013's films. Here, at number 3, is The Hunger Games: Catching Fire...

3. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

This feature contains spoilers.

The first Hunger Games film was a brilliant surprise, a movie aimed at teenagers that had a heart and a brain and wasn’t afraid to make a political statement. So when director Gary Ross stepped away from the sequel, claiming Lionsgate’s production schedule was too tight, it was hard not to worry that Catching Fire wouldn’t live up to its predecessor. Happily, though, Francis Lawrence managed to make it work. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is just as smart, just as thrilling, and just as outspoken as the first film. Actually, in spite of a few structural flaws it inherited from the novel, it might even be better than the first one.

Maybe it helps that Catching Fire didn’t have as many preconceptions to battle against. The first one was plagued by lazy comparisons to Battle Royale and Twilight, its cleverness ignored because it sort of involves a love triangle. The Hunger Games had a lot to prove, but thanks to a stellar performance by everyone’s fantasy best friend Jennifer Lawrence (and the fact that the story is actually great) it won people over. Catching Fire builds on that success, but without feeling the need to water anything down. From its very first scene, it makes it clear that it expects you to be up to speed with the story so far; it’s got a lot to do, and it doesn’t have time to play catch-up.

So it starts with Katniss suffering flashbacks to her ordeal in the arena. And then it quickly makes it clear that although she might have survived that battle, she hasn’t won the war. If she wants to stay alive, if she wants to keep her family, friends, and neighbours alive, she’s gonna have to keep fighting, and all the bows and arrows in the world won’t help her this time.

Suzanne Collins has said that she was inspired to write The Hunger Games after channel-hopping between a reality TV show and coverage of the Iraq war, and, well, yeah, it doesn’t take much effort to pick out those allusions in Catching Fire. The story might be set in a futuristic dystopia, but it’s one that parallels our own world in ways that are frequently, deliberately uncomfortable. It’s strong stuff, especially for a 12A – and for that alone, Catching Fire deserves its place on this list.

Obviously no-one would want to sit through two and a half hours of pointed critique of western society if that was all it was, and Catching Fire is definitely more than that. It’s an action movie, and there’s always plenty going on – it’s a long film, but its pace hardly ever slows below breakneck speed. Visually, too, it’s striking, using colours, silhouettes and architecture to convey everything you need to know about its world. (The CGI is both more sparing and more convincing than it was in the first film, too, which helps.)

Really, though, Catching Fire’s strength is its heart, and for that, its cast deserve all the credit. Jennifer Lawrence is as wonderful as ever, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth seem to have grown into their roles well, and the supporting cast is stuffed with great character actors, from Donald Sutherland to Stanley Tucci to Philip Seymour Hoffman. Catching Fire introduces a lot of new characters in a pretty short space of time, and though some of them do get a little lost in the shuffle (sorry, Wiress) the ones who matter do make an impact. And by that I mean Jena Malone as Johanna Mason is probably the most memorable minor character in any film you’ll see this year. She gets all the best lines and all the most outrageous moments – she only has a handful of scenes, but she’s ridiculously brilliant.

Catching Fire is, in many ways, a very dark film, and the ending isn’t a happy one. But it’s inspiring nonetheless. The thing about most action movies is that there’s no way the average person can ever hope to be anything like the hero. You and I, we haven’t got superpowers, we’re not super rich, and, well, maybe I should only speak for myself, but I haven’t got genius level intelligence, either. I’m never gonna be Spider-man. But The Hunger Games saga is the story of a girl who just does her best, who’s often confused and scared, who’s not the cleverest or most beautiful or most skilled – but who nonetheless changes the world, just by making one daring decision to challenge an unfair system.

If you’re gonna be inspired by anyone, if you had to pick a fictional role model, well, Katniss Everdeen wouldn’t be a bad choice.

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