The Hunger Games: Catching Fire review

Review Sarah Dobbs 12 Nov 2013 - 00:01

Jennifer Lawrence is back as Katniss, in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Here's our review...

You’ve got to feel sorry for Katniss Everdeen. The hero of any story has to be prepared for a bit of pain and suffering, but she’s really being put through the mill. After emerging triumphant at the end of The Hunger Games, saving both her own life and that of her soft-of-almost-boyfriend’s through a clever bit of trickery, you’d think she’d be allowed to relax for a while. But no. No, things are about to get much, much worse for Katniss…

Catching Fire picks up more or less where the first film left off. Katniss and Peeta have returned home to District 12, where they’re rewarded with huge new houses and all the food they can eat, but that doesn’t mean they can live happily ever after. Winning the Hunger Games comes with more than just a material prize – Victors can also look forward to traumatic flashbacks, constant nightmares, and an inability to let their guard down, ever again. And for Katniss in particular, there’s an added bonus: because her public act of defiance has sparked a rebellion in the Districts, she’ll either have to become the Capitol’s puppet, or the President will kill everyone she loves, as a little reminder of who’s really in charge.

Thanks to the careful world-building in The Hunger Games, Catching Fire is able to cut straight to the emotional meat of the story without worrying too much about scene-setting. Panem is a cruel place, and the entire first hour of the film is devoted to showing just how much worse things have got since we last visited – it’s raw, painful, and devastatingly effective. Katniss might be a symbol of hope for the Districts, but she’s also just a girl, and each new act of violence affects her deeply.

It’s almost a cliché at this point to praise Jennifer Lawrence for her acting, but her performance is vital to the success of this film, and she’s flawless. Katniss’s every thought is clearly legible on her face, every feeling visible in her eyes. The Hunger Games saga is all about grand gestures and crushing emotions playing out on an enormous scale, and without Lawrence, it’s hard to imagine it how it could work. Her Katniss feels utterly real and deeply relatable, and if you’re not crying by the end of the first act, you’re made of sterner stuff than I am.

The only disadvantage to Lawrence’s brilliance is that her co-stars tend to look a bit slack by comparison. Even so, there are some great supporting performances in Catching Fire. Josh Hutcherson as Peeta manages to convey just the right mixture of defiance and vulnerability; Liam Hemsworth’s Gale is, once again, short-changed as far as screen time goes, but he does at least provide an interesting foil for Peeta. Elizabeth Banks is, once again, brilliant as Effie, especially in her quieter moments, and Stanley Tucci’s Caesar is a glitzy, sinister, menacing delight. And Jenna Malone as Johanna Mason is pitch perfect casting – you can already see the animated gifs that are going to be made of her scenes.

There might be a few too many new characters, though, especially since so many of them won’t survive. Blink and you’ll completely miss who most of the Victors are meant to be; there’s just enough information given that fans of the books will be able to work through a mental tick list of characters as they pop up, but if you haven’t read the books, they might as well just call them Cannon Fodder 1 – 17.

The only new character in Catching Fire who really matters is Finnick, and he doesn’t quite translate to the screen. He isn’t in it for long enough to make as much of an impact as he should, and he doesn’t get all of his hero moments, either. Whether he’s magnetically attractive enough probably depends on whether or not you fancy Sam Claflin, but he doesn’t quite seem to have the charisma that’s so necessary to Finnick’s character.

The other problem with Catching Fire is that there’s a bit of an Empire Strikes Back vibe to it; it’s not really a complete story in its own right. It feels like, well, what it is – the middle part of a story, the bridge between the beginning and the end. And it ends on a cliffhanger, which is a bit anticlimactic. There are also some accusations of sequelitis to be made, especially towards the end, when it starts to feel like certain parts of the first film are just being replayed on a slightly larger scale.

But those are issues the film has inherited from the book, so maybe it’s not fair to take it to task over them. Director Francis Lawrence was facing a hell of a challenge in taking over The Hunger Games franchise from Gary Ross, but he’s done a fantastic job of staying true to both the first film and the book, and – whisper it – this might even be a more satisfying adaptation than the first one. The world is just as fully realised, the CGI is more convincing, and the violence, this time round, is even more shocking.

There’s even one clever use of muted obscenity, which feels like it might be pushing at the limits of the 12A rating.

Maybe it’s a little bit top-heavy, and despite its breakneck pace, it can’t quite hide the fact that at 146 minutes, it’s really, really long. But there’s barely a second of it you’d want to miss. Catching Fire is a gorgeously made film: a brave, cutting political parable with an enormous heart. It’s going to be a long wait for Mockingjay Part 1.

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Can't wait to see this. Pleased by the 4-star review

There are so many new characters introduces in the second book that the film was always going to struggle to do them all justice. It's a shame that Finnick didn't quite work out, though. Looking forward to seeing this a lot. I can't remember a period before when there were so many great films all coming out at the same time.

Havent read one bad review so far

The Guardian newspaper (UK) has a fairly neutral review today (12th Nov)

It has to be better than the first film. It totally failed in depicting a believable famine- ravaged dystopia by populating it with well-fed hotties and had characters in a last-man-standing fight to death make ludicrous decisions to save others who wouldn't think twice about knocking them off. I switched it off and watched Battle Royale again. This sequel may be worth a chance based on your review but I'll wait for the missus to bring it home on dvd methinks.

The first one was brilliant, and this one is, too.

Have you seen it already? Does it rip free from the awful "Running Man for tweens" themes of the first film?

4 stars. I'm there.

Thank you for confirming that it wasn't just me then.

It wasn't just you mate, there was plenty of us that felt like that. I tell you one thing, the misses can go with her mates this time. The review mentions that this time round the violence is 'even more shocking', so there's is actually some violence in this one then?, because considering the bulk of the film WAS a 'battle royale' the first one was pretty light on it. Maybe I was in the wrong mood, because I thought it was awful, just awful.

Have to say, I haven't shown a lot of love to this franchise yet, but reading this review I just might give it a shot. And I have to admit, I have a weak spot for Lawrence since the last Oscars.

Bring in the Subway sandwiches!

Ha.
When you see about 5 reviews praising the film's Finnick, and you see just one and feel like the whole thing will go down hill. =/ Still, I guess if I haven't read the books it would be a very good film.

It was about as violent as the Phantom Flan Flinger and made as many poignant political comments and statements as Geri Halliwell. Not to mention Lenny 'one good song in 1989 and that's about it' Kravitz being in it. It completely offended me as a film. About as brave as Noel's House Party the s**t years. There. I've said it now.

Well said Sir, well said

Battle Royale is an 18. The Hunger Games is a 12A, The book trilogy's target audience is teenagers. What did you expect?

Well, the review mentions that the violence is 'even more shocking' the inference being that the level of violence in the first film is shocking. My point is that the first film contains almost zero violence (appreciating the flicks target audience) so to describe it as 'shocking' is somewhat misleading to people who aren't the target audience.

That old paradox of making a movie with adult violence, poltical pyscology, propaganda and a ruling class mimicing the aristocracy of pre-revolutionary france and making the pg 12 for maximum target audience.

Catniss enters the running man arena and wins by making friends and being kind.....

I'd prefer that they did have a custard pie fight instead.

The first was pretty weak and anodyne, and Katniss was wooden as all hell I thought. She had one facial expression the entire time. Mayhap this sequel is amazing, but I'll reserve judgement until I see it.....

I'd chuck my custard on Jennifer Lawrence...

Point taken, but surely it is the fact that this is happening between children is what makes it "shocking"? Admittedly not a lot of violence is shown on screen, and the screams/fighting sounds are muted out at the start of the arena section (something which, if I remember correctly, was insisted upon for it to get the 12A certificate), but the shot of Cato approaching the young boy with the sword, and the splash of blood and falling body that followed it, was far more powerful for me than watching Hugh Jackman's Wolverine throwing a henchman off of a train. Similarly, the shot of Clove(?) straddling another tribute and plunging a knife into their chest. For me, the violence and suggestions of violence, though fleeting, are more "raw" than the comic book violence that is typical of the 12A and thus have more impact.

If you're going there, may I suggest mud or Jell-o wrestling instead?

I think you're absolutely right re the wolverine and films of that nature Steph, nothing shocking about a character butchering his way through 100 faceless goons that are clearly there for exactly that reason, in fact its usually a pretty absurd spectacle to be perfectly honest, maybe I'm a prime example of desensitisation in action, 40 years of violent movies, video games, comics and books (not to mention the nighty news) has, sadly, left me pretty difficult to get a reaction from. Oh, and don't call me Shirley.

Roger, Roger. What's our vector, Victor?

I'm glad to see her performance was good this time. Doesn't anyone else think she was really wooden in the first film?

Overall I really liked it One thing which I thought was a shame though was that they redesigned the police uniforms to be more futuristic. I liked the ones in the first film - they had more of a seventies dystopia feel about them (Fahrenheit 451, Soylent Green etc).

That's only one small niggle though and certainly not big enough to detract from enjoying the film.

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