Review - The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

It's The Hunger Games... but with more balls!

Undoubtedly, the best thing to have come out of the Twilight phenomenon was decision to make the The Hunger Games franchise, a series of films based on the popular and fantastic books written by Suzanne Collins.

Twilight meets The X Factor meets Battle Royale, the first film was an enormous success proving that film adaptations of popular teenage fiction can be brilliant and crowd pleasing. With Gary Ross leaving the franchise the difficult task of directing a sequel that has to improve on the first was given to Francis Lawrence (no relation to the star of the film Jennifer Lawrence). Building on Ross' vision, Lawrence boldly takes Catching Fire down a darker, maturer and more political route resulting in an intense action and drama adventure that will leave you dying with anticipation for the next installment Mockingjay. This is far, far away from Twilight.

As always with the middle installment in a series, Catching Fire has the difficult task of moving events on from the introductory first film and setting up the finale. The sequel joins Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) almost a year after their victory at the 74th Hunger Games as they embark on a Victory Tour of the 12 Districts. Meanwhile President Snow (Donald Sutherland) worries about the threat of a revolution triggered by the champions defiance against the state in the games, and so organises the 75th Quarter Quell which places Katniss and Peeta in the arena again battling for their lives.

Clearly with so much to pack into one film, Catching Fire is long with a running time of two and a half hours. However, Lawrence proves to be a master of tension ensuring that at no point does the film drag or get boring. Early on in a meeting with President Snow Katniss is told, 'You fought very hard in the Games, Miss Everdeen. But they were games' ending with the threatening question 'would you like to be in a real war?'. This conversation immediately sets up the intense, dark and threatening atmosphere that continues throughout the film. The dangers facing the characters feel more real and threatening ensuring that you are continually on the edge of your seat in anticipation and worry. Catching Fire really will set your emotions alight taking you on a roller coaster of fear, sorrow, worry and anger. Delving into the themes of dystopia, dictatorships and politics that were only hinted at in the first film, Lawrence's darker and mature route provides an intense storyline creating an impacting cinematic experience.

Thankfully, Lawrence ensures that there are moments of light relief from the intense drama so we do not feel overwhelmed. Like The Hunger Games there are moments of comedy with some great pieces of dialogue expertly delivered. Woody Harrelson again shines as Haymitch Abernathy, the alcoholic mentor of Katniss and Peeta along with Lenny Kravitz and Stanely Tucci. Elizabeth Bank also comes into her own developing further her slightly annoying character Effie Trinket by giving her a heart and showing a different side to her beneath the makeup. 

The makeup, costumes and sets are even more beautifully designed and detailed than the first with bright co lours and elaborate patterns that will fill the screen and absorb the audience.

There is always some costume or design to gaze in awe at when you need necessary relief from the heavy drama. Again the use of the contrasting bright co lours of the Capitol and the grayness of the Districts is effective in showing the opposite worlds the different characters live in. Catching Fire is a film to see in cinemas on the big screen, preferably in IMAX, so you can revel in the cinematography and design.

It is very true that without Jennifer Lawrence The Hunger Games films would not be the same. The whole cast is super and well cast with Donald Sutherland, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth deserving a special mention. But it is Lawrence who continually steals the show proving that she really did deserve that Oscar. Melting into her character she is the embodiment of Katniss Everdeen, despite being very different to her in real life. If they had got any old Hollywood actress to play Katniss, it wouldn't have the same effect. One of the reasons Lawrence plays her so well is that she feels real and genuine during interviews and appearances, lacking the typical Hollywood fakeness. The control Lawrence shows in her performance is beyond the benchmark of excellence and her capability as a performer is shown by how she can switch rapidly but subtly from the two sides of Katniss' character, the vulnerable against the strong. Lawrence really is central to the franchise and they are lucky to have her. It is this performance that she should have won the Oscar for.

Undertaking a darker tone, Catching Fire builds and improves on the first Hunger Games film tackling the intriguing issues of dystopia and politics that were only hinted at in the first. The direction it takes was bold and ballsy, but the result could not have been bettered as it will blow you away and leave you in desperate need for more.


Emily Murray