The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

Catching FireFollowing her unprecedented victory at the 74th Hunger Games, in which she and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) both survived the arena after threatening viewers with a double suicide, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is touring the country with her entourage of Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Effie (Elizabeth Banks). With many in the districts viewing her actions as an act of rebellion against the Capitol and showing signs of revolution themselves, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is keen to have Katniss placate the masses by convincing them that is was instead an act of love. There is a contingency plan, however, and with a Quarter Quell approaching, Snow and new gamesmaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) are conspiring to put Katniss back in the games.

When Gary Ross’ The Hunger Games was released back in 2012, Suzanne Collin’s creation was at the very height of its popularity. With the three novels riding high in the charts, bows topping Christmas wishlists and $691 million at the international box office, Katniss was like catnip to teens who had outgrown the ineffectualness of Twilight‘s Bella Swan. At the time of its release, the first film received incredibly strong reviews, with Ross praised for treating his audience like adults and Lawrence hailed as a hero figure in her own right.

Over the last year, however, The Hunger Games has undergone something of a re-evaluation. While still undoubtedly a step above its fellow Young Adult adaptations — not just in terms of acting but world-building and relevant socio-political subtext too — the film hasn’t exactly lived up to repeated viewings. Ross’ infernal shaky-cam may keep the censors happy by obscuring some of the arena-set violence but it also detracts from the experience of watching the action scenes, while Hutcherson himself has criticised the film’s rather lacklustre special effects.

The first thing you notice about Francis Lawrence’s sequel is that you can just about tell what is going on, which should have immediately improved upon the original film and allowed you to appreciate the performances on a whole new level. Unfortunately, Lawrence has his own directorial quirks, and Catching Fire is — bizarrely — presented primarily in extreme close-ups, drawing an almost distracting amount of attention to his star’s jarringly flawless features. It’s not just the action that suffers; a Katniss-Plutarch dance scene is robbed of any identifiable dancing. There are so few establishing shots in the finished film that you could probably count them on one hand, if you weren’t feeling quite so cripplingly claustrophobic.

So what do these films have to hide? Both directors have so far made efforts to distract their audiences from something. Once again the answer seems to be the film’s budgetary constraints, for despite having an extra fifty million or so dollars to play with Lawrence is still clearly struggling to do justice to Collins’ Panem. Almost nothing looks real, and not just the unimproved parade of fancy-dressed tributes or the chimps borrowed from After Earth but the plight of the characters themselves. Having just suffered a panic attack after hunting a turkey, Katniss spends so much time fixing her hair for the cameras — the filmmakers, not even the gamesmakers — that the moment is all but lost.

Camerawork and special effects aside, however, Catching Fire is still a head and shoulders above the competition. Catching Fire is the best book in the trilogy, and from it Lawrence makes a pretty good film too. With Katniss and company seeing more of the country, the audience is introduced to new characters (though neither Sam Claflin or Jenna Malone seem suited to their roles), increased stakes (fellow victors replacing children in the ring) and more certificate-pushing mild peril (although low on blood, the taunts of the mockingjay are truly horrific). Downplaying the romantic element and instead focusing on the brewing rebellion, the film feels darker and more confident. As President Snow intimates himself, the Hunger Games are just that: games. This is war.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to ignore the film’s weaknesses. Whereas Collins’ Catching Fire told a complex, compelling and complete story that had you walking all the way to Asda in the rain for the next instalment, Lawrence’s leaves you just as excited for Mockingjay but without the sense of having just witnessed something great in its own right. There’s no beginning or end, just a string of admittedly very well constructed scenes that more often or not feel like connective tissue.



About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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