Following the series of novels by Suzanne Collins “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is set twelve months after the original film. The young hero Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is back living in District 12, although this time she is the nicer diggings of the Victor’s Village. Life is far from easy for her though as Katniss is forced to live a double life. Behind closed doors she is sorting out her feelings for good friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) while in public her fake relationship with fellow Hunger Games winner Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) must continue.
On the eve of joining the promotional train for the 75th Annual Hunger Games Katniss’ life is further turned upside down when she learns that her’s and Peter’s actions have seen them become the face of a threatened revolution. After a threat from President Snow (Donald Sutherland) Katniss realises that she must ‘tow the line’ but with that not working she soon finds her and Peter having to team up with Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) to survive a new game thought up by Snow and his new right-hand man Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
The original “The Hunger Games” film left audiences in the middle. On one hand it was a better teenage genre flick than the later “Twilight Saga” films, but on the other hand the fact it was aimed at a younger audience meant that director Gary Ross held back on some of the darker elements that were portrayed in the novel.
Now comes The Hunger Games: Catching Fire the difficult second film in the trilogy. Some three-part franchises choke when it comes to the second film, the film does nothing to bridge the first to the third film and becomes a dull affair for the audience. That certainly can’t be said for “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” that equals the original film and overcomes a couple of flaws by director Francis Lawrence’s (whose directional skills have been used on films as far apart as Water For Elephants and I Am Legend) decision to allow the film to find its dark side.
Francis Lawrence does push the boundaries of this franchise a little more. He makes it a bit bloodier and even enhances the metaphor of Snow’s regime being similar to Nazi Germany but sadly Lawrence and his cinematographer Jo Willems leaves the audience a little underwhelmed with the film awash with a bland look.
Still that doesn’t put too much of a dampener on the film because the story really does come to the forefront. This film raising the stakes for most of the main characters certainly brings more suspense to the screen and despite some badly signposted areas of the film there are enough unexpected twists and turns to warrant the audience paying full attention. Unlike most teenage franchises you also get the feeling that this is one series that isn’t too afraid to kill off main characters if the story calls for that, at the end of the day that just enhances the suspense even more.
One disappointing thing about The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is that Josh Hutcherson and Jennifer Lawrence just seem to breeze through their performances. Lawrence has shown in films like Winter’s Bone and Silver Linings Playbook that she is one of the finest young actresses going around but she never really gets to show those skills this time around. A real waste of an Oscar winner if I’ve ever seen one.
Liam Hemsworth also doesn’t get any decent screen time but Donald Sutherland is rewarded for his patience with the first film with the chance to really sink his teeth into a really menacing role… something that he seems to grasp with two hands. But stealing the show are Woody Harrelson and Stanley Tucci. Harrelson continues to remind audiences what a fine actor he is with his great portrayal of the alcoholic Haymitch while Tucci shows his versatility by showboating as the energetic master-of-ceremonies Caesar.
There is no doubt that Francis Lawrence certainly lifts this franchise to a different level with his darker approach to “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.” Sure there will be some out there that simply want to put the film down because it is part of a popular franchise but truthfully this is fairly decent film that certainly isn’t a waste of time to take a look at.
Directors: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Release Date: 21st November, 2013