film review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

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film review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

Many like to draw comparisons between The Hunger Games and Harry Potter or The Twilight Saga… but the truth is The Hunger Games is a whole different ball game.

The big difference between The Twilight Saga / Harry Potter and The Hunger Games is that is does have that wider societal context. This isn’t just a story about kids, it’s about governmental oppression, propaganda and revolution.

If you read the site regularly (or at least as regularly as I post) then you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of post-apocalyptic dystopia as a genre. Not just in film, even as a kid I couldn’t get enough of it, I even went on a quest to seek out the classic 1921 Russian novel We… it was harder to find that you think. It’s kind of funny that now, when there seems to be less demand for books, it’s so much easier to get them…

… Anyway. Since I’ve read The Hunger Games novels, it’s kind of impossible to ignore the extra knowledge about the characters and more importantly, about the world that comes from that. I’m intrigued to know how people who haven’t read the books see the state of Panem. I won’t talk spoilers here but certainly, to me anyway, the rulers of Panem are getting off a little lightly in the films. I’m not sure we’re quite seeing how horrifying The Hunger Games are really supposed to be. Anyone else think that?

But you came here to read a review of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

As a mid-series film Catching Fire has a tough job to do. Expectations are high from the first however the story is, of course, a bridging piece – it’s not going to be quite as compelling as the first. Fortunately, this is where the action pacing from the first film pays off. Even though the overall story doesn’t move on that far, the action of the 75th Quell is there to keep your interest on the screen.

Personally, reading the novels, I wouldn’t have seen the challenges of the games as particularly important, but in the films they’re crucial to keeping eyes on the screen and moving the film forward.

Catching Fire has action in spades. President Snow is going out of his way to punish the Districts and fortunately with the success of the first film, the film-makers here have the budget to showcase it on the big screen. From the costumes to the special effects, in particular the fire, this production obviously has money. Anyone remember the slightly embarrassing contestants parade in the first film? Now it’s twice the size and looks ten times better. This second film is all about spectacle.

That said, empty spectacle isn’t enough to keep the average cinemagoer content for almost 2.5 hours. This is where the rock-solid story of the novel itself comes through. My only concern about the film is that… it is slightly different. Katniss is a different character in the novels and I do think that the savvy watcher (who isn’t familiar with the books) is going to pick up that disconnect between what Katniss does (straight from the books) and why she does them – her motivation in the films, I think, isn’t as clear and as strong as it is in the books…

… It’s not a big thing in Catching Fire but I am intrigued to see how they resolve the disconnect between movie Katniss and book Katniss in the final story… It’s going to be an interesting one.

Performance wise, we’re not really seeing anything more from Catching Fire over The Hunger Games. Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks are both still spectacular. I’m not entirely sure about Liam Hemsworth but neither himself nor Josh Hutcherson have really been tested yet. Let’s see how they get on with the next chapters… Jennifer Lawrence continues to do what she does. I’m not one of those folks who are seemingly enamoured by her every move…. but seeing her in Winter’s Bone all those years ago leaves me confident she’s up for the next two films.

The performance I’m really looking forward to for the next films is Julianne Moore. I could imagine no-one else in the role she’s turning out for. If you haven’t read the books, stay away from spoilers!

What we get with Catching Fire is a much more confident outing than the first Hunger Games. As the characters settle into their roles, so have the actors and the production. While I still don’t feel like we’ve dug deep into what the novels are about, the film makers have built a strong structure to grow from and that’s what you really need from a bridging film. More importantly, for a Hollywood blockbuster, they’ve managed to navigate the difficult mid story film with aplomb and whet the appetite for the two more films to come.

Well done Francis Lawrence, you’ve made it on to the next challenge.


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