Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Lenny Kravitz, Elizabeth Banks, Sam Claflin, Liam Hemsworth, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright, with Stanley Tucci and Donald Sutherland
Plot: Katniss (Lawrence) becomes a symbol of hope for the rebellion, so President Snow (Sutherland) devises various schemes to make it look like she has turned their back on them.
Catching Fire was in a difficult situation. It was that nasty second book in the franchise, the middle part of the trilogy. The first Hunger Games took us all by surprise and I am sure the third film will be epic, tying up this supreme Sci-Fi story in a climatic and satisfying way. However, the second film is stuck with that tricky job of giving us the same experience as before, but without the pleasure of actually ending anything. Throw in an insane amount of hype from a very demanding group of fans and you had the potential flop of the year on your hands.
So new director, Francis Lawrence falls back on a simpler scheme. He makes the same movie as before, but does it so much better. And sure, the main problem people will have with this movie is that it is very identical to the second Hunger Games (up until the last few dramatic game-changing moments), but at the end of the day, you still end up enjoying the experience. It corrects all of the little niggling flaws that I had about the first one. It feels more three-dimensional than last time. The supporting cast are fleshed out a little more, so nameless fighters aren’t being killed off, characters we have come to know are. The setting of the Hunger Games is cleverer and I got closer to that feeling of non-stop dread that I craved in the original film. Also, Katniss feels more of an active force here. In the first one, she just happened to make it out alive, wandering from set-piece to set-piece. In ‘Catching Fire’, she is given more chance to kick ass and you don’t find yourself screaming instructions at the screen.
It’s the smaller moments that really make this film. In this first one, I fell in love with the social context and it is all back this time. It allows for the films to make statements that no other movie really can. Small moments break your heart. Katniss is trapped in a world crumbling around her, President Snow executing people who adore her too much, and she is forced to play the dumb celebrity, in order to get sponsors for her Hunger Games. It makes for some shocking scenes (a certain execution in the 11th District is one of the biggest early shocks of 2013 and directed amazingly well). One moment I loved was when a little girl, not even old enough for the games, whispers to Katniss that she is inspired and wants to volunteer when she is old enough. Lawrence says nothing, but flashes every emotion we need to see in a brief second on her face (one of those tough jobs that proves how amazing an actress she really is). So much power in two seconds of screen-time. ‘Catching Fire’ really does become a remarkable movie.
I enjoy how, up until the cliff-hanger, there isn’t really any twists. Instead, the script goes for revealing its hand too early, on purpose, to add to the emotion. Rather than ‘killing off’ a character suddenly, we get this sinister foreboding that a certain character is about to be targeted. We see from the brutal executions and floggings that the villains of the piece have the power to kill at a drop of the hat, so almost every character could be removed from the plot at any given moment. It is almost a relief to get to the Hunger Games and away from the political dread of the outside world. Another niggling problem I had with this film is that it is very dark. The oppression themes can get a little nasty, especially when the main audience for this film are 14 year olds. However, I am sure that will make the pay-off in the final movie, Mockingjay, all the more sweeter.
Let’s talk performances. Seeing as every review just talks about how awesome Jennifer Lawrence is, let’s just assume that she is the most talented actress of 2013 and move on to the new characters. Phillip Seymour Hoffman does what he does best: sleazy with that thin line of malice dripping from every word that he says. Like most of the adult cast, he is given little to do, but chew the scenery, but he does it with such flourish and menace, that you love spending the time with him. Other combatants in the Hunger Games are great to spend time with too. Jeffrey Wright showed up, to my surprise, and does something a little different than any other character, which is refreshing. Sam Claflin takes a two-dimensional character and injects some spark into the role. Fan favourite will easily be Sucker Punch’s Jena Malone, who has the most enigmatic character and will cause the men in the room to pick their jaw up off the floor, when she is introduced.
The ending does happen a little quick. The movie speeds through its two hour running time so quickly that you don’t realise that you have hit the final ten minutes of the film. There is no final confrontation with the big bad (which is a shame, because this time it’s a girl that files her teeth into points – that’s a fight I wanted to see), but, as I said before, an ending of a different variety. It is quick, but promises that the third film will be a lot different. And that final frame… Lawrence turns to the camera with such fiery passion and rage that chills will be spreading through your spine, as the wait for that anticipated final part of the story begins.
Final Verdict: Catching Fire takes a great original film, improves it and gives us one of the best blockbusters outside of the summer. Fans will not be disappointed.