As the sequel to the 2012 smash hit, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire tells the highly-anticipated story of the aftermath of Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle) and Peeta’s (Josh Hutcherson, Bridge to Terabithia) act of defiance towards the Capitol. Revolution is brewing, and to try and maintain power and crush hope, President Snow (Donald Sutherland, Pride and Prejudice) forces the pool of existing victors to compete again in the Quarter Quell anniversary games.
Catching Fire attempts to address the first film’s problems, and for the most part, it is successful. The influence of I am Legend director Francis Lawrence can be observed from the outset, with a generally darker tone and a clearly bigger budget. The visual effects and set pieces are on a noticeably larger, and some recognition should definitely go to the costume design team for the sheer lavishness of the outfits in the Capitol. Despite an incredibly slow start, once the film gets going, it drags you in. I’m glad that it focuses more on the political machinations of the Capitol, and encapsulates the idea that Katniss is a beacon of hope for the people of the Districts. This is really well portrayed by both Sutherland as an icy cold dictator who feels his power slipping beneath his façade, and the dubious Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote, The Master) whose true motives are never clear.
The cast from the first film returns, with this time the characters are given more room to develop their roles. I actually cared more about Peeta this time around, despite Hutcherson being as vacant and bovine as ever, and Lenny Kravitz (Precious) gives a surprisingly nuanced turn as stylist Cinna. Old favourites Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), Haymitch Apernathy (Woody Harrelson) and Caeser Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) return with more of their own touches of humour. But again, Gale (Liam Hemsworth, The Expendables 2) gets the rawer deal without having much time. And when he is, it’s during the duller parts of the film focusing on the characters’ domestic affairs and continuing the shallow romance sub-plot.
However, most of these flaws originate more from the source material, and as an adaptation, Catching Fire is quite faithful. An aspect that I thought the film captured really well was that there are no winners; all of the victors are damaged psychologically in some way. Lawrence adds a layer of PTSD and grief to Katniss’ already independent personality, and hopefully this direction will be taken further in the sequels. This is also evident by some of the other tributes, who are more relatable in this film. They range from the zany (Amanda Plummer as Wiress and Jeffrey Wright as Beetee) to the downright in-your-face (Jenna Malone as Johanna Mason). But what I thought was an odd casting choice was Sam Claflin (Snow White and The Huntsman) as the arrogant Finnick Odair. He is meant to be God’s gift to women, but he lacked the required charisma to pull it off.
While being nowhere near the perfect film, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a relatively authentic adaptation of the best book in the series. After a painfully slow start, it was an enjoyable experience that had both action and political drama. It has a fairly strong cast, despite there being a few weak links, and tells a story of unity in the face of injustice.