Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Donald Sutherland
Running Time: 146 mins
Release Date: 22nd November
When the Twilight films sulked to a close last year, we knew there’d be a replacement franchise to fill the vacuum. We were right to expect another fantastical story involving a love triangle, but few people expected the added bonus of dystopian sci-fi and fights to the death.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire picks up not long after part one. So it’s still a grim future where people live under a fascist regime and scramble for food. And just like before, the public are distracted by televised gladiatorial fights between (mostly) young “tributes”. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) has emerged as a survivor from the first film and become a celebrity, but (to quote Bob Dylan) there’s revolution in the air. And she’s still wrestling with the dilemma of choosing between rugged neighbour Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and sensitive Hunger Games contestant Peeta (Josh Hutcherson).
It’s not long before the next Hunger Games, and in a twist that surprises only the film’s characters, the contestants are comprised of past winners. Having fought for their lives and been promised a life of luxury and peace, they’re catapulted into the jungle again.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is better than the first instalment in almost every way. It’s got a bigger budget and greater sense of scale; its themes are ambitious; and the Games themselves are deliciously nasty. As well as the other competitors, Katniss must also content with a volatile artificial environment and bad tempered animals. Phillip Seymour Hoffman (always welcome) is the overseer with a knack for cruel goalpost-moving. Also, the uprising storyline helps move the franchise further away from its main inspiration, Battle Royale.
Jennifer Lawrence seems to have become everyone’s favourite actress in recent times, but this is not one of her best roles. Neither as worldly as she is in Winter’s Bone, nor as lively as in Silver Linings Playbook, Katniss is likable, but without colour. She’s nearly more of a symbol than a character. Thankfully, the older actors have personality to burn; Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson, Hoffman, Tucci as a grotesque TV host and a typically loopy turn by Amanda Plummer.
The love triangle at the centre of Catching Fire is a little dull, but just about everything else works. This time around, the filmmakers have managed to make a Hunger Games that’s teen-friendly and faithful to the book (which means leaving everything in, apparently), but still an exciting story of an oppressive fascist regime and a satire of reality TV. Recommended.