Thursday, 5 December 2013

Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) Review - Does It Live Up To The Hype

Why is it that all the best blockbusters are being released now in the run up to Christmas? Thor: The Dark World, The Hobbit: Desolation Of Smaug, Hunger Games: Catching Fire... And since when did the number 2 get replaced by the almighty colon? It's hard to say but what is clear is that The Hunger Games franchise is quickly shaping up to be one of the most successful book adaptations of the past decade. My question though is this (hello colon!): does Catching Fire live up to the hype or is it coasting on the success of the first film?

Catching Fire is arguably the strongest book in the series, so Francis Lawrence certainly had his work cut out for him but luckily, the director does a great job of adapting the novel's 391 pages into a coherent movie. Despite running for a not so lean 146 minutes, Catching Fire keeps the pace up once it gets over a slow opening act that deals with the aftermath of the first Games. As an adaptation, Catching Fire is unusually faithful to the original story, which is a credit to not only the cinematic nature of the source material but also the talent both in front and behind the camera.

Taking over the reins from Gary Ross, Lawrence ends up making his best film to date. Admittedly, ConstantineI Am Legend and Water For Elephants aren't the strongest competition but nonetheless, Catching Fire is leagues above the rest in terms of both quality and sheer entertainment. The story of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) becoming a figure head for the rebellious forces of Panem really kicks into high gear when a new Hunger Games is announced by President Snow (Donald Sutherland), a quarter quell which drafts in previous victors to fight once again in the arena. For a series aimed at young adults, Catching Fire certainly pushes the boundaries at points with its take on a Government that forces its citizens to fight to the death. Particularly violent highlights include an old man being shot in the head, an old lady committing suicide and an old President Snow glaring angrily at futuristic TV screens.

Luckily for the teenage target audience, its not all violent OAP antics though. Lawrence ups her game post Oscar win with a credible performance that brings gravitas to what could have been just another bland blockbuster role, balancing Everdeen's caring instincts with a fiery strength that appeals to both male and female audiences equally, something almost unheard of in mainstream cinema. In contrast, love interests Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) continue to simper after Everdeen in their own needy ways. While it's unfortunate that the key male characters lack a dimension or two, it's refreshing at least to see the men as weak and love lost for once, instead of the women. Let's hope Lawrence rounds them both out a bit more for the sequels though, otherwise we could be in danger of suffering from the blandest love triangle since Bella attracted Edward and Jacob with her lack of personality and monotone voice. Man I'd pay to see Katniss kick Bella's ass.
hunger games finnick
Sam Claflin and Jena Malone inject some much needed charisma into the new round of victors as Finnick Odair, a trident wielding hottie and Johanna Mason, a sexually aggressive rival to Katniss. Both have more charisma in their little fingers than Peeta and Gale combined but due to the humongous cast, the two victors receive few stand out moments, other than an unusually exciting elevator ride halfway in. Returning cast members Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks also retreat into the background somewhat here and even the brilliantly flamboyant Stanley Tucci only receives one real scene of note. It's a testament to the franchise though that even the supporting characters are played by such respectable talent.

The problem with having so many notable actors in one film though is that I end up being distracted every time I spot yet another Hollywood star. This artifice extends to the Capitol itself, the nerve center of Panem, where the richest citizens live luxuriously in surroundings that look like they were ripped out of a Dr Seuss book for kids. Some of you may argue that this is in itself true to the book - the whole point of the Capitol is to provide contrast against the terrible conditions of the other Districts - but I feel that the poorer parts of Panem should be portrayed as grittier. While it's commendable that a blockbuster aimed at teenagers can reflect real issues of power and authority that reflect our own society, it's a shame that such moments are sometimes simplified to appeal to the widest demographic possible. To truly play out the disturbing premise of the franchise in all it's bloody violent glory, the 12A rating given in the UK is just too restrictive.
jennifer hunger-games-catching-fire-movie

I'm hesitant to reveal much of the plot for those of you who have not read the book but Catching Fire ends at a really interesting point, which may either leave fans begging for more or infuriate the less patient among you. While it is indeed faithful to the original novel in this respect, it's also a shrewd move on the film makers part, guaranteeing a huge box office intake for the subsequent two films. That's right, they're doing a Harry Potter, splitting the final chapter into two separate installments. Ladies and gentlemen, the Hollywood cash machine is in full flow.

In regards to whether Catching Fire actually lives up to the hype, that's almost impossible to determine. For those who haven't seen the film yet, this will depend on your feelings towards the first movie and whether you're a fan of the books or not but personally, I felt slightly deflated as I left the cinema. Sure I was entertained and Catching Fire has a hell of a lot going for it compared to other blockbusters this year, but I felt an indefinable something was missing. Perhaps the film suffers from middle child syndrome, unable to match the fresh appeal of the first movie or the inevitably thrilling climax of the coming sequels. Maybe I'm just being too picky as Catching Fire is certainly impressive on a number of levels. Or maybe I'm just disappointed that Finnick Odair is not as hot as they made him out to be in the book. However, despite feeling some mild disappointment when the film finished, I would still recommend Catching Fire to anyone looking for a thrilling sci-fi action thriller that doesn't talk down to it's audience. And that's a rare thing these days.


  1. The type of movie you can literally bring any type of person to, and they'll most likely find a way to enjoy themselves. Whether it be through the story, acting, social commentary, action, or anything else. Good review David.

    1. Thanks, yeah it's definitely worth checking out. I almost wish I hadn't read the book first so I didn't have to make comparisons.