Following the events of The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdean (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) are paraded round as celebrities by the powers that be in The Capitol. However, worried about her Katniss’ growing popularity amongst the repressed Districts, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) creates the Quarter Quell to mark the 75th anniversary of the Hunger Games, sending Katniss, Peeta and other previous winners back into the arena.
The second installment of a trilogy is often the darkest; just look at Star Wars and Lord of the Rings as examples. And it’s this way for a reason. We’re at the mid-way point in the story where the threat is usually at its highest and still a way off finding a resolution for the characters. This is where we’re at with The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
The first Hunger Games film was a surprisingly adult affair considering its young adult demographic and featured a strong female lead, an attribute many considered an advantage over its Twilight peers. It was also a satirical look at today’s society, examining the class system and adding a modern twist to Orwell’s ‘big brother’ ideas.
Catching Fire is essentially split into two parts. The first focuses on Katniss coming to terms with the events of the first film and how she’s struggling to deal with having killed people and consequently being hailed as a celebrity because of it. This half may seem a little slow to those expecting the intensity to instantly match that of the first film, but it’s necessary to evaluate the past events as well as set up the second half of the film.
The second half plays out in a very similar fashion to the first film and, as such, feels a little repetitive at times. There are a few added elements and new characters but it does tread familiar ground perhaps too often. The film does also feel rather flabby with its two and a half hour runtime. There are a few scenes which probably could easily have stayed on the cutting room floor to make it a much tighter film which, considering the rather rushed denouement, is a little damaging to the pacing.
Now, onto the film’s tone and just how dark it is. The first film wasn’t exactly sweetness and light, particularly with its Battle Royale theme, but Catching Fire takes it to a new level. Here we have public executions and torture, as well as a really quite disturbing turn of events that isn’t dwelt upon too much but adds another dimension to the second half of the film. It’s a brave decision from director Francis Lawrence to run with a darker tone but the film benefits massively as a result.
Catching Fire’s cast have also developed along with the film. In the first film, it was Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch who really stood out but here pretty much everyone else has upped their game. Elizabeth Banks as Effie is a much more human character this time around, whilst Stanley Tucci as TV host Caesar Flickerman is fantastically creepy. However, it’s Jennifer Lawrence who really steps up to the plate. There was little wrong with her performance as Katniss Everdean last time around but she’s matured so much since then. She shows real conflict in her actions, perfectly portraying Katniss’s strength one minute and frailties the next.
Catching Fire has done exactly what it needed to do. It’s still true to the first in terms of style and message but has evolved the story and the main characters just the right amount. Splitting the final book, Mockingjay, into two films is a somewhat risky choice, but thanks to Catching Fire the franchise is doing nothing but growing in strength.
- Great performances from Jennifer Lawrence, Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks
- A real dark undertone to the film
- An interesting comment on society
- Fantastic costume design
- Rushed denouement
- Some characters feel underdeveloped
- A little too long