After the success both critically and financially of its first film, it is only fitting that ‘THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE ’, is released. While with a very similar story setup like that of the first one, this one instead has a new director of Francis Lawrence (‘I Am Legend’ and ‘Water for Elephants’), along with new cast member of Jena Malone (as a amusing rebel fighter), Sam Claflin (as some wannabe Aquaman looking character), Jeffrey Wright and Phillip Seymour Hoffman (more on him later).
Of the bat you can tell this feels very much a different film. There is certainly a confident leap in budget, as everything is far bigger in scale, and it makes sense why Lionsgate would want Francis Lawrence to direct this following his credentials of big budgeted films and getting them in to the studios time limit, and make something clearer (then the handhold shake of Gary Ross’s direction in the first film) more widescreen to get use of its bigger budget for marketing material. On less of the business side of things though Francis Lawrence (not related to Jennifer) does use the IMAX cameras well (however I’m unshore if the cinematographer is competent enough with the technology in these sequences) and in the actual ‘Hunger Games’ portion of the film, this doesn’t have the point A to point B mentality which plagued the tournament in the first film.
While the set-up for this is that of a ‘bigger and darker’ mentality (all the past Champions have to re-enter the tournament this time, meaning more campaigning and such with Stanley Tucci’s host – who is wonderful in this – but lacks any contribution from Toby Jones), there is this very interesting love triangle set up between Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutchinson (very square looking for some weird reason). This is something which to many might go ‘’Ah, so this is where the ‘Twilight’ stuff comes in’’, but the difference here is that all three of these characters are both very naive with one and other, they all have their justifiable reasons why acting in such a way, this is something I believe was missing in ‘Twilight’ (well more its later instalments), and while on paper you could write it as a comparison, it really isn’t. There is a really interesting moment in the film about her asking one Liam Hemsworth’s character what is his favourite colour?, only for him to reply in way which says that are you really wanting to know me, and why take interest in me now?. It really sums up this triangle, which will evolve in the next film.
Regarding the ace-in-the-hole though is Jennifer Lawrence, she is just wonderful on screen, she can pretty much do anything she is given to her, the whole character of Katness Everdeen is just a wonderful creation which acts just like what is depicting in the film, a strong female archetype with real core issues then the unbelievable world she inhabits. The new games combatants add good value as well, but I believe the ones who do very well is that of Josh Hutcherson (who you actually care about), more confident and comfortable in his role, and Elizabeth Banks as the image consultant, embodying the rich counter culture of the Games. Donald Sutherland is great as well as President Snow, a real antagonist you can see lasting for the next two films. The biggest issue however is Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s role as the new Games Maker. Now I like him as a actor but in this he never comes across as much of threat when the film is wanting him to be it, but also the fact he seems to be in default mode. Meaning he’s just lumbering around, doing the old sneer from his ‘Mission: Impossible 3’ baddie days. I think the issue is more the fact the character just doesn’t register.
Regarding other faults, yes the whole similar set-up thing, could be more with the source material then the film, but the thing is the film is long and I can imagine that this rebooted going back into the Games feel doing everything of the last film, might make the film drag a little for them. The issue I had was more the Games itself and how there wasn’t really any physical antagonist, instead CGI monkeys and such act as the main threat for action sequences, and it is a shame. The ending comes off a little abrupt as well, which (to me) made me feel that something more defiant should have ended it with more a fulfilling cliff-hanger, particular with what the characters have come through. I can say though where they have cut it, it will mean that a partition of ‘Catching Fire’ will now be in the ‘Mockingjay: Part 1’ feature, which could give you hint (if you have read the books that is), where they might cut and how they have made ‘Mockinjay’ into two novels. On a side note, set up this time is less ‘Battle Royale’ (as many compared the first one too which I think is wrong and follows more ‘The Running Man’), as it is more man on man/adult on adult fighting. I do like though the 1970’s Sci-Fi influence in this, particular with how the nanny state and the rich are portrayed, with their loud clothing and B-movie stormtroopers. People compare the themes in this to that of ‘Roller Ball’, which is a far comment, but I kept thinking the depiction and how they deal on themes about poverty and rich is that of ‘Soylent Green’ of all things. I like the whole Greek tragedy feel to the whole pivotal figure, Katniss has become.
In conclusion ‘Catching Fire’ does what it needs to do, and that is to build the world of Suzanne Collins wonderful world on screen. Headed by a delightful Jennifer Lawrence, and themes which I think is important for younger audience to be addressed on, this is something to all audiences who will find anticipation in seeing the next instalment of. Yes there is faults, some of which will be addressed I think in the next film, and more of which are from the book itself (in particular the disappearing characters), which you do notice as the film goes on. But with no doubt Simon Beaufoy workings on script bring these themes from the book to fray; this is going to continue to be essential Blockbuster entertainment.