The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) Review

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An engrossing sequel that cleverly sews the difficult fabric between action and emotion with a strong psychological thread.




I'm just going to be honest and say that I am not the biggest fan of the Twilight series. I know that there are a lot of teen-oriented fantasy epic fans out there that would probably want to scalp me for saying that but it's just the truth. Why am I talking about Twilight? Well, I have to admit that the Hunger Games franchise owes somewhat to dear Bella and co for creating the right climate. A climate that has now thanks to 'Catching Fire' even got me wanting to spend more time in some Suzzanne Collin's sunshine.

However, sunshine is probably not the best use of a word because this film is impressively anything but. It's dark, oppressive, with a psycho-analytic element and a solid balance between action and drama. Whereas the first cinematic installment takes undeniably (though unacknowledged) heavy cues from Kinju Fukasaku's  japanese hit 'Battle Royale' based on Koushun Takami's novel, this second venture really sees Collin's world come into it's own and showcases a welcomed maturity over it's predecessor. 

Stuck between a rock and a hard place in the classico-futurist totalitarian state of Panem run by a most charismatic and equally fascist leader, President Snow (Donald Sutherland), Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) just can't seem to catch a break. Having survived the horror of the the 74th Annual Hunger Games, a ration providing televised fight to the death a-la-Running Man between teenage tributes from each of the city's surrounding districts along side Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), Katniss learns that there is no such thing as freedom for citizens of the districts, even if you are an official winner of the games. 

Now a champion, mentor and stuck in a concocted crowd pleasing romance with her co-survivor, Katniss is unaware that the nature of her and Peeta's victory has sparked the flame of defiance within the districts against the state. Indeed, revolution is on the cusp with the tipping weight being Katniss herself. This is where the films main theme comes into play. As an icon that has grown beyond the boundaries of an event designed to display the futility of individual effort, Miss Everdeen poses a threat to the very fabric of Snow's society. The question that drives the film is 'How does one defeat an icon?'. To kill them would be the same as martyrdom. But if you could change their image and alter public perception...  

Cue the 75th Annual Hunger Games, designed by Snow with the help of the brilliant Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) for the sole purpose of destroying Everdeen's influence. Worried that other winners might similarly ignite the passion of revolution, it is decided that the reaping for this 'Quarter Quell' (a special version of the games, which happens every 25 years) will consist of previous champions. Can Katniss and Peeta survive another round? 

The narrative has a strong momentum and characters are drafted very well, with most if not all having enough exposure to be sufficiently developed. Lawrence especially proves a force to be admired and every bit the leading lady. Newcomer Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a solid turn as sinister new games designer Plutarch Heavensbee, whose approach to the Katniss question provides the backbone to the films tone and more extreme elements. And then of course there is Stanley Tucci's 'Presenter' whose false teeth and camera-ready smile seem to haunt you far more than any of the bloodshed that takes place. A testament to the satirical brilliance of his performance.

The token love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale has a more prominent role in the film and teases much for the third installment. Although Katniss and Gale have faced life together, Katniss and Peeta have faced death together. Which will prove to forge the stronger bond? The actors succeed in portraying a real need that goes beyond physicality and touches the very realm of survival itself. Thankfully the triangle is not allowed to over-permeate the main themes of the film but is instead used as vehicle to perpetuate them.

James Newton Howard's score creates an apt sense of discord throughout, that supports the cascading nature of the film well, whilst Jo Willems' sophisticated cinematography further enhances its adult themes.  

Should you watch this film? Yes. Although it would serve you well to know the material or have watched the first film prior. Where will the Hunger Games go from here? Well a two-part finale as seems to be the custom with the genre is for certain. Another certainty is that if director Francis Lawrence continues on his trajectory, the odds will ever be in his favor. 



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