Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Walking into Catching Fire, the second movie in the Suzanne Collins trilogy of the Hunger Games is a daunting affair. Take your 15yo daughter to any movie deeply entrenched in fandom and movie going hype and you hope that it lives up to expectation. My daughter had squeezed in a marathon reading effort of the second book in ‘exam prep’ for the movie. I come not as a reader trying to compare silver screen to curled page but just a reviewer wanting to enjoy an exceptional story carried on the backs of strong characters.
If you’ve read the book or seen the first movie the storyline doesn’t need too much elaboration. After our heroes won their battle for survival in the first movie they have created a world of fans hungry for liberation from an elitist government and a series of enemies in the upper echelons of power. Just when the spoils of winning the Hunger Games seem to involve good food and being a political puppet the 75th celebration of the Hunger Games are used as an excuse for the rules to change and our heroes are thrust back into play with a group of past winners.
The split romance at the core of the story is more developed in this outing. Readers and non-readers alike are wanting to see who Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) will end up with. In this corner weighing in at towering level of Australian buffness is Gale (Liam Hemsworth) while the Thinking Man’s romantic lead comes in the form of Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). No spoilers here but lets just say opinions are now swayed on which way Katniss should move.
Lawrence is an intense young actress which shows in many of her scenes. Justifiably she is being compared because of her recent performances to a young Meryl Streep. Sometimes the strength she brings however is out of kilter with her onscreen partners but she definitely keeps you focussed on the ever apparent danger faced within and without the Hunger Games arena.
This time we see a change of director and writer meaning two key ingredients in the recipe have been dabbled with. Gary Ross pulled out of directing the second installment and along with Suzanne Collins he had also created the screenplay for the initial outing so a new writer was needed. Enter France Lawrence as Director with action fantasy movies like Constantine and I Am Legend behind him as well as the romantic drama Water for Elephants. He has signed up for Catching Fire and the third book Mocking Jay which is being developed as two movies over 2014 and 2015.
The screenplay ended up being a tag team approach between Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) and Michael Arndt (Oblivion, Brave, Little Miss Sunshine). The audience I went with seemed divided on whether this was an improvement or not. A number of older moviegoers said the dialogue was improved and the action sequences better. Two of the challenges of the Hunger Games arena are particularly frightening for younger viewers so choose who you sit next to for an appropriate snuggle when needed. From another perspective with those who read and absorbed the detail of the book some audience members felt this outing moved further from the original text in what it showed in the two and half hours outing.
Our regular cast continue with Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, Stanley Tucci as Caesar, Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket and Lenny Kravitz as designer Cinna. Of course Donald Sutherland is superb as President Snow giving a soft menace to the dictator at large. New cast members include UK actor Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee.
All up I think many will agree that Hunger Games: Catching Fire lived up to expectations. It was enjoyable, intense and occasionally funny. The ending will make you wish you could tune in next week for another episode but at the moment Mocking Jay: Part 1 will come to the cinemas around the same time next year.
Rating: M Violence.