Tuesday 19 November 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire review

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (12A/PG-13, 146 mins)
Director: Francis Lawrence
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

On its release last spring, The Hunger Games was undoubtedly expected to be some sort of success. In fact it turned out to be a bona fide blockbuster, to the extent that not two but three more films were immediately greenlit from the two remaining books in the young adult trilogy by Suzanne Collins. That’s right procrastination fans, in a practice started by Harry Potter and for which Twilight then took up the baton, Mockingjay, will be two films; one released this time next year, and the final film the year after that.

That speaks of the massive cash cow the series has become, but any heightened expectations for a return to the world can also be attributed to the fact the first film was really rather good. If you skipped that first movie, there’s no hope for you here, as we’re thrust back into the life of our heroine, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, now an Oscar winner, and an iconic presence throughout).

Katniss won the 74th Hunger Games and is now back in her District alongside Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), with the pair of champions tasked with a promotional tour of the 12 Districts of Panem.

The president (Donald Sutherland) sees her as a threat and, smelling rebellion and uprising in the air, hits on the idea of making the next Hunger Games a battle between previous champions, to eliminate as many of them as possible. Newly on board is Philip Seymour Hoffman as the Gamemaker, aiding the president in his schemes.

It’s a world of poverty and hunger, except for the rich and pampered in the Capitol, and is presented as even more of a sinister and dystopian future than before. This is not some bright and colourful fantasy land, but one cut through with a deep and abiding sorrow.

The story is told in ways that are intriguing, dangerous and smart, touching on the chasm between ordinary people and those in power, and the way in which our obsession with celebrity can be used to hide away from the real problems in the world.

Once the Games begin, it moves into a gripping and exciting jungle adventure that offers more than just a re-run of the first, only occasionally dipping in pace while keeping one eye on the bigger picture. Slightly letting down the side are combat scenes that can be a bit shaky and poorly edited, toning down what should really be brutal violence to nab the audience-friendly 12A certificate.

But it’s the themes and characters that count more than the action, and this is a stirring instalment that leaves it all to play for in the final two films.

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