You say you want a revolution? – ★★★★
The second installment of the Hunger Games series continues the saga of a dystopian future which sees representatives from the twelve districts of Panem thrown together into death arenas with the last man or woman standing declared the winner. The last film ended when our heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and her fellow district 12 entrant Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) were declared joint winners just before they could go through on a joint suicide pact.
Heavy stuff for a teen novel/film, right? Well it gets worse.
Film number two means a special “quarter quell” hunger games is called, which sees two previous winners from all 12 districts from the last 75 years thrown into one specially designed jungle arena, where once again the last man or woman standing will be declared a winner. While the official reasoning behind this is as a special commemorative celebration, Panem’s President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has really called the expanded games as a way to try to cause the death of Katniss, who has become a symbol of revolt for people all over Panem. Kill her and you kill the revolution, or so his new head gameskeeper Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has told him.
And it’s really this big symbol of revolution who is the real draw here. We’ve known Jennifer Lawrence was going to be a star since she knocked our socks off in Winter’s Bone (she was our special “Woman of the Year” last year in case you’ve forgotten) three years ago, but who would have thought her rise would be so quick. You could certainly make a very strong argument that she’s now Hollywood’s most popular actress. She’s the heart and soul of the film and elevates proceedings above the source material’s pretty weak central love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale (Liam Hemsworth). Instead its her drive to protect her family and home district from President Snow and The Capitol that grabs you early on and doesn’t let go. Do we care whether she chooses the beefcake miner or the chubby baker’s boy to sleep beside? Not really.
Catching Fire sees the original Hunger Games director Gary Ross replaced by I Am Legend and Constantine director Francis Lawrence. He’s also been given an extra $50million for his production budget and it really does show with scenes before the games in the Capitol in particular looking much richer and real than in the first film where it felt like they could only afford a few weeks work from the CGI artists. The production design is really all great and there’s been lots of attention to detail which is sure to please fans of the insane fashion choices and hairstyles of Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks). Seeing the screen resolution enlarge into IMAX format as Katniss enters the games is worth the extra few quid – in all there are 50 minutes shot on IMAX cameras, all in the final third of the film.
Whereas the original film didn’t really get going until we entered the games, here it’s the opposite as you really start to feel the film’s running time two hours in as things inch toward the 150 minute mark. There’s also a rather flat climax which suffers from Lord of the Rings syndrome as you’re dying to just sit down and watch the next installment of the film, not feeling entirely satisfied about how this one finished on quite a big cliffhanger.
Problems with running time and pacing aside, this is just a really cool film with a ton of great moments and characters you can actually root for when the going gets tough, something you can’t really say about too many entrants on 2013’s slate of blockbusters. The record breaking opening weekend’s box office results shows the fans are engaged too. We’ve got two more films to go in the series and there can’t be too many folks who aren’t even a tiny bit excited to see if this standard can be kept up.