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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire - Review

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

IT MAY have changed director but the second film in The Hunger Games franchise is every bit as good as its predecessor.

Francis Lawrence has taken what worked so well for Gary Ross and mixed it with the more complex emotional elements of Suzanne Collins’ second novel to make Catching Fire an exciting and emotionally compelling follow-up.

The story picks up as unlikely heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is still recovering from her ordeal in the arena, both in terms of dealing with the emotional consequences of killing people and her feelings for both Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson).

Similarly struggling with the consequences of Katniss’s victory and it’s potential for sewing the seeds of rebellion is Panem’s President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who schemes to find a way to discredit and kill her.

With the help of new games master Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Snow forces Katniss and Peeta back for an anniversary games showdown that pits them against fellow victors, raising the stakes considerably and minimising the chances of survival. Yet unbeknownst to both parties, the rebellion is gathering momentum.

Lawrence’s film may easily be dismissed by sceptics as just another blockbuster based on a Young Adult novel series but this one feels weightier than most, encompassing big themes (police states, identity, reality TV, celebrity and civil liberty) and treating its audience with intelligence and maturity. It also knows how to entertain and keep things moving at a brisk pace.

Hence, even though there are times during this film’s two and a half hour running time when that pace threatens to flag or things seem repetitive (as in the build up to the Arena), Lawrence throws in enough variation to keep you interested, while allowing his excellent ensemble cast to build characters that are genuinely worth getting to know.

Jennifer Lawrence remains outstanding in the central role, effortlessly conveying her frustrations, anxieties and guilt while remaining a feisty, albeit reluctant figurehead for change.

But she’s expertly supported by everyone around her, whether it’s Hutcherson’s amiable Peeta, Elizabeth Banks’ wonderfully outrageous yet quietly caring Effie Trinket, Stanley Tucci’s similarly charismatic Caesar Flickerman, Sutherland’s evil Sow, or Woody Harrelson’s mischievous but still wonderfully sceptical Haymitch Abernathy.

Of the newcomers, Hoffman is suitably good value as the enigmatic Plutarch and both Sam Claflin and Jena Malone make their presence felt as, respectively, Finnick Odair and Johanna Mason.

The Arena scenes themselves also pack a heavier punch with the danger scale suitably raised… a couple of sequences are breathlessly exciting while the issue of who to trust is nicely played. Lawrence even manages to throw in some nice surprises for anyone who hasn’t read the books (although devotees will similarly be just as delighted with the film’s loyalty to the text).

Catching Fire is therefore a hugely impressive sequel that, for once, deserves the box office windfall it is almost certain to bring, while keeping anticipation high for the remaining films in the series.
It is rapidly becoming one of the best franchises of its type.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 146mins
UK Release Date: November 21, 2013