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  • 12A
  • Adventure, Sci-Fi
  • 2013
  • 146 mins

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Film4

Synopsis

Having survived the Hunger Games once, teen heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) winds up back in the arena, forced to fight a new bunch of foes to the death in the interests of televised entertainment. But outside the Games, dissent is brewing in the post-apocalyptic districts of Panem…

About

Poor Katniss Everdeen. After surviving the dreaded Hunger Games in the last film, you’d think she deserved a bit of time out from televised death matches. Instead, she finds herself hurled back into an even more lethal arena than before, this time against an all-star line-up of previous Games survivors. Meanwhile the unctuous President Snow is threatening to kill her family if she doesn’t play nice and she’s also somehow become the involuntary figurehead of a burgeoning revolution. Oh, and she’s got two hot boys (Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson) fighting over her and can’t make up her mind which one to choose. It’s a tough break.

There’s an obvious narrative issue with sending Katniss straight back into the Games, namely the risk of repeating the story arc from the first instalment beat for beat. Suzanne Collins’ source novel, page-turning as it is, does fall into this trap to some extent. The film, on the other hand, almost manages to sidestep it by frontloading the story with scenes of romantic and social tension, waiting a good hour before anyone sets foot in the arena. Once we’re there, the films zips through the impressive action set pieces, though it has to be said that the arena sequences are still among the least compelling in the film.

One of the most intriguing aspects of this sequel is that we get to glimpse quite a bit more of the dystopian society in which the story takes place, both in the opulent Capitol and the mysterious ‘other districts’ beyond Katniss’s home turf in District 12. In the first film, all Katniss had to do was survive. But as she witnesses more and more of the inequalities and brutalities perpetrated in the name of the Capitol, her sense of social injustice begins to awaken. Her moral duties are far from clear, however. Should she defy the Capitol and stand up for the oppressed masses or kowtow to President Snow and protect her family? Thanks to these new moral depths, the sequel ends up feeling quite a bit more substantial than its predecessor. That said, we still get plenty of spectacle, particularly in the Capitol with its vertiginous skyscrapers, lavish parties and zany fashion sense – and Jennifer Lawrence gets to wear even more glittery make-up and skimpy Star Wars-esque outfits than in the last film.

The cast is huge and it’s credit to the script that we not only get to understand who everybody is, but actually care about them and what happens to them, too. Familiar faces crop up – Elizabeth Banks as District 12’s bubble-headed PR lady Effie Trinket and Stanley Tucci as reality TV host Caesar Flickerman – and there are plenty of new ones too, including critics’ darling Philip Seymour Hoffman as head gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee and Jena Malone (Donnie Darko) as Johanna Mason, one of the feistiest contenders in the Games. The story does fizzle out towards the end but, like the book it’s based on, it throws you enough dangling plot ends to leave you hungry for the next instalment.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Elizabeth Banks, Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Jena Malone, Stanley Tucci, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson
  • Director: Francis Lawrence

In a nutshell

It’s not often that a film surpasses the book it’s based on, but this one just about manages it thanks to its well-honed script, well-chosen cast and careful balance of thought and thrills.

by Rebecca Davies

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