Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-fi
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson
Having completely butchered Suzanne Collins’ first novel of the series with last year’s film The Hunger Games (mainly due to a much smaller budget and some misguided directing from Gary Ross), I was quietly dreading seeing how the millionaire movie moguls had massacred another fabulous book and anticipated an evening pointing out plot inaccuracies and consequently irritating my friends.
Thankfully, I can report that Catching Fire was absolutely brilliant and a monumental improvement on the first film. The secret behind this transformation is probably down to a change in director and screenplay writers – appointing Francis Lawrence (best known for directing I am Legend) and commissioning Michael Arndt and Simon Beaufoy to write the screenplay, under the careful guidance of Suzanne Collins. As a result, for the first time in memory, the film depicted almost exactly the fantastical images I had imagined while reading the book, particularly once we returned to the arena for the 75th Hunger Games, which highlights the vivid quality of Collins’ writing rather than the cinematography.
We rejoin the winning tributes of the last Hunger Games at the beginning of the film as they begin their winner’s tour around the twelve districts, finishing in the image obsessed and superficial Capitol. Tensions are beginning to rise between the authorities and Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) after the stunt she and Peter Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) pulled with the poisonous berries, which won them the games and made the Capitol government look weak. However, a visit from President Snow (Donald Sutherland) threatening the safety of her family pressurises Katniss into maintaining the image of a couple entirely consumed with love throughout their tour in a desperate attempt to fool anyone who saw the berries as a challenge to the state. Given they had barely spoken to each other since being crowned victors, and the widespread growing contempt for the state across the districts, this is an unsurprisingly futile effort. I won’t spoil it for those of you who are yet to watch the film or who have had the misfortune of being deprived from reading the trilogy, but suffice to say that the 75th Hunger Games signals an ‘extra special’ games called The Quarter Quell which takes places every 25 years, and Snow seizes his chance to assert the power of the Capitol, which was never going to end well for Katniss and the inhabitants of District 12.
The film offers the character development which was sacrificed in the first installment, and Jennifer Lawrence who proves herself to be a kind, intelligent and independent role model for young women with each interview she gives, is the same kick-ass Katniss seen previously, but a softer side is exposed as she struggles with inner demons unleashed from the ordeals of the last games. The audience is emotionally invested in the characters and so we join Katniss on an emotional rollercoaster with highs of hope but which will also leave you sobbing in your seat with grief, concluding with a gob-smacking cliffhanger.
Of course, this is all building up to the finale of the series – Mockingjay – which will be spread across two films. Thanks to his success with Catching Fire, Francis Lawrence has already been confirmed as the director for both films so they promise to be spectacular. Personally, I was disappointed by the third book as the tensions continued to rise right up until 50 pages before the end, and all the action in these last pages was too rushed and not presented in enough detail. Hopefully, with the extra time the two films will allow and a director who has proved his worth, Mockingjay might even achieve the unspeakable and surpass the brilliance of the book.