Monday, 2 December 2013

Catching Fire Review

Gary Ross’s adaptation of The Hunger Games wasn’t just a two fingered salute to all of the other half-baked teen fiction adaptations that have dominated multiplexes in recent years, it was also a refreshingly well realised science-fiction yarn, playing straight the concept behind The Running Man to highly satisfying effect. Yet with Gary Ross out and I Am Legend’s Francis Lawrence in – alongside one hefty box office shadow – Catching Fire could have easily played it safe and done another New Moon, reeling in the cash with nary a modicum of its predecessor’s ingenuity. Thankfully, this second feature in The Hunger Games trilogy is just as imaginative, whilst swapping out some of the atmosphere in favour of a far slicker, fast-paced machine.

Picking up right where we left off, previous Hunger Games winners Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence)and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are now residents in District 12’s Victor’s Village, forced to live out their sham relationship for Caesar Flickerman’s (a deliciously camp Stanley Tucci) reality-TV-cum-celeb-gossip TV channel. Yet whilst the Capitol aims to distract from the violence of the Hunger Games by avidly following this false romance, in the Districts, civil unrest bubbles in the wake of Katniss’s defiant acts in the Games. Yet with the 75th anniversary of The  Hunger Games (and, in turn, the failure of the latest uprising) allowing for special conditions to come into play, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) aims to quell any further rebellion by forcing Katniss and Peeta to play again.

Initially, Beaufoy and DeBruyn’s script comes across as more than a little hammy in its repeated appraisals of love and loneliness from the plot’s central love triangle, and whilst Liam Hemsworth does a stand-up job it’s hard to care about someone who’s so obviously on the periphery. However, once we’re back in the company of Woody Harrelson and newcomer Philip Seymour Hoffman, things quickly pick up, and the film is allowed to breathe. The original Hunger Games took its time in letting the titular event unfold, effectively capturing the isolation and boredom that would come along with being stuck in a forest for days with no one to talk to beyond your imminent killer. In contrast, the portrayal of the 3rd Quarter Quell is here far more conventional and swift, instead building up a strong set of supporting figures in Jena Malone, Sam Claflin et al ready for the ecisive events of the next two films.

Yet unlike other ‘middle’ features, Catching Fire does far more than merely move the pieces in play from Point A to B – by the time the end credits appeared, I was clamouring for more. Catching Fire might lose some of the sense of authenticity found in the best moments of its predecessor, but it makes up for it with a far greater sense of adventure and excitement. So long as Mockingjay doesn’t buck the trend, it looks like The Hunger Games might be the first epic film series in a long time that lives up to all of its grand promises.