The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) 2 Stars

“Remember Who the Enemy is.”


The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

Director: Francis Lawrence

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth

Synopsis: Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark become targets of the Capitol after their victory in the 74th Hunger Games sparks a rebellion in the Districts of Panem.




One year on from the original Hunger Games movie, and sweeping in on that movie’s jetstream, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire moves the story along apace while also rehashing many aspects of the original plot. Once more, we see feisty Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) plunged into the artificially created environs of a forest — jungle, this time — to fight for her life against 23 other tributes, and once again we face the conundrum of how both she and fellow District 12 tribute Petta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) can both survive the ordeal when there can only be one survivor. These similarities mean that Catching Fire should be a pale imitation of its predecessor, but in fact after a slow start this sequel surpasses the original movie in terms of suspense and characterisation.

It’s one year on from the events of the 74th Hunger Games, and Katniss and her family now live in comparative wealth in the Victor’s Village in District 12. On the eve of she and Peeta’s tour of the country, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) informs her that her attempted suicide pact with Peeta in the previous Games led to riots in the districts. She must therefore convince the country that the pact was an expression of her and Peeta’s love rather than an act of defiance against the Capitol, otherwise her family will be killed and District 12 destroyed.

The tour sees Katniss and Peeta reunited with Haymitch (Woody Harrelson – Rampart) and Effie (Elizabeth Banks — Meet Dave) and Katniss viewed as a figure of defiance by the people she visits. Fearful of an increase in the incidents of rebellion across the districts, Snow tasks new Game-maker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman — The Big Lebowski, 25th Hour) with the job of tainting Katniss’s public image, and announces a new format for the third Quarter Quell — the 75th anniversary of the quelling of the original riots in District 13. This year, the Tributes for the Hunger Games will be selected from amongst the surviving winners of previous Games. Inevitably, Katniss is chosen, and Peeta volunteers to replace Haymitch when the older man is selected. This time, Katniss and Peeta must fight for survival in the arena not only against highly skilled and proven opponents, but the Capitol itself…

Up to this point in Catching Fire, there’s very much a feeling of déjà vu. President Snow plays a bigger part, but the behind-the-scenes political machinations which shape Katniss’s life are given only passing attention, due presumably to the movie’s target audience, who would much rather identify with Katniss’s emotional problems rather than dwell on the socio-political forces that creates them. The gathering rebellion of the populace is also kept largely low key — apart from Snow’s references to them, signs of the peoples’ growing unrest is largely confined to a few raised-arm salutes at the reapings to select the Tributes, and some briefly-glanced riot scenes on TV monitors.

But, like the first film, Catching Fire slips into top gear when the Tributes find themselves once more facing a fight for survival in the arena. This time, all the Tributes are far more savvy about what awaits them, and alliances are formed before they even enter the arena. And this time, they must run past the cache of weapons in order to make it into the relative safety of the jungle, which means they must all stop to arm themselves if they are to survive past the first few minutes. The nature of the game has also changed, with the Capitol playing a much larger part in the progress of the Games. No longer like an office game of paintball, this Games is more like a malevolently-planned big-budget episode of The Crystal Maze, complete with tidal waves, bloodthirsty baboons and a poisonous, creeping fog. It all makes for a hugely gripping second half that doesn’t forsake the quality of the script for mindless action sequences, and culminates in an unexpected, open-ended conclusion that sets the story up nicely for its third instalment.

While Catching Fire doesn’t entirely avoid the common sequel malaise of repetition of the first movie, it does manage to add enough new twists to keep things fresh, and achieves a nice balance of emotion-based drama and action to appeal to both sexes. As the potential for placing Katniss in the arena for a third Games no longer seems an option given the ending of this instalment, it will be interesting to see how the third film will mesh with the previous two, or if, in fact, it goes off in a different direction entirely.