Katniss is back! Fans of The Hunger Games can rejoice as we re-join our heroine following her historic victory at the 74th games along with her fellow District 12 resident Peeta. The pair have to go on a victory tour of the Districts at the behest of President Snow (Donald Sutherland), which soon turns into a battle for their lives and the start of a potential revolution as the 75th Hunger Games begin.
Catching Fire is unapologetic in being a film in the middle of a series, taking the audience from the end of A to the start of B, and leaving them out on an Empire Strikes Back-esque limb. It is however a sturdy mid-section in the story arc, and Katniss kicks ass, largely thanks to Jennifer Lawrence’s excellent performance, keeping our stoic heroine likeable despite her surly exterior.
It could so easily have suffered from Harry Potter-syndrome- you know, that feeling that you really don’t want to have to sit through yet ANOTHER drawn out journey to Hogwarts before the action begins- but manages to avoid too much repetition by upping the ante in terms of design and production values (thanks to a budget double that of the first film).
It really is a pleasure seeing the world of Panem again. Elizabeth Banks‘ costumes in particular are a crazy joy to behold, as is Banks herself, turning the highly-strung fashion-slave Effie into an enduring, iconic movie character. The vision of Panem as a whole is impeccably put together, with the ostentatious costumes of the Capitol, the decay in the districts and every element of technology and scenery beautifully designed and realised. Indeed, in many ways it is superior to the first film.
The story moves swiftly while allowing the surprisingly complex characters space to develop. Some welcome new additions to the cast come in the form of Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee, the new director of the Hunger Games and Jena Malone as fiery fellow Tribute Johanna.
It is unfortunate then that The Hunger Games was originally positioned as a film for teenage girls and saddled with being “The new Twilight”, as the story is engaging, complex and is conveying a surprisingly audacious political message marking it out as far more than just popcorn fodder. Despite this the films could have fallen flat without an engaging lead, and they really hit the jackpot with Jennifer Lawrence.
Catching Fire is a sturdy second installment, and leaves a sense of excitement about parts one and two of the final chapter, Mockingjay. It’s just a shame we’ll have to wait two years to see them. In the meantime I’ll be working on my J-Law fan club badges.