For Catching Fire, I’m sorely tempted to copy and paste much of the tag-team review that Will and I did last year for the original Hunger Games. The reason is simple: Catching Fire is so familiar because it almost plays like a remake of the first film. Incoming director Francis Lawrence (Water for Elephants) ably mimics the work done by Gary Ross, with his main stamp as the man behind the wheel being his tendency to use less shaky cam than his esteemed forebear.
On one hand, this gives the film a degree of predictability that prevents it from being truly new. On the other however, its look and tone firmly root proceedings in the same world: the nation of Panem. So it is that watching Catching Fire is like sitting down with an old friend. It’s fortunate then that this is one friend that’s grown a good deal smarter since last we met.
Indeed, Catching Fire picks up in the aftermath of Katniss and Peeta’s joint win of the 74th Annual Hunger Games – a gladiatorial battle to death enforced by the Capitol against its subservient Districts, where normally only one ‘Tribute’ can come out alive. By appearing to defy the Capitol in the previous games, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) has inadvertently become a symbol of hope for those who would rebel against President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and his city of excess.
Sutherland is given much more to do this time than before, and the story is richer for it. President Snow comes across as a dangerous and despotic figure, and his plain-talking threats to Katniss make him a villain to fear. His challenge is for Katniss to quell the fires of rebellion by convincing the people of Panem that her act of defiance with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) in the last Hunger Games was really a final, desperate act by star-crossed lovers and nothing more.
The first half of the movie is therefore fairly political, filled with engaging character arcs for all players. Jennifer Lawrence steals the show as the headstrong but still vulnerable Katniss, and continues to prove why she’s the second-youngest to win the Academy Award for Best Actress. The latter half of the picture however reorients itself with the 75th Annual Hunger Games, also known as the third Quarter Quell.
A ‘wrinkle’ taken advantage of by new Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), sees the rules change: all Tributes to participate in the games will be reaped from the pool of past winners. Consequently, Katniss and Peeta yet again enter the arena – although there’s a different air to the event that alters its role and significance. Sadly, it all culminates in a rushed and anticlimactic cliffhanger, which is a bit of a disappointment. That said, it’s a testament to the strength of these characters and the powerful, emotion-driven story that I’m more excited for the series’ future after seeing Katniss and Panem’s state at the end of Catching Fire. May the odds be ever in Mockinjay‘s favour!
Catching Fire is every bit as good as the original, balancing familiarity and predictability with richer storytelling.