Film Review | The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Expanding on the socio-political themes inherent in Suzanne Collins’ novel in addition to being a terrifically entertaining blockbuster, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire proves that this franchise is still at the top of the food chain when it comes to young adult films. As book-to-film adaptations go, it’s damn near perfect.
A year after surviving the 74th annual Hunger Games, an emotionally-damaged Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is back in the impoverished District 12 living in ‘Victor’s Village’ along with her family and co-winner Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). While embarking on their mandatory victor’s tour, the dissent that Katniss’ act of defiance has inspired among the various districts becomes more and more vociferous. With rebellion on the horizon, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) hatches a plan with new gamekeeper Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) that sends Katniss and other victors back into the arena once more.
Whilst Suzanne Collins’ novel could be accused of being a slow read in places, Lawrence’s adaptation starts off strongly and keeps the momentum going throughout. Something which all adaptations must do but many struggle to achieve is the delicate balance of staying faithful to the prose whilst also taking creative liberties, and by and large the decision making in Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt’s screenplay is sound. Nonetheless, there are still some instances where some more artistic license might have yielded a greater impact.
The narrative itself is one that has more than a touch of familiarity with the first instalment, a fact that is far more evident on screen than on page, but much has changed since last year’s inauguration. The film does an excellent job of portraying the aftereffects of the Hunger Games from multiple angles, building on the pre-established dystopian themes. Additionally, the love triangle is more nuanced; an early, effective exchange between Katniss and President Snow makes crystal clear the ramifications should the faked romance between the two victors cease, and the conflicting beliefs of the parties involved carry significant emotional weight.
If there was a weak link in Ross’ franchise opener, it’s that the spectacle of the Games themselves was underwhelming, due in no small part to the overuse of shaky cam. It’s here that the new director’s influence is most felt; the action – which takes place in a beautifully realised arena – is fast-paced and thrilling, with the tributes pitted against a myriad of deadly obstacles in addition to each other. Lawrence has found the happy medium whereby just enough brutality is shown to have the desired impact, and as a result the film as a whole is more involving.
It helps that Lawrence’s Katniss is once again an engaging heroine. The Oscar-winning actress handles her physical duties with ease, but it’s the emotive scenes where she truly excels. There is a lot of emotional baggage to get through in the opening hour – the victory tour, having to compete in the games again, her conflicting feelings for Peeta and Gale to name a few – but these segments don’t feel as though they have been breezed over largely because Lawrence sells it so well. In a role that many actresses would kill for, it’s difficult to think of another who could embody this character so completely.
Among other things, Francis Lawrence certainly inherited a brilliant cast from his predecessor, and almost all are put to good use. Both Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth have more to do this time round, Elizabeth Banks gets to add a few more layers to Effie Trinket, and Stanley Tucci again brings enjoyable flamboyance to sparkly-toothed host Caesar Flickerman. Of the franchise newcomers, it’s Sam Claflin’s confident turn as Finnick which shines brightest.
Ross’ franchise opener handled the grunt work well, but Lawrence’s sequel earns the rare distinction of not only bettering its predecessor but also surpassing its source material. You can’t ask much more from a book-to-film adaptation than that.