Review: The Hunger Games – Catching Fire / Cert: 12 / Director: Francis Lawrence / Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy, Michael Arndt / Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth / Release Date: March 17th
The Hunger Games return for a second course with Catching Fire, a sequel to 2012’s insanely popular Twilight-for-intelligent-people, Battle Royale-for-dummies sci-fi thriller. While Gary Ross’ Hunger Games adaptation was slick but flawed, thanks to its incomprehensible action sequences and predictable story, Francis Lawrence’s sequel is a vast improvement.
Smarter and simply better on almost every level, Catching Fire delves deeper into The Capitol, giving more insight into Panem’s struggle. Katniss Everdeen, joint winner of last year’s Hunger Games, battles survivor’s guilt, (presumably) Post Traumatic Stress and the constant doe-eyes of unrequited lover Peeta Mellark, in addition to the looming evil of President Snow. It’s a relief from her busy schedule when Snow announces that the next Hunger Games will be made up of victors from games past, including herself and Peeta.
Jennifer Lawrence and beau Josh Hutcherson remain impressive, but it’s the increased adult presence which makes Catching Fire such an attractive prospect for grown-up audiences. Donald Sutherland is given much more to do as President Snow, while Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks and Lenny Kravitz all reprise their respective roles. Woody Harrelson remains a highlight, while certain scenes with Banks and Kravitz are sure to raise a sniffle. In a poignant note, the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman also appears as gamesmaster Plutarch Heavensbee – real life tragedy creating a void that will be missed over the two remaining sequels. Of the youths, Sam Clafin stands out. DC and WB take note: you could do far worse for your live action Aquaman. Kid knows how to rock a Trident.
The improvements made extend to the action and writing, both of which feel more grown-up and organic. Bloodless as it may be, there’s a fluidity to the fight sequences reminiscent of the jump in quality between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. It’s still imperfect – one character’s death throes are so fluffed that many might not even register it – but it’s a vast improvement over what came before. Smart and sharp enough that non-readers of the book can still enjoy it, Catching Fire was one of 2013’s best. Where The Hunger Games was enjoyable yet dull, this sequel leaves us starving for more.
With deleted scenes, audio commentaries and a making-of featurette, this Blu-ray release should satisfy fans’ hunger until Mockingjay – Part 1 comes along later this year. Delicious.