The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (released nationwide 21 November) picks up where the original film left off **SPOILER** Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) having survived the ordeal of the brutal, murderous games through their love for one another **SPOILER END** Except it is not quite as simple as that… actually if you haven’t seen the first film stop reading, go and watch it then come back. Gone? Ok. I’ll continue. Katniss was always in love with Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), a local coal miner whom was kind to her as a child stricken by poverty. Her ‘love’ for Peeta was merely just for show to her, but poor Peeta does not feel the same way. This sexual tension is to the fore throughout the film with a theme of reality television celebrity smartly woven in to the plot for the first half of the movie.
For those that missed the first instalment of The Hunger Games a very quick recap of crucial information of the world they live in:
• There are 12 ‘districts’ whose workers are responsible for the production of certain goods for the nation as a whole.
• Each year a ‘tribute’ is selected to represent one of these districts in ‘The Hunger Games’ – an annual celebration/reminder of the revolutionary past of the ‘Panem’ nation inhabited by the characters in which all children must fight to the death with only 1 survivor.
• 1 boy and 1 girl aged between 12 and 18 will be selected in this ceremony, called ‘the Reaping’.
The victors of the 74th Annual Hunger Games are on tour in much the same way that reality TV contestants are forced to travel around the country to parade how happy they are and to show the public the love they so crave. The palpable sadness and tragedy endured by Katniss and Peeta is superbly juxtaposed by the overbearing and constantly happy TV presenter Caesar Flickerman (played with relish by Stanley Tucci). Indeed, much of The Hunger Games is orientated towards an indictment of game show and celebrity culture.
The contrasting themes of celebrity and revolution are daringly explored as Katniss’ fame has begun a revolutionary swelling that is overtly referred to on multiple occasions by the cast. The corrupt authority figure of President Snow (Donald Sutherland) realises this and threatens Katniss, her family and those of Gale if she does not carry on this charade of public love with Peeta. Rather than merely focussing on how this impacts on Katniss we do see how Peeta is fully aware of the situation and is complicit in enabling the public to carry on their belief of love through increasingly desperate measures and publicity stunts – once more mimicking many celebrities, especially film and pop stars, in their actions. Yet the underlying kindness of Katniss and Peeta merely compound their problems and create a deeper feeling of revolution within the growing discontent of the public. Indeed, the stark contrast of Katniss, Peeta and Gale’s decrepit home of District 12 with the extravagant overindulgence of the Capital is demonstrable and leads to Katniss and Peeta rebelling yet further to purposely enrage President Snow.
The acting is uniformly good and while some characters are inevitably underused due to time limitations – Toby Jones as the announcer Claudius Templesmith, Jeffrey Wright as Beetee and even Liam Hemsworth as Gale – others are more able to utilise their limited time expertly – Donald Sutherland is expertly ruthless as President Snow, Woody Harrelson pitches it perfectly as laid back, yet informed Haymitch Abernathy and Philip Seymour Hoffman is perfectly cast as the new controller of The Hunger Games, the Machiavellian Plutarch Heavensbee. However, this is Jennifer Lawrence’s film and she is terrific.
Jennifer Lawrence expertly brings layers to her character in a wonderful performance. We see how Katniss is suffering from some sort of post traumatic stress disorder while acutely aware of the troubles of her district, her family, Peeta, her true love and her new found fame and responsibility towards the nation as a whole to whom she is a symbol of hope. Indeed, the private and public persona of Katniss are so evidently different it is again a warning to the audience on how we are treating our celebrities and why we should not trust a public persona because the private lives of those in the public eye are so divergent. All of these adult themes are covered in a film rated as a PG. Impressive. This means that much of the violence and death is either implied or the camera diverts at the last minute to spare you from the blood. Yes this does detract from the experience slightly but I’m more than willing to forgive it for that.
All of this so far covers the first part of the film which is terrific. The second half is more standard fare blockbuster and it is very similar to the original in its concept. This time Heavensbee and Snow use a ‘wrinkle’ in the laws to allow previous survivors to take part in the ‘Third Quarter Quell’ or 75th Annual Hunger Games – once more an allusion to reality television shows changing the rules as they go along. All these characters perform the usual parade and showbiz nonsense aiming to receive backing from the public and their fellow competitors – Lenny Kravitz’s costume for Katniss is especially good by the way, to his cost. There are a few differences such as The Truman Show style setting and the more multi layered plot alluded to throughout which I won’t spoil but in general it gives those more predisposed towards action and sci-fi adventure their fill.
More than anything though it does set things up nicely for a third instalment and I for one cannot wait as it was 2 and a half hours (!) that really went quickly and enjoyably. If you can get past the stupid character names (yes I did notice) then this is a wonderful movie which leaves you wanting more but pitches it perfectly between action, sci fi and intelligently well thought out acting. If, like me, you never intended to watch the original The Hunger Games (I saw it on a plane to Australia and was very impressed) give it a chance. And then watch The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. It will be worth it. The second instalment is far better than the first which itself was pretty good.