Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

After their controversial victory at the 74th annual Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) embark on their victory tour over the nation of Panem. However, something has changed while they have been away. Districts have began to rebel, hope has arisen and law enforcement has been raised. In order to stop a nation-wide rebellion, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) knows something must be done while Katniss becomes a beacon of hope for the districts she visits. To him, there is one solution. Katniss Everdeen must go back into the arena for the 75th Hunger Games.

Let me begin by stating that I am a huge fan of this book series. I also enjoyed the first film. It wasn't without its flaws, but I found it to be a compelling, and skilful adaptation. Catching Fire was my favourite book of the trilogy, and I'm pleased to say this adaptation not only surpasses the work of it's predecessor, but also the book from which it was adapted; a truly rare occasion. Catching Fire is an improvement on The Hunger Games in almost every way, and in many respects it is an exceptional film. It has a lengthy run time of 146 minutes, but this flew by. Opening with political themes of law and rebellion, moving swiftly into the build up and finally into the main attraction; the Games itself. From start to end, Catching Fire is sensational.

Opening impressively politically, it's immediately obvious that this will be a much darker film than its predecessor. The colours have been toned down, the acting is more advanced, the scripting is more serious. The first hour or so of Catching Fire builds on the story of the first film, and slides us smoothly into the story of the second book. Looking from a critical perspective, this is where the film is at its strongest. As always, Lawrence is the star of this film. She is just an extraordinary actress, and in this role, she carries the film by herself. This first hour is dark, and deeply atmospheric. It is essentially an hour of talking, but it is needed. It gives the film its depth and smartly political nature, and broadens the fictional world we're watching.

Before long, we move into the second act of the film; the training. This is possibly where the film is at its weakest. It feels far too familiar to the original, and there is nothing here that we haven't seen before. But this is the fault of the source book, and an adaptation wouldn't work without it. Lawrence continues to shine through, and this is where we meet our plethora of new co-stars, including a particularly impressive Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair. The rest of the co-stars also impress, each as interesting as the last. Still following the book almost to the word, director Francis Lawrence has clearly done his research, but it is essentially identical to the same part of the first film, and this can't help but bring everything down a bit.

However. Then act 3 begins, and we enter the arena. From a fan perspective, this is where the film, erm, catches fire. The action is far more advanced this time round, the camerawork is much better (and we can actually see what's going on), the stakes have been massively raised, and the visual effects are incredible. Well, they should be really, as Catching Fire boasts twice the budget of The Hunger Games. Many of the thrills here, including an exhilarating sequence on a spinning cornucopia and a pretty terrifying moment with some scary birds, are due to the clever brain of book writer Suzanne Collins, but director Lawrence has brought them to the screen with sheer power. The last hour of the film is fantastic.

Catching Fire is undeniably a superior film to its predecessor. All of the flaws have been improved, and many of the things that made the original so impressive have been brought back here. Any of the defects this time round actually come from the book; the level of film-making itself is hard to be criticised. Lawrence is as impressive as ever, and despite the lengthy running time it never feels boring. As an adaptation, Catching Fire is faultless. As a movie in its own right, there is still work to be done. With two more instalments of The Hunger Games' series to come in the next two years, my hopes are extremely high. If they can replicate or even build on the strength of Catching Fire,  this franchise will be something really special.

To Summarise: An improvement over its predecessor, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a powerful, well acted and smartly directed sequel.

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