Proving there’s life in the ‘Young Adult’ genre after the sun setting on Twilight, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was one of last year’s biggest success stories. Raking in a massive $863.9 million at the global box office it puts other contenders to the Twilight crown to shame. We’re talking about you Mortal Instruments and Beautiful Creatures. But, Twilight was an acquired taste, adored by its fans and derided by almost everyone else. The Hunger Games franchise, so far, seems able to rise above just the fans to reach a broader audience.
Catching Fire sees heroine Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) back at home having survived her Hunger Games ordeal. But her and fellow survivor Peta’s (Josh Hutcherson) refusal to conform to the rules in the first film have made Katniss a symbol of hope for the put upon districts and therefore a thorn in the side of The Capitol and the all-powerful President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Soon Katniss becomes a pawn in Snow’s political games but the districts refuse to ignore their poster-girl for the pending rebellion. Turning to new games organizer Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) Snow decides the only way to be rid of Katniss is to throw her back in the Hunger Game arena which puts her and Peta in the line of fire with a host of previous winners.
Catching Fire is always at its strongest when dealing with the politics of the world. The camp Capitol happy to revel in wealth while the districts toil and suffer is what gives Katniss her motivation. Early on we see her struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder from the events of the first film but when she realises she has sparked a cause she finds a resolve to fight on.
As such by the time the film moves into the actual tournament of the Hunger Games you cannot help but feel we’ve seen it all before. Who is going to be Katniss’ ally, what dodgy bit of CGI created creature is going to try to bite Katniss’ face off this time round? The action is solid, new director Francis Lawrence (no relation) brings a slicker, more polished style to the film, but there’s little in the final third to set these Hunger Games apart from the last games.
It’s no coincidence that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire bears an uncanny resemblance to Ridley Scott’s Gladiator. The Capitol is clearly modeled on Rome, with its over-indulgence and decadent design while the Games themselves might as well be played in a coliseum such is their ode to the gladiatorial games of the Roman Empire. Throw-in Katniss as the rebel leader and you sense a speech about the Ides of March is just around the corner.
Unfortunately that corner appears to be the next film. Catching Fire builds to an exciting and potentially interesting climax but then never delivers it. Instead we’re left on a cliffhanger, a situation unresolved and a battle left, seemingly, only half fought. Of course much of this will be answered in the two upcoming sequels but, at over two hours long, you feel Catching Fire could have at least offered either a firm jumping off point for the next film or perhaps a glimpse of what is to come, the phrase “show don’t tell” is clearly not in effect come the final moments of Catching Fire.
Of course the franchise does have one secret weapon. Where Twilight fell apart under the weak shoulders of Kristen Stewart, Catching Fire thrives under the strength of Jennifer Lawrence. Few actors can balance a mainstream franchise with award and critical favourites but Lawrence makes it look easy. Oscar nominated for American Hustle she’s also got X-Men: Days Of Future Past and another two Hunger Games films to contend with but she does so with confidence. As Katniss she continues with a stern look, able to cut most of her enemies down with a death stare but never afraid to show an emotional side to those she cares for the most.
Managing to be a rare sequel that bests its original, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a solid action adventure that just about satisfies as a pre-cursor of the carnage to come.