If the first Hunger Games film was a comment on our obsession with celebrity culture and reality television, then Catching Fire is a more personal take on the darker side of fame and the shallowness of the celebrity facade.
Picking up where the last film left off, we again follow Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) now living as the victor of the previous games. Yet life is far from perfect. Katniss not only struggles with the psychological trauma she’s endured, haunted by those she’s killed in the past, but she continues to (frustratingly) flit between love interests with alarming frequency: the strong, blue-eyed Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and the whiny Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). Then there’s the wider revolutionary plot – can she escape her position as President Snow’s puppet (Donald Sutherland) and rise to her own revolutionary symbol of the mockingjay?
Where the novel dragged a little during the first half, the film does a great job of building character, wisely focusing the plot on Katniss with few trimmings. Though she’s supported by some great performances (Sutherland’s contemptible Snow and a hilarious turn from Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket), only an actress with the acting ability of Lawrence could carry the oppressive weight of this film (as well as providing hilarity in one lift-based scene). It’s largely thanks to her that the film is such a success.
This might be a film aimed at teenagers but its downbeat tone certainly has an adult feel. The dystopian world is bleak and daringly true to life, accompanied by James Newton Howard’s sombre score. By comparison, the Capitol is a spectacular but garish and hyperbolic take on a possible celebrity-obsessed future. Most of all, the morbid themes and overbearing sadness will certainly appeal to the darker side of teenage audiences.
The film may be long but it remains well paced, thoroughly gripping and often beautifully shot. The second half is all out action: brutal, sadistic and always thrilling, with convincing special effects. Nothing is more torturous, however, than the cliffhanger ending and the long wait until the third film.
Catching Fire builds and improves upon the first film, resulting in a fantasy saga that’s exciting and engrossing, with a reluctant heroine who’s easy to root for. And as an adaptation of the book, fans will not be disappointed - the odds are definitely in our favour.