Are you ready for another film series based on young adult fiction novels? Luckily, as opposed to certain other ‘sagas’ (cough… Twilight), The Hunger Games books by Suzanne Collins are actually good, and tackle fairly complex ideas and political issues. The first film, released last year, was stressful but enjoyable. I saw the second film, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire last night, and I was looking forward to it for a long time.
This second film picks up where the first one left off. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) have returned home from their victory at the 74th Hunger Games and are adjusting to their new responsibilities as victors, whilst also figuring out their relationship with each other. Little do they know, their rebellious method of winning has given the downtrodden citizens of Panem some hope beyond their lives under an autocratic, totalitarian government, and uprisings are beginning to occur. As the 75th Hunger Games looms, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) enlists the help of Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to make these games more unique than ever before; with unintended consequences.
I have to firstly say that I’ve read the books and really enjoyed them, so I’m coming from the perspective of someone who already knows what happens and has the ability to compare the two. The Hunger Games films are both quite faithful to their source material, which is great. However, an important point – the films are also understandable and accessible for people who haven’t read the books, which is a huge bonus. There’s nothing worse than a pedantic book-to-film translation that doesn’t give a crap about non-readers. The film takes the consideration to explain facets of Panem society and politics in order for non-readers to be aware of the key information, in a way that is clear without drumming the information into the audience’s heads.
The only nitpicky thing I have to say is that a fairly important location in the third book/film wasn’t really ‘primed’ enough for the non-reader audience to understand its significance at the end of this film. It seems a bit strange that such a huge chunk of the plot would be neglected in this way. Its significance is hinted at, but in such a subtle way that I’m not sure a non-reader would have picked it up. Or maybe they would have and I just have a low expectation of people who haven’t read these books. Who knows?
It almost goes without saying that Jennifer Lawrence is amazing in this film. She’s pretty much amazing in anything and is an incredibly versatile actress. I really can’t wait to see her in American Hustle (2013) because she shines even in her tiny moments in the trailer. She is a joy to watch and is clearly, by far, the best actor in this film. Her acting style is so effortless and minimal, but as a direct result, it has maximum impact. In the beginning of the film, Katniss is experiencing symptoms similar to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after her ordeal in the first film, and is having flashbacks and horrible night terrors. Her portrayal of this is so genuine and heartbreaking. She also is really talented at ‘acting like an actor’ in the earlier moments where Katniss undertakes her victory responsibilities. I imagine that this would be pretty hard to do as you have to act like your character, whilst your character is acting like someone else. My point here is that Jennifer Lawrence is phenomenal, end of story.
Elizabeth Banks was also surprisingly good. As Effie Trinket, essentially Katniss and Peeta’s Hunger Games PR representative, her role is limited to quite shallow moments; telling Katniss to smile for the cameras, informing Katniss and Peeta of the important guests at President Snow’s party, et cetera. In the first film, there wasn’t much room for her to show any emotion. By this second one, her tributes have survived, and Effie has built a relationship and rapport with them. When Katniss and Peeta are sent into the Hunger Games arena for a second time, we see the genuine emotion and care behind Effie’s obsessively shallow and materialistic facade. It was a total 180 from her portrayal of Effie in the first film and it was surprising to see.
Jena Malone is also great as District 7’s Hunger Games tribute Johanna Mason. She portrays the combination of sarcastic, vengeful and angry really well. The one cast member that is let down by this film is Josh Hutcherson. It’s not that he’s not a good actor, it’s just that the film tends to neglect his character a bit, and as a result he is poorly developed in comparison to the others. This is a big shame because Peeta is a significant character in the series and his relationship with Katniss is obviously central to the story.
Throughout the film I was struck by how beautiful the costuming was. Good show, costumes department. All the gowns that Katniss wears are so beautiful – particularly the one she wears to President Snow’s party, and the one where the tributes for the 75th Hunger Games are shown off to the Capitol citizens in their chariots through the city. I didn’t have any thoughts about the cinematography as every time Jennifer Lawrence was on screen I was too spellbound by her acting. However, the moments where we find out the quirks of the Hunger Games arena were an excellent display of the film’s special effects.
What I liked most about Catching Fire was how it explored the political climate of Panem. We are shown intense scenes of rebellion, and most importantly, the consequences of that rebellion. In this way, it’s a lot more faithful to the original book when compared with the first film, where the brutality of President Snow’s regime was not really shown. There is a palpable sense of fear and mistrust in this film, which sets it apart from other, less interesting ‘young adult’ thrillers.
The ending of the film left me wanting more, and was further evidence of Jennifer Lawrence’s amazing acting ability. I officially can’t wait for the next film, which is scheduled for November 21, 2014. Having read the third book, I’m interested to see how they approach it, as it is structured very differently to the first two. I’m predicting that Jennifer Lawrence is going to absolutely nail the issues that Katniss faces in the third book, but that might be stating the obvious.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is ultimately a very good film. It tells the original story in a faithful way for the readers, and a congruent, understandable way for the non-readers. The scenes inside the Hunger Games arena are equal parts exciting and scary, and neither the script nor film contained any bloated moments that should have been skipped. The film flowed well for the duration of its 146-minute runtime and never lost momentum. It’s definitely a great film to see on the big screen as opposed to on a laptop or television.
Is it worth paying for a ticket? Yes! But if you haven’t seen the first film yet, watch it first before seeing this one!
Watch the trailer here.
Pro tip: There are no extra scenes after the credits have finished rolling, so don’t bother waiting around. Also, for the purposes of disclosure, I must say that my friend generously used a cinema voucher for our tickets to this one, so I didn’t technically buy a ticket for it. Shoutout to you Hayley, and also to Scott Bobo, “G”, and “Big Easy”.