Darkness Has Survived

Francis Lawrence

Jennifer Lawrence
Josh Hutcherson
Woody Harrelson
Donald Sutherland

Set one year after the events in The Hunger Games, victors Katniss Everdeen [Lawrence] and Peeta Mellark [Hutcherson] are suffering post-traumatic stress while trying to maintain the public illusion that they are in fact a loving couple. To quell dissidence in the impoverished Districts, President Snow [Sutherland] tasks Katniss and Peeta to tour the country of Panem and recite propaganda. As the seventy fifth annual Hunger Games approaches, it becomes obvious that the simple riots in the Districts are the beginnings of revolution. In an attempt to snuff this spark before it gets going, Snow unleashes a brutal increase in police presence and enforcement. As the population continue to resist, he becomes acutely aware that Katniss is no longer just a defiant victor but a symbol to the people. It is this concern that leads him to draft previous victors in the upcoming Hunger Games.

One of the reasons I believe this series works is the rich setting and strong concept. Much like dystopian films of the 80’s, the Hunger Games series points an accusatory finger at the well-off and empathising, audiences immediately rally behind the lead underdog. My only real disappointment with the first film was not seeing more of the other Districts; thankfully, this is immediately taken care of with Katniss and Peeta’s whistle stop PR tour. One could argue that this is atypical sequel territory. The same characters re-treading familiar ground, with bigger and more elaborate fallout. The structure is exactly the same but there is a feeling that this time is different, like revisiting a childhood location as an adult. No longer simply “will Katniss survive this brutal ordeal”, the story now focuses on the system itself; its cruelty and the need to tear it down. This sort of totalitarian socio-political analysis makes for a much more mature story than several of these teen-lit adaptations and the adult pacing and complex character developments cement this as a noteworthy addition to the series. Much like the first film, Catching Fire isn’t limited by its 12a/PG-13 rating and provides a thrilling and believable action thriller. But this time around the violence is different. Rather than children killing each other, there is the potential for adults killing kids. Perversely, while one is cinematically acceptable, the other is apparently not. So the violence is inter-spread throughout the opening half, detailing the oppression of the citizens in the Districts.

Despite the change of hands between Gary Ross and Francis Lawrence, Catching Fire maintains the same level of keen directing, editing and production value. From the dingy downtrodden Districts to the lush eccentricities of the Capital, the sets and costumes are spectacular. One of the highlights of the first film was the really engrossing and fitting score by James Newton Howard’s; saturated with soaring pomp and ceremony alongside tender harmonic melodies when necessary. While there wasn’t a great deal of additional development, the return of the central themes was greatly appreciated. Matching the on-screen visuals, the performances are more explored this time around. No longer stumbling through the getting-to-know-you stages, we see Katniss weaken and falter rather than being an implausible being of determination and drive. Equally, the supporting characters feel real and evolve outside of the expected portrayal one would expect or assume. Point in case, Donald Sutherland isn’t just an established actor wheeled out to deliver a few lines, he exudes an in-depth, malicious presence and presents himself as a formidable antagonist. The additions of Jena Malone, Sam Claflin (I’m now officially stating Claflin should be Aquaman) and Jeffrey Wright were pleasantly welcome but Philip Seymour Hoffman felt flat and a little dull after the absurdity of Wes Bentley in the previous release.

The biggest criticism this film may encounter is that it is a bridge. As an adaptation of a trilogy, the story is clearly set to continue and closes on a cliff-hanger; a development which plays out nicely but may leave audiences without a sense of closure or resolve – which they will continue to be deprived of until the second instalment of Mockingjay. Owing to this, some people may also complain about the length of the film, or the pacing. Personally, I think these are solid elements and show a maturity and respect for the audience, rather than pummelling them continually in the hope they won’t get distracted or simply walk away. This stems from the fact that several casual cinemagoers aren’t going to understand or appreciate the nature of these stories. Sure, the film is gladiatorial in nature yet it’s not all about the televised massacres but the reason this institution has been crafted in the first place. The way I’m defending these films, one would probably expect a higher ranking than 8/10 but no matter how well these movies are executed, they are still somewhat flawed in their simplistic, straight forward story-telling and pale in comparison to the monumentally exquisite Battle Royale.

Having crashed through the debut release obstacles and now raised itself above the tricky ‘follow-up’ problems, The Huger Games has achieved that cinematic holy grail: franchise. With this calibre of writing, acting and direction, I imagine this series will continue to press on into Twilight and Harry Potter figures, without overstaying its welcome.

Release Date:
22nd November 2013

The Scene To Look Out For:
Once in the game, Katniss, Peeta and Finnick [Claflin] are pursued by a poisonous fog, while causes horrific boils and burns. Now, I can understand how water would soothe and possibly reverse this effect but the immediacy of its removal is a bit ridiculous. Having said that, I’m happy to suspend disbelief and this isn’t my main problem with this scene. Plunging her hand underwater, Katniss lets out a shriek and explains to her allies that although it hurts, “it helps”. So they all slide into the water and begin writhing, grunting and screaming. I don’t know whether it’s just my immaturity or the fact that my screening was populated by teenagers but everyone in the audience started to openly giggle at the overtly sexual exclamations. So that’s the scene that stuck out in my head. Insightful critiquing, I know.

Notable Characters:
Jennifer Lawrence and Woody Harrelson are great actors, so their engrossing performances are no real surprise. Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark on the other hand, is proving more and more interesting. In the first film he felt a little peripheral, despite being a leading character but that’s primarily due to the fact that the story is told from Katniss’ perspective and her indifference to him is mirrored by the audience. With his victory, public pressure and an inherent need to protect Katniss, he becomes more interesting to watch and a deeper character than simply ‘the guy from District 12’.

Highlighted Quote:
“Drink this. It’ll make you sick. So you can keep eating. How else could we sample everything?”

In A Few Words:
“A healthy sequel which expands the setting, furthers the character development and morphs the story into something more complicated and engrossing than one could have predicted – which is exactly what a sequel should do”

Total Score: