Tuesday, 3 December 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark become targets of the Capitol after their victory in the 74th Hunger Games sparks a rebellion in the Districts of Panem. Under orders of evil President Snow, Katniss must convince the districts that her actions in the arena were intended only to save the boy that she loves. As the pair try to come to terms with the bloody events in the Hunger Games and their roles as victors, the Capitol has more to throw at them, what with the Quarter Quell coming up for the games' 75th year...

Directed by Francis Lawrence, based on the novel by Suzanne Collins, starring Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz and Sam Claflin. 

Approx Run Time: 2 hours 25 mins 

The last time we saw Katniss Everdeen she'd defied the odds and saved herself and fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark from death in the Hunger Games - a kill or be killed, kids killing kids reality TV contest. As victor of the games, you acquire wealth, fame and most importantly, exemption from all future games. Unfortunately, what with the Quarter Quell coming up and a dictator who's still feeling sour about the way the last games ended, Katniss and Peeta aren't quite so lucky. The second movie installment of the popular trilogy written by Suzanne Collins is everything you'd expect; intense, heated, gut-wrenching and bosom-heaving. The Hunger Games was amazing and Catching Fire is even better.

Jennifer Lawrence carries the film with gutsy determination and there's no doubt that she is the star of this franchise. The Oscar-winner's portrayal of the hardened girl from District 12 is so intensely real, that you really do forget that it's a movie. Every shout, every scream of horror and every word is delivered so perfectly, that even the most cold-hearted person in the world is sure to be engulfed in a storm of emotional intensity. Lawrence's facial expressions and her emotional reactions are a perfect substitute to portray the first-person inner monologues of Katniss from the book - it would have been so easy for the writers to do Katniss voiceovers but instead they really allowed Lawrence to show off her terrific acting ability. Katniss' anger, her confusion about her feelings for Gale and Peeta, her grim determination to keep Peeta alive and her turmoil at having to choose where her loyalties lie are brought to life on screen; examples (without giving away too many spoilers) include Katniss' desperate attempts to protect Gale from torture, her grief when she thinks she's failed and her stunned reaction when she discovers what being a victor really means. Lawrence has some truly amazing scenes that, personally, made me a complete nervous wreck and rather teary-eyed. Her reaction to the big reveal as the movie draws to a close is so shockingly, tragically beautiful that I didn't know whether to burst into tears or clap - I'd give another Oscar to J.Law for the ending alone. 

Tears aside, the film manages a few laughs too. The subject matter is a serious one so it felt refreshing to have a few soft quips and gags. Finnick, played by Sam Claflin, brings a ray of sunshine to the dark and grittiness of the plot. He's warm and flirty, with just the right amount of playfulness so that it doesn't come across as tacky or cheesy. Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson, who play Gale and Peeta respectively, have shared most of the limelight with Lawrence in the promotional work for this movie, but I have to say that I think Claflin outshone the both of them as the witty, lovable Finnick - Finnick isn't a fully central character but his presence is of some importance and its a real credit to the actor that he manages to outshine the two main male leads. FYI I'm never going to be able to look at sugar cubes without blushing ever again.

For fans of the book, you'll be happy to know that it's very loyal and there are only a few minor tweaks and changes that are required in order to successfully translate it to the screen. Katniss Everdeen is a really strong, female character though occasionally in the book her narrative annoyed me slightly because she'd sometimes take ages to work something out - especially when it came to Peeta and Gale where she was pretty clueless. What I especially love about the film is that they've managed to keep her strong, heroic traits and make her more likable; she doesn't seem as clueless but she still keeps that essence of naivety surrounding her confused feelings for the two men in her life. 

There's only one flaw with the movie in relation to the book that involves Peeta. Josh Hutcherson doesn't really seem to have much to do as Jennifer Lawrence pretty much does everything for him. His lines aren't mind-blowing and he just seems very average - this is not necessarily the actor's fault (I saw him in Bridge to Terebithia so I know that he has the talent) but the writers' fault. While they have done a marvelous job in translating Katniss' character to the screen, they seem to have forgotten about Peeta. In the book he seems a lot more charismatic and is a master with his words (a point often pointed out by Katniss), but in the movie he loses his charisma and his charm while his dialogue is nothing spectacular. Movie Peeta fell somewhat flat, though his role in the third book takes a huge twist so I'm hopeful that the writers will give the actor more to do in Mockingjay. 

Peeta aside, from the acting of Jennifer Lawrence to the special and visual effects, the movie is spectacular. It is hard for this kind of movie to live up to such high expectations; there's always a risk that it will be compared unfavourably with the book. However, in this case I think Catching Fire might just be even better thank its book. It was so good I went to watch it twice. And there's still time for me to go again... 

Rating: *****