Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

2013, 12, Directed by Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Sam Claflin

Behind every good franchise is a sequel to remember; a second outing superior to its original, seguing comfortably into the third (or fourth, fifth et al.) instalments, cramming in more than before, but balancing the load to a manageable degree. Let’s not be misled in believing all sequels are good… hell, more fail than achieve the goal of continuing the success of its predecessor (with many not even warranting a second outing in the first instance.) But before this becomes an essay on the sequel, and how Toy Story 2 is probably the best the world has seen, let’s revert things back to the franchise in question: The Hunger Games.

Based on Suzanne Collins’ trilogy of teen lit, The Hunger Games was an unprecedented smash when it landed in 2011, translating the Battle Royale-esque plotline to screen with fervour and furthering the rise of then-rising star (now superstar) Jennifer Lawrence. In her first role since her Silver Linings Playbook Oscar win, sequel Catching Fire starts pretty much where we ended up with heroine Katniss Everdeen a winner of the Games in the eyes of Panem (alongside Josh Hutcherson’s Peeta,) an influential sign of rebellion in the eyes of the lower Districts and a problem that must be dealt with in the eyes of President Snow (Donald Sutherland.) From the intrusive opening shot of Everdeen, we’re squarely behind her every move from start to an equally as intrusive closing shot. From her secret hunting rendezvous’ with childhood would-be sweetheart Gale (Liam Hemsworth) to her victory tour induced makeover courtesy of affluent ‘team’ leader Effie Trinkett (Elizabeth Banks,) Lawrence carries near every moment of this entire film.

Gary Ross’ predecessor provided a mere glimpse into the world of Panem and the inhabitants of the impoverished District 12, but its Francis Lawrence’s privilege to provide his audience with an expansive viewpoint of this snapshot of Panem, a place rocked by Everdeen and the two fingers she so openly raised to President Snow and the Capitol at its climax. It’s the unwilling acceptance of the fact that openly embracing her actions will more than likely end with a bullet to the head (shown with striking effect in a brilliantly-edited scene where the two victors visit the District inhabited by the devastated family of Rue, the young companion of Katniss’ in the Games.) Missteps present themselves through the the odd line that may cause the eye to roll – pretty much exclusive to the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale – and save for a few scenes, Katniss’ mother and sister – the safety of whom she’s so desperate to preserve – barely feature.

Yet the secret to this adaptation is a well-juggled structure, with many of the book’s plot points featured but with convenience to the running time; Lawrence is the viewpoint of the audience – her shock is our shock, her emotion is our emotion. Not only this, but an eclectic off-beat cast clearly having the most fun they’ve had (scene-stealer Banks, Stanley Tucci as flamboyant TV host Ceasar Flickerman, Woody Harrelson as sozzled mentor Haymitch;) such is their success that it’s almost chilling when characters like these face the facts and fleetingly show their knowledge that times in Panem are changing…

It’s when the exceptionally imagined final hour occurs (the less said the better) that Catching Fire burns (I had to) up the rulebook and establishes itself as a breathless equel to remember; thus elevating this franchise to a status head and shoulders above the rest.