The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The only way is up! Looking back on my review for the first film in the series [add link], I see I only gave it one star: I must have been feeling very grumpy. After I had posted that review, I met up with director Iain Softley who praised the film to the hilt and I felt perhaps I had been narrow minded and plain old-fashioned.

So I decided to give dystopian fantasy another chance. I’m afraid I still dislike this genre of film: maybe it is a true representation of life in North Korea, but I would rather travel hopefully than torture myself with images of scorched earth autocracies and downtrodden people who suffer while the rulers quaff champagne and enjoy the high life. Of course such regimes are not confined to North Korea…but do such films actually result in people contributing to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty? If you think the answer is no, then my point stands that this genre is gratuitous.

Catching Fire takes up where The Hunger Games finished, with Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark on the eve of their victory tour to the 12 districts of Panem. However, Katniss’s defiance of the President, which resulted in the two of them being declared joint winners of the first Games, has stirred rebellious feelings in the Provinces and the President threatens Katniss to toe the line or suffer the consequences.

It takes quite a long time to reach this point, the centre piece of the film (distinct shifting in my seat), where scheming President Snow hastily changes the rules and enacts the Quarter Quell Hunger Games as a means to rid him of Katniss, and to destroy the nascent rebellion in one fell swoop. Instead of receiving ‘tributes’ from each of the 12 states, past winners are ordered to fight each other in fatal combat.

Perhaps it’s the advent of a new director that gives this film an edge over the first. I found Katniss had developed from a cardboard cut-out into a more fully-formed sympathetic character, with her palpable public grief over the death of Rue in the previous games, and her empathy for the plight of the people as the bullet train hurtles through the devastated countryside. 

I remain puzzled as to whether she loves the two men in her life, or whether her relationship with Peeta is a calculated life-saver (though he is rather on the puny side compared with some of the other tributes). Nevertheless Jennifer Lawrence’s luminous beauty endows Katniss with a realistic heroine status.

Similarly Donald Sutherland excels as the evil President; Stanley Tucci is oleaginously odious as game-show host Caesar; and it’s a welcome treat to find Philip Seymour Hoffman has become the new games-maker, Plutarch Heavensbee (they all have great names in this movie, his predecessor was called Seneca). The plagues and pestilences of the game itself are hideous and cater to the demands of the tweeny computer-games, CGI-aficionado audience.

For oldies like me, there is even an attempt to engage the intellect by trying to second-guess what the games-maker is up to, and to puzzle out where and how the inevitable twist will come – there is, after all, at least one more film to come so we know Katniss has to survive… I leave the cinema pondering the average age of Hollywood’s target market. On the basis of this Christmas’s blockbusters, The Hunger Games and The Hobbit, it appears to be the new generation of social-media, tablet-toting youngsters, who revel in technology and associate with fantasy rather than reality. Maybe the reality that we baby-boomers have created is just too hard to bear.

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