Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is enjoying her freedom back in district 12. As much as one can enjoy living in a dystopian totalitarian state, faking your love for someone, whilst your real affection lies elsewhere.
Before you can shout “teen love triangle” alert, the film and the books on which they are sympathetically based, are intelligent and redolent with deeper meanings and subtexts.
Notwithstanding these heady ambitions, both books and films can be voraciously read and watched with ease, allowing adults both young and older, to consume the material on whatever level they choose.
Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) have challenged the Capitol and won. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) cannot allow this embodiment of resistance to stand. Unless their undying love during the victory tour through the districts, is sufficient to continue to distract the huddled masses.
If not, an example must be made. The hope keeping the masses content must now be extinguished. What Everdeen as the Mockingjay represents, cannot be allowed to flourish, lest others believe resistance is possible.
Forced to continue their PR blitz just as the populace are seeking a resistance figurehead, this will only further seal their fate in the eyes of president Snow.
“Peacekeepers” move in to conduct a brutal repression of the populace, with heavy and hardly coincidental Nazi undertones. The game makers then under the guidance of new games-maker Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) hatch a brilliant plan. This will not only satisfy the bored idle residents of the Capitol, demonstrate to districts that hope has been snuffed out and make an example of the girl on fire.
It will be no surprise to the audience that the games arena features in the story again but for those who have not read the books expecting a retread of the first film, will get more than they bargained for.
The film ends on a perfect set up for the final instalments, stopping at just the point you would expect, leaving audiences wanting more.
This film is darker, grittier and deals with even more disturbing themes than before, the film does not hold back, yet manages to portray the harsh realities just off screen.
Stanley Tucci reprises his role as the odious sleaze-ball “Caeser Flickerman”, dripping with insincerity and filling the screen with dental work sufficient to power the city by itself. Donald Sutherland, enjoying every moment, making each quiet scene count as he realises his omnipotent power still remains insufficient, to quash the uprisings threatening the status quo.
Liam Hemsworth as “Gale”, the real love interest, gets to be all square jawed, wooden and patient. Woody Harrelson as the haunted ex games winner “Haymitch”, does drunk very well but also gets a few meaningful scenes this time out. Elizabeth Banks continues to bring the Quality Street bedecked bubble head “Effie Trinket”, just this side of believable. Lenny Kravitz again belies his rock-star background, with another quiet performance, as dress designer “Cinna”. Phillips Seymour Hoffman is curiously subdued and clearly skipped both wardrobe and the hairdressing trailer.
Hutcherson as Peeta is a definite acting upgrade from before and acquits himself reasonably well but will always struggle as indeed does everyone, against the acting juggernaut that is Oscar winning, Jennifer Lawrence. She runs, fights, shoots arrows, looks gorgeous, is a tom boy one minute, love interest the next and and yet manages to find suitable expressions to fit all of these perfectly. The closing scenes, in particular shows the easy range she possesses, conveying three distinct emotions with nothing more than her face and eyes in a quiet but portentous sequence.
Again the violence is handled sensitively, with pitch perfect tone and remains much less exploitative than the average CSI woman in peril storyline. Director Francis Lawrence (no relation) with his cinematographer Jo Willems, desaturates the scenes in the districts, heightening the colour in the capitol to emphasise the differences between them. The film is in good hands and all being well, will be directed by the same team for the closing films shot back to back.
One could write volumes on what the books mean, what messages they send and the warnings from history and for the future they signpost. However, one can enjoy the films for what they are, a rollicking good story, with action aplenty and with fine acting talent on board. Only slowed down for the occasional “lovey dovey” stuff, which will pay dividends later in the story.
The Hunger Games : Catching fire is well named, this where the franchise will transcend normal box office returns and sets up for the final book, split into two films. Expect massive returns, with the odds most definitely in the studios favour.
Incidentally, the latin “Panem et circenses” translates to “Bread and circuses” to describe entertainment used to distract public attention from more important matters. With the government providing ample food and entertainment, the citizens would give up their political rights.
A well made exciting thriller which is about so much more than youngsters attempting to murder each other to entertain the bored masses. If the final two films are as good as this, bring them on.
Highly recommended, go watch it.