“Hunger Games Catching Fire” left audiences in limbo, for those unfamiliar with the books, this film acts as a explanatory scene setter for the last barnstorming final act. By definition there is a lot of dialogue and not much action, there is much to explain.
Katniss Evergreen “Mockingjay” (Jennifer Lawrence) wakes up in district 13, an area long thought to have been destroyed by the Capitol “Panem”. The district houses a mostly subterranean populace albeit possessing a huge military arsenal.
The district is led by President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) who receives sage advice from Capitol traitor Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and technical help from “Beetee” (Jeffrey Wright). What the resistance needs is a figurehead or lightning rod for all the disparate districts to join together and destroy Presidents Snow’s dictatorship.
Initially reluctant, Katniss is galvanised into action after seeing first hand the destruction wrought on other districts and finally her own. Punishment meted out in genocidal fashion by the Capitol.
It is interesting for those not familiar with the story, how far this trilogy has moved away from humble, shock tactics, with children/teenagers killing each for live TV entertainment. The story now represents very deep and complex themes that will only darken further in the final film.
There are many references to propaganda, angles and almost Machiavellian “ends justify the means” arguments that are a long way from the original premise. It is rewarding to see these different “shades of grey” being incorporated within such mainstream entertainment
The film cannot quite betray it’s YA love triangle roots and there are one too many scenes of teen angst as “Peeta” (Josh Hutcherson) is used as a tortured political puppet by President Snow (Sutherland), relishing every line of dialogue in each scene, with Stanley Tucci “Caeser Flickerman” chewing any bit of scenery left behind.
The film is competently directed in a non flashy style by Francis Lawrence, who will have directed all but the first of the Hunger Games movies. There is a real sense this is the hors-d’oeuvre before the main course, almost chiding the audience not too eat too much, leaving room for more.
Lawrence again does not disappoint but has less to do than before, being called upon to emote at regular intervals, despite struggling with a dubious hairstyle for early scenes. Be reassured, all characters will have much more to do in the final instalment. Liam Hemsworth remains the backup steady love interest as before but Elizabeth Banks does delight, showing she can bedazzle even without her “Quality Street” bedecked outfits.
It is sad to see Hoffman and in one of his final roles, again with not much dialogue and screen time, we will get see him in the final film, with both Part 1 & 2 completing principal photography back to back.
One could argue the choice of splitting the final films and where the stop/start choice was made has hampered audience enjoyment but with such a juggernaut of a franchise, artistic choices will always be trumped by dollars. So sit back and learn, hopefully the final film will do justice to this impressive franchise.
A necessary but rather pedestrian “middle film”, that seeks to lay groundwork for the closing spectacular finale, if you can delay gratification for another year, it should be worth the wait.
Competent and necessary, if you only hunger for more games, “the time has come to set aside childish things”.