VOD film review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Chris Bryant | On 17, Mar 2014
Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland
Catching Fire made over $800m. It played in the biggest screens. It was shot partly in IMAX. The main trailer debuted during the 2013 World Series. It is a blockbuster. The subject of Catching Fire? The ruthless oppression of a starving, divided underclass by a wealthy, indulgent ruling class who are outnumbered a hundred to one.
The tension created by the opening few scenes is phenomenal. The Hunger Game victors Katniss (a perfectly layered Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), the tough but forlorn second half of District 12’s lethal team, spend much of their time doing exactly as they’re told, for fear that their families may be killed whenever they make a wrong move. Awash with propaganda and blind with distrust, Katniss and Peeta tour the districts as victors, convincing the world of their romance.
The production itself was an unmatched spectacle in 2013. Dresses by McQueen, a stadium of thousands, wedding dresses on fire; wardrobe and make-up are set the task of doing anything they like and doing a lot of it. And it is perfect.
Once the games themselves begin (over an hour into the feature), our leads demonstrate a masterful self-awareness. Set in the tropics and with killers as competitors, these “Quarter Quell” games are so very different from the first tournament; based on a system of already set alliances, they thrive upon an atmosphere of distrust.
Once you realise the similarities between this edition of the bloodthirsty scapegoating and Katniss’ life outside of the arena, the film becomes even more upsetting. Hunted and controlled by President Snow (a cold, drawling Donald Sutherland) and his new head gamesmaker Plutarch Heavensbee (an impossible to read Philip Seymour Hoffman) and having forged questionable ties with the dashing, smirking Finnick Odair (brilliantly swaggered by Sam Claflin) and axe-wielding Johanna Mason (a punk, undressing sociopath in Jena Malone), Katniss and Peeta are thrust into an arena with more thought put into it than the majority of films for this target market.
Catching Fire has few moments of teen-angsty weakness and tackles its subject matter with the same ferocity that the cast tackle each other. It’s not Twilight. It’s not Harry Potter. It’s closer to an Alan Moore novel; a politically driven tale of two classes, with box office results.
The film delivers everything you expect from the source material; there is friendship and heartbreak, but the outstanding impression it leaves is that of rebellion. If the complex love stories being told are the body of Catching Fire, its blood runs red with fighting back against a sadistic tyranny. Partially aimed at young adults – and dealing with such a poignant topic – this is perhaps the most important film of the last 12 months.