And we’re back. It’s the sort of feeling you get the minute The Hunger Games: Catching Fire hits the screen, throwing you right back into Suzanne Collins’ hypnotising dystopic world of Panem, this time in a film helmed by Francis Lawrence (no relation to the film’s star).
The sequel to the international hit film The Hunger Games arrives in cinemas this week, featuring a returning cast, a new “dome” and a whole lotta action, drama, intrigue and just about everything you could ask for for a film like this. Oh, and on top of that, it’s actually a good film and superior to its predecessor. But I digress…
The Hunger Games series follows the exploits of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a young “tribute” who wins a Battle Royale style game “The Hunger Games” where “tributes” from different “districts” battle it out to the death, with only one “victor”. OK, no more quotations. However, through manipulation of the 74th annual games in the first film (and book), Katniss is able to save both herself and her district’s other tribute, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson).
Picking up right where its predecessor left off, Catching Fire shows what happens after she proves that the system can be beaten. Katniss and her “Mockingjay” badge are a symbol for many for the revolution, a rising force to bring an end to the brutal dictatorship that exists under General Snow (the always brilliant Donald Sutherland).
But we find Katniss largely unaware of the impending revolution, doing her best to deal with her PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), her rage at the Capitol and her relationship with Gale (Liam Hemsworth) – which has dealt with some stress of its own thanks to her on screen love affair with Peeta in the first film. It might have saved both of their lives, but it failed to impress her boyfriend. Fair enough.
But this changes quickly when she’s thrown onto the “tour circuit” in advance of the 75th Hunger Games, which – spoiler alert – end up including Katniss in the mix once again. I won’t say any more about the games themselves – they are too entertaining to spoil for you. Let’s just say Snow has a bone to pick with the girl who played with fire. Wait, that’s the other one. The girl who caught fire? Yes, something like that.
There’s more of everything in this film. More alcoholic Woody Harrelson! This is always welcomed. More Lenny Kravitz designer outfits! More Hemsworth! Not as exciting but, Australia represent and all that. Jennifer Lawrence is able to use a bit more of her Academy Award winning acting chops than in the first film (just WAIT until that final frame!), while Stanley Tucci returns as Caesar, the hiarliously flamboyant host of the Games. Those teeth! And Elizabeth Banks‘ character Effie is given greater importance, while she maintains her terrifically over the top appeal. Thankfully there are less dying eight year olds, though the references to the character in question make you relive it over and over again along with Katniss. Way to tug at the heart strings, Lawrence. Yes, both of you!
The film is bigger, not just in terms of grandeur, but physically. Almost half the film – all of the Hunger Games sequences – were shot in the full frame IMAX format, meaning this is the place to see the film. Some of the shots have been composed beautifully in the format, and it’s refreshing to see a film use the format to its full advantage rather than as an afterthought to make a few extra bucks. Traditionally, feature films screened in IMAX are digitally blown up to take up barely half the screen, to a less than satisfying effect. And even when the film hasn’t been shot in IMAX, the framing keeps the large screen in mind, meaning that unlike the recent Star Trek sequel, which had some IMAX sequences of its own, it didn’t cause motion sickness. The lack of unnecessary 3D helped, too. It’s the Christopher Nolan way, and I like it.
The addition of one of the finest actors the world (Philip F**cking Seymour Hoffman!) is really the only notable major addition to the film from what we saw last time around (some people will probably scream at this, yelling about their favourite new tribute… but you know what I mean), which makes it all a bit of a reunion for people who enjoyed the first film, and it’s hard not to allow yourself to get immediately caught up in it all as such. And then, before you know it, the 146 minutesis at an end. It goes by FAST.
An excellent script helps here, as does the acting, but stand out editing, music, cinematography and special effects help hold it all together to be a truly great film. Now remember, this is in the context of an action laden blockbuster. These aren’t the films you go to to see anything that’s going to win any Oscars (though some aspects of it are certainly worthy of a nomination at least); these are simply films that embody the very reason we go to the cinema in the first place: ENTERTAINMENT. And this film is about as entertaining as they get. And I daresay that this is the most engaging on screen world that’s been created since Harry Potter.
Now don’t get me wrong, if you didn’t like the first one, you’re not going to like the second – it’s simply a slightly better articulation of a fascinating concept. A concept that, yes, may have been done before, but that’s besides the point.
Francis Lawrence hit this one out of the park. The decision to film the Hunger Games sequence in IMAX was nothing short of genius. It’s a crime to have the medium so under utilised elsewhere, while 3D gets bludgeoned to death by a hammer – Gravity excluded. Do it’s in IMAX that the film will be experienced in its truest form, as was the same for The Dark Knight and Rises before it.
Lawrence’s previous films like I Am Legend and Constantine were well executed, but average storylines and scripts kept the films from being stand outs. In other words, he did the best with what he was given. With Catching Fire, Lawrence seems to have had just about everything work in his favour, and he’s expertly brought it over the finish line. Those who enjoyed the film as much as I did will be happy to know he’ll be helming the final two films in the series, which have already started filming and from the film’s final, incredible frames you’re going to be counting down the days until it hits the screens once again.
We have about a year to wait! Mockingjay: Part One will be released in 2014, and Part Two in 2015. Long live The Hunger Games – may the odds of an ever entertaining cinematic experience be ever in our favour.*
Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire releases nationally tomorrow. The film screens in IMAX, which is where this film was reviewed. We recommend heading along to see the film in the full resolution if you have an IMAX cinema near you!
*I apologise for that.