Reviews

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

4

Katniss is back for more

Ever seen it rain blood in a kids’ film before? How about a pensioner getting executed in front of his family? Or a teenager hacking a skinhead to death with an axe? Or Lenny Kravitz being slapped in the face? The first Hunger Games caught flak because it dared to treat its YA audience like A’s – but things aren’t exactly looking any rosier in the sequel.

Following the unwritten lore of movie trilogies, the middle chapter of Katniss Everdeen’s sci-fi survival story is darker, moodier, meaner and, yes, better than Part 1. Outgrowing its Battle Royale meets The Running Man meets Twilight meets The X Factor comparisons, Catching Fire expands Suzanne Collins’ novel beyond the confines of the arena to tackle some seriously brutal truths – plugging gaps and sowing seeds for a two-part finale that will have to work hard to match its grit.

It’s been almost a year since Katniss and Peeta won the 74th Hunger Games, which means its time for Donald Sutherland to open the film with an unnecessary recap. Katniss is pissed off because she doesn’t want to be a celebrity; Peeta is pissed off because he thought his awkward cave fumble with Katniss actually meant something; Gale is pissed off because he thinks so too; President Snow is pissed off because his daughter has started wearing her hair like J-Law; and the plebs of Panem are pissed off because they have to work down the mines, scrounge for bread and sacrifice their children to a death-match reality TV show.

With everyone properly peeved, the scene is set for a very mopey opening act – saved by Snow’s decision to send in the stormtroopers and announce a twist to the 75th Games that means Katniss and Peeta are thown back into the arena. Facing blood rain, poison fog, angry baboons and actual grown-ups this time around, Katniss is way out her depth. Again.

Not that you’d know it from Jennifer Lawrence’s performance. Taking her post-Oscar fame publicly in her stride since she last picked up her bow, the 23-year-old actress has grown up as fast as her character. As mopey as the teenage love triangle almost gets, it’s the boys that do all the moping. Well on her way to becoming one of the greatest sci-fi heroines since Ripley, the avenger of District 12 is as undefined by her hidden vulnerability as she is by her inner strength; anchoring the series with an emotional realism that upstages everyone else in the film.

True, most of them are stuck in roles that haven’t developed much since we last met them. Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is still an unlikeable wimp who cries every time he gets a paper cut, Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is still a gormless lunk who doesn’t do anything, and Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks are still hiding beneath candyfloss hair and panto outfits.

Luckily, new games means new blood. There’s fan-favourite pretty boys (Sam Claflin), nervous nerds (Jeffrey Wright) and gutsy girls (Jena Malone – threatening to out-attitude Lawrence) aplenty, but the real standout is Philip Seymour Hoffman’s gamemaker; finally giving Lawrence a decent sparring partner.

It’s all change behind the camera too, with new director Francis Lawrence (Constantine, I Am Legend) upping the menace both in and out of the arena. Marauding monkeys and axe-wielding gladiators might be pretty scary, but it’s nothing compared to an armed policeman beating a political dissident to death. In fact, Catching Fire often reflects real world horrors so impassively it’s easy to forget you’re watching a kids movie. Until you see Stanley Tucci’s hair, that is…

Yes, the Capitol still looks like the Emerald City, the big spinning thing in the arena comes straight out of Total Wipeout and the film’s cutting edge is dulled down and camped up whenever things get too gnarly. Some obvious concessions are made to appease the book’s devout fans too (At 146 minutes, it seems like they tried to fit every bloody page in), but it’s hard to see how anyone could be too disappointed with the incendiary results.

Then again, if the rousing finale of Catching Fire is anything to go by, Mockingjay is going to burn the playhouse down… 

Verdict:

Proving once again why Jennifer Lawrence deserves her Oscar, Catching Fire delivers on all the promise of Part 1 with a gutsier, tougher, better round of Games. The odds are forever in Mockingjay’s favour…

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Film Details

User Reviews

    • alexthomas

      Nov 12th 2013, 13:28

      5

      LIked the 1st film (saw it again & introduced the mrs to it last week) Good review - merci for not spoling it & just whetting the apetite Love Jennifer Lawrence's work Just 1 question/gripe (and ive just joined Total Film right now to make it) If the 1st Hunger Games was given 4 stars by Total Film - about right in my view Then to quote you Mr Paul Bradshaw/the reviewer " the middle chapter of Katniss Everdeen’s sci-fi survival story is darker, moodier, meaner and, yes, better than Part 1. Why only just 4 Stars??? Why not 5 stars I mean what you said sounds great & i enjoyed reading your review. BUT Mr Bradshaw, If YOU THINK its better than the 4 star 1st Hunger Games Film, why not just give it 5 stars?? I'm sure I cant be the only fan of Total Film that gets a tad annoyed with 4 star reviews

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    • apo1978

      Nov 13th 2013, 13:44

      @ alexthomas - Its because it was probably reviewed by a different reviewer last time. The above reviewer would've probably given the first one 3 stars, which is about right in my opinion.

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    • moviemind91

      Nov 14th 2013, 7:29

      @alexthomas Just because it was given the exact same star rating, and was seen as better than the previous film, doesn't mean it deserves 5 stars. 5 stars means the film is a masterpiece and the film may be far from that standard

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    • Jareth64

      Nov 15th 2013, 12:31

      2

      Saw it last night. s**t. Don't waste your thyme.

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    • apo1978

      Nov 15th 2013, 14:04

      @ Jareth64 - Don't tell me what to do with my herbs! ;)

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    • Hadouken76

      Nov 15th 2013, 18:13

      I wonder if the reviewer is related to The Guardians' Peter Bradshaw

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    • rhodes95

      Nov 16th 2013, 12:30

      1

      I saw the first Hunger games at the Cinema when it came out, as everyone was saying how great it was, Its was c**p, don't waste your time on the second one.

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    • AnnPeters3

      Nov 17th 2013, 7:30

      @Loise, you make $27h...good for you! I make up to $85h working from home. My story is that I quit working at shoprite to work online and with a little effort I easily bring in around $45h to $85h…heres a good example of what i'm doing, c­l­o­u­ⅆ­4­0­.­c­o­m

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    • RaveyDaveyGravy

      Nov 25th 2013, 12:53

      4

      I thought it was pretty good. These films are a good way into this sort of thing for kids, my 11 year old really loves these, and we can talk about the issues it raises without me getting too preachy. Got to disagree with TFs view on Elizabeth Banks character, I thought that she showed her human side, despite all the slap and hair, for the first time and was a standout character.

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    • vincevega

      Nov 25th 2013, 14:39

      take an old film (Running man), "twilight it" and you get Hunger Games... make it into 4 movies even if there was 3 books and you get more money. Absolutely no interest in this film. No explanations about anything, how they got there, the history of it... they just put you there with good looking kids, Jean Paul Gaultier - ish costumes, Cirque du Soleil make up and hope for the best... and it worked... not on me anyway!

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    • rachaelwilson

      Nov 28th 2013, 4:45

      Such an awesome movie! FYI, I was able to watch the Hunger Games Catching Fire for free at moviesatyou .dot com.

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    • rachaelwilson

      Nov 28th 2013, 4:45

      5

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    • batt101

      Nov 29th 2013, 15:55

      3

      Just like the first film, really quite average and a bit like Jennifer Lawrence's acting ever since Winters Bone!

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    • Ali1748

      Dec 2nd 2013, 12:44

      4

      Really good movie, a big step up in class from the first outing. And now I am very much looking forward to Mocking Jay.

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    • Igrayne

      Dec 26th 2013, 21:57

      Blah blah seen it before blah blah Battle Royale rip off blah blah Lawrence has big t**s and that is why she has a career the first one was boring and nowhere near as dark as made out and this will be the same. This was supposed to rival Harry Potter? Two films in and it has already practically been forgotten I don't know anyone who went to see it.

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