After their seemingly selfless act at the end of The Hunger Games, an act that made them victors, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Jush Hutcherson) find the eye of the Capitol upon them. Their act of love has sparked a fuse in the Districts of Panem, a spark that sees Katniss and Peeta thrown back into the spotlight, and back into the Games.
Based on Suzanne Collins’ beloved series of books, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire combines a love story with one of lies, camaraderie and sacrifice. Jennifer Lawrence is luminous as Katniss Everdeen, and her newfound terror at the world that she lives in is evident in everything that she does. Lawrence is graceful, fierce but fearful, a winning combination, and she provides the emotional heart of the film as she fights for what is right, and everything she holds dear.
Josh Hutcherson has less to do, but he provides conflict for Katniss, and something for her to fight for in the Capitol. Liam Hemsworth does similar, but is the person that Katniss fights for back home. Jena Malone turns up as an angry but powerful young woman; it is great to see her back on screen and playing a role fit for an adult. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is an imposing presence as new Games Maker Plutarch, Donald Sutherland reprises his creepy and looming role as President Snow and Elizabeth Banks is both loving and a little silly, bringing new depth to the once-superficial Effie.
The story is one of rebellion and strength, one that is shown well in both the Victory Tour sequence and the Games themselves, and one that Lawrence embodies in her performance as Katniss. Although it is a full hour and a half before Katniss finds herself back in the arena, the film is filled with emotion and heart, as well as intimidation and fear; often in the simplest of gestures. That said, there are times when the film becomes a little too involved in setting up the story, that telling the tale almost falls to the wayside. At 146 minutes, this is not a brief film, but the story told is actually rather simple, this leaves the film feeling sluggish as we go through many of the same motions as we did in the first film.
Jo Willems’s cinematography underlines the contrast between rich and poor in the film; the Capitol sequences burst with colour, while those in Katniss’s home District, are washed out and grey, but no less beautiful. Director Francis Lawrence shows he has skill with both the emotional and action sequences, often marrying both together on screen, but with such a long running time, it is almost inevitable that the film drag its heels from time to time.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a film that balances emotion and action, and Jennifer Lawrence is commanding and charming, often making up for the messy pacing and extended running time. Fans of the books will rejoice at this faithful adaptation, whereas casual viewers may find themselves checking their watches from time to time.