The Hunger Games - Catching Fire (8)

The success of The Hunger Games came from the stark quality. It was a film aimed at a wide, relatively young audience, and one that performed astonishingly well, but it never pulled punches. Instead, it treated its viewers like grown adults. Catching Fire picks up where the last film left off, both in story and in tone. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), now living in the ‘Victors’ Village’, are still exposed to everyday horror, and casual cruelty, and Francis Lawrence, taking over directing duties from Gary Ross, hammers that home with almost every beat of the film. It’s currently the vogue for insubstantial movies to cover themselves in a patina of grime to suggest depth; Catching Fire does the opposite, using the veneer of luxury to amplify the themes of control, sacrifice, and cruelty.

See our interviews with the cast of The Hunger Games Here + Press Conference

In spite of the heavy subject matter, the film remains accessible and entertaining. Michael Arndt and Simon Beaufoy’s script rounds off the rough edges from what is the weakest book in the trilogy to create a movie that forces the audience to engage with the movie’s politics, whilst still finding time to make the romantic subplot and obligatory love triangle work in a way that it never quite did on the page. The pair also manage to implement some logic behind Katniss and Peta’s return to the arena, so that it feels like the spiteful actions of a bully, rather than something that happens because the plot demands it.

The real triumph of the script though, is how ambiguous the characters Katniss and Peta meet in the Capital and the Arena are. Everyone is playing a game, and even in the closing moments it’s hard to tell just which side anyone is on. This is helped by Lawrence’s direction, as well as some great performances – particularly Jena Malone and Sam Claflin, as Johanna and Finnick, respectively, who manage to stand out amongst an exceptional supporting cast.

It’s the closing moments, though, that are the film’s biggest flaw, because for all the great performances and for all the remarkable production design and VFX – particularly the ‘Girl on Fire’ costume – it’s not a complete movie. What we get instead is a full first and second act, but a third act that ends half-way through, just as it feels like we should be reaching the climax. In fairness to Lawrence, Beaufoy, Arndt and co, the book does the same thing, but given how successfully they managed to sidestep some of the flaws in Collins’ work, it’s a surprise they didn’t try to do something here.

Nonetheless that doesn’t take too much away from Catching Fire, which remains an intelligent action movie, a thought provoking family drama, a political thriller and a story of budding romance, performed by some of the best actors in the world. It may not quite live up to the standards of its predecessor, but it far exceeds its source material. If you’re reading this review, you were probably going to see it anyway, but if there’s any nagging doubt, put it aside now and go watch this film.


  • M

    I always thought the 3rd book was the weakest..

  • Gunter

    Everyone I’ve talked to thinks Catching Fire is the strongest book of the trilogy.

  • Ben Mortimer

    They’re all wrong.

  • Ben Mortimer

    For me Catching Fire as a book fell apart when Collins felt the need to get Katniss and Peta back in the arena. There were countless more interesting ways to advance the plot, but she went for the worst of all options. Consequently instead of really finding out about the Capitol, beyond the notion that they’re self-absorbed and glutinous, we’re pushed back into the arena.

    Admittedly the third book does expand upon the world, but a lot of that heavy lifting could have, and should have, been done in the second book, which would have improved both.

    I think the root of my problem with it, though, comes not from the fact that the book returned to the arena, but in the rather clumsy way it did so. Even the name of her get out clause, ‘Quarter Quell’ is cringingly awful. That’s why I was so pleased about how the film justifies it.

    It’s probably worth pointing out that although this makes me sound like I’m not keen on the books, I actually really am. I think they’re great, even Catching Fire. It’s just quite severely flawed.

    The film’s marvellous though.

  • Gaby N

    Personally Mockingjay was my favourite of the trilogy. (But everyone hates Mockingjay so..)
    Great review! Can’t wait to see the film!

  • Melinda

    My favorite as well. Purely for the emotional insight you get into Katniss and Peeta as he deals with the ramifications of his ordeal.

  • liberty tomlinson

    I belive that catching fire was definitely the best for the emotion. Mockingjay is more of an adventure.

  • Milo

    Seems like less a movie review than an excuse to whine about the books. Personally I loved the second book and thought the third was even better. Even as a book it did exactly what a sequel needed to do, it provided just enough of what was in the original to appeal to fans but more exciting and with plenty of twists on the “formula” and new plot developments. I think it’s funny the reaction many had to the third book, seems like a lot of them just wanted something more happy.

    One disappointment about the movie is that they weren’t able to keep quiet that she goes back into the arena. When I read the book I hadn’t been spoiled so I finished the first one with no idea what would happen in the second or third, and the whole quarter quelle thing was a real shock. I thought it was handled very well, particularly the mix of ages and abilities in the arena the second time around. And even the way Peeta ended up doing it as opposed to Haymitch (although it would have been awesome to have him in the arena and Peeta outside coaching). Just love the book, I’ve resisted the temptation to reread it after the first movie and can’t wait to go back to it after I’ve seen it.

  • Ben Mortimer

    No, it’s definitely a review.

  • The first third is legitimately boring.