Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Art & Culture

If you think it’s weird for a man of my age and (supposed) taste to love a film aimed at the young female teenage demographic, then all I can say is – I agree. But I am a shamelessly whole-hearted Hunger Games fan, and given that this film is better than its predecessor, then roll on numbers 3 and 4.

The phenomenon that is Jennifer Lawrence is the main reason why this franchise has become an unstoppable force. It’s sometimes hard to remember that this is a young woman who was born after the fall of the Berlin Wall, yet seems to have the emotional and personal maturity of someone twice her age. Yes, I know this is just a Hollywood blockbuster, but the reason it could outgross The Hobbit Part 2, is that Lawrence is a bona fide star. 

Just in case you haven’t been paying attention, the Oscar-winning actress plays Katniss Everdeen, who lives in District 12 of a post-apocalyptic society, dominated by Panem, a place of vast wealth and profound decadence, which holds an annual Reaping, at which a young man and a a young woman from each of the 12 districts are randomly selected to take part in a televised fight to the death. Katniss and her (boy)friend Peeta survived the Games as a couple (not a permitted outcome), and are now being toured around the various Districts as celebrity fodder. But the masses are rising, and Katniss has become the symbol of revolt, much to the disgust and fury of President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

Another, less pressing quandary is that there are 2 men in her life, Peeta, and the hunky Gale, both of whom are passionately devoted to her – well, who wouldn’t be? But the main problem is that if she doesn’t comply with Snow’s wishes to stick to the party line and not rock the social boat, then her family and those of the people she loves Will Be Exterminated (in a Dalek kind of voice). And somehow or other, she and Peeta find themselves back in another round of Hunger Games, up against the best participants of the last 25 years. How will she survive for two more films, when so many people want her dead?

You understand that that is a rhetorical question. Because clearly she is not going to snuff it, but equally we must be thrilled and chilled as we watch her struggle, even though we know she will. Fortunately, the film is made of stern stuff, and in many ways, is (at least on the surface) as radical and subversive as its heroine. Given that The actual Hunger Games are the stuff of celebrity/reality television (and someone really should give Stanley Tucci aka Caesar Flickerman his own TV show to host, he’s that good); and given that Panem resembles not just decadent wealth from the past, but also from many western societies currently flaunting their grotesque prosperity, then the not so subtle message of the film could be ‘Rise up, and cast off your chains of oppression.’ Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think armies of maddened teenagers are going to leave the multiplex and sack the local banker’s palace, but if they did, you could certainly charge the film (or Jennifer) as an accessory to the crime.

I am also impressed by the fact that director Francis Lawrence, whose CV includes such clunkers as (Constantine  and I Am Legend), has managed to make a two and a half hour movie feel tight and – if anything – too short. It’s what critics like to call ‘dark’ (which they also said about The Dark Knight trilogy), which really means that people die, and the film doesn’t end in a burst of love and sunshine. But it is well made, with an outstanding cast (as well as the above, you have Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Toby Jones and Woody Harrelson). I suspect it will be the highest grossing film of 2013, and deservedly so. Go and see it.


Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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