The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is one of the most anticipated films of the year, after the highly successful release of its predecessor. Sophie Seddon reviews.

Catching Fire

There is an unwritten myth that states the second film of a trilogy is usually the weakest. To an extent, this is true. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers for one, though not an awful film, was not up to the standard of the first introductory film and then the final film, where everything came to blows, all the tension was released, and a lot of orcs died. See, that’s the problem with the second of three: it is the middle part, the bit that some might say is just simply ‘required’ in order to make way for the final conclusion.

But this is where the myth breaks: The Hunger Games as a book trilogy consists of three very strong novels, but the second one is in fact the finest of them all. Catching Fire by far was Suzanne Collins most intriguing, thoughtful, demoralising and powerful book. Tension was consistently high throughout with danger surrounding our beloved protagonist Katniss Everdeen in the form of President Snow; the glamour of the capital, and the poverty of the districts surrounding it; and not forgetting the explosive (literally) ending, with Gale’s haunting last words carrying the reader through the final part. Above anything, Catching Fire was definitely the best of the three.

So, how does the film fare? Exactly like the first one, but better.

Describing the film in brief: after the events of the first film, where Katniss Everdeen [played by the enigmatic Jennifer Lawrence] and Peeta Mellark [Josh Hutcherson] have defied the capital (of the future dystopian land Panem) by both winning the annual ‘Hunger Games.’ So they embark on the Victors Tour through all the districts, where they begin to see that Katniss has indeed unintentionally lit the flame for the revolution. In order to stop this, President Snow [Donald Sutherland] organises a special ‘Quarter Quell’ with his new Hunger Games game-maker, Plutarch Heavensbee [Philip Seymour Hoffman], in honour of the 75th Hunger Games, whereby the reaping will be from the selected list of previous Hunger Games victors. These include our favourite alcoholic, Haymitch [Woody Harrelson], District Four’s resident hottie Finnick Odair [Sam Claflin] and District Seven’s feisty and sexualised Johanna Mason [Jena Malone]. But in true Katniss Everdeen style, things don’t end as simply as Snow originally planned.

The film Catching Fire stylistically follows on from the first film. The sharp camera angles rapidly follow the action scenes with such speed that you struggle to keep up, which successfully translates an important message: this is how desperate the situation is. Through the clever cinematography and artistic angles the violent terror of adrenalin pulsing through the characters translates through to the audience.

The focus however moves to the political status of not just the games, but of the entire system: the Victors’ Tour goes from the fighting and death in the districts of people wanting liberation, to the glamour of the Capitol, the fake attitude of the people, and Snow’s ever growing power overshadowing everyone. The costumes and sets create these atmospheres to such severe opposites that it really pushes through the message that a change is coming, that a rebellion is growing.

The cast for this film is unbelievably talented. Jennifer Lawrence is wonderful, as always, giving a truly tortured, yet powerfully moving performance, not being afraid to screw up her face in crying fits, and giving a truly devastating reaction to the treatment of the people who are trying to rebel. One particular moment, when visiting District 11 (home of audience favourite Rue), sees a man get beaten to the ground and shot, and Katniss screaming in agony, as though his death was hers. It brought me to tears, and Lawrence’s gripping eyes keep your attention on how disturbing the situation in the fictional Panem is getting. Josh Hutcherson is as equally impressive. It is definitely his most mature outing to date, and he plays Peeta with such a gentle nature, and yet a fierce passion.

Liam Hemsworth as Gale, Woodly Harrelson, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Sam Claflin all play their roles perfectly. However fans will have to await Claflin’s finest moments as Finnick as they won’t come until the adaptation of Mockingjay. I can say that I look forward to seeing how he tackles the role in the upcoming film.

But two people particularly stood out in this film after Lawrence: Elizabeth Banks as the District 12 agent Effy was absolutely outstanding.  After her annoying school teacher attitude in the first Hunger Games, this Effy has a heart, and cares for her two victors. Despite being a Capitol resident through and through, she is visibly traumatised by the victors re-entering the arena. Banks’ devastation is not exaggerated, or understated. She is perfect at getting a balance, and demonstrating that Effy is not a robot, but is in fact a human being. Banks shines, and steals the show, and I applaud her for demonstrating single-handily the evil capability of such a regime as President Snow’s…

Donald Sutherland as the antagonist President Snow was undoubtedly exceptional, with his icy stare, glaring through Katniss, burning a hole in her heart. His character is terrifying because he is a real person of power who can do actual damage. Sutherland plays him with such calm and collectedness that it even makes you shiver to think if you were the person sat opposite on the table to him.

As the screen faded to black, with Jennifer Lawrence’s face screwed up in anger, all red and blotched, the room was in shock. Catching Fire was disturbing, brutal, violent, terrifying and brilliant. The storyline is set, now for the finale…