I want to start this review by stating I am a massive fan of the Hunger Games series. Catching Fire is my favourite book of the three, so much so that I wrote an essay on it last year which awarded me my highest mark of the year. THAT is how much I love this set of books.
So it was with some trepidation that I went to watch this recently. Would it live up to the hype? Would it remain faithful to its source material? Would it match the success of the first, highly acclaimed film? The answer to all of these, now that I have watched it, is a resounding YES. Spoilers, spoilers everywhere.
Catching Fire is an incredible film of two halves: a tense and claustrophobic first part which is dripping in emotion and a second hectic, action-packed half. I’ve read other reviews that, whilst lauding the film with the praise it so surely deserves, picked fault at the two jarring halves, with some stating that it didn’t gel together. I disagree completely. Yes, the two parts are hugely different to one another but so what? The first one in which we explore the various districts of Panem with Katniss and Peeta is smothered in emotional undertones – will they successfully persuade the Capital that they are a loving couple, or will an uprising result in the Capital’s destruction? At first it seems as though Katniss is going to go along with Effie’s plan but Katniss ultimately gives a heartfelt speech about what Rue meant to her which leads to a revolt and a man getting gunned down.
Of course Katniss blames herself. She blames herself for everything that happens around her. President Snow is furious and devises several plans to stop her, such as public/televised beatings and executions. When Katniss steps in to stop Gale being whipped Snow announces that the upcoming 75th Hunger Games – the Quarter Quell – will feature victors of the previous games. It’s a stunning scene in which Katniss realises what this means and flees. The emotion is evident upon Jennifer Lawrence’s face, who once again gives another incredible performance. She is amazing throughout but it’s clear that this must have been both mentally and physically exhausting for her to film. It pays off though and it’s easy to read her emotion on the screen. We feel for her.
The film is loaded with great performances: Josh Hutcherson gives a strong performance, much better than the previous film in which his character Peeta is fleshed out more; Woody Harrelson continues to play the troubled Haymitch with gusto but it’s a little upsetting that his character’s backstory was cut (this better be included in the two-part final film, or else!); Elizabeth Banks remains as disgustingly lovable as the Gaga-esque Effie Trinket but this time round we see her façade break and Banks shows some sublime acting skills. But undoubtedly all eyes are on JLaw.
The first half is also full of stunning visual shots which will undoubtedly cause the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up. The shot of Katniss and Peeta’s clothes bursting into flames harkens back to the first film and Katniss’ dress burning black and sprouting wings is simple but haunting, signalling the catalyst for the inevitable war. She has visually become the Mockingjay and she mocks the Capital in what will certainly go down as the most memorable scene in the entire series.
The second half of the film moves onto the Quarter Quell and we are introduced to some newcomers that include Sam Claflin’s Finnick Odair (who steals the scene several times – you’ll know when you see them) and Jena Malone as Johanna Mason who initially seems one dimensional but ultimately is fleshed out somewhat. The scenes in the arena are charged with action and suspense as the various horrors the Capital have dreamed up emerge in horrible ways. You’ll squirm at the puss-filled blisters that emerge from the fog and jump from your seats at the monkey attack.
During these scenes JLaw gives another stunning performance as she believes Peeta has died several times. She deserves yet more awards for her role in this film. Ultimately she once more devises a daring plan which could result in both her and Peeta surviving the games but will Snow let her? I won’t ruin it for you, but the final shot is of Katniss defiantly breaking the fourth-wall as rage and fire burn within her.
The film is incredibly faithful to the novel and the little that has been removed will easily be added to the upcoming two-part finale. The third book is universally agreed to be the poorest in the series, but after two incredible adaptions before it, I think JLaw, Hutcherson and Harrelson will be able to produce something equally magical and mesmerising in the final two films.