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Monday, 9 December 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Review (Warning: Spoilers)

Spoiler Warning: This review contains spoilers related to both the book and film versions of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Read at your peril.

“Exciting, Exhilarating, Extraordinary.”

Like an eager Buttercup waiting for his dinner, I couldn’t count the minutes fast enough until the second book of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games was emblazoned on to the silver screen. The violence is bloodier. The danger is deadlier. The stakes are much, much higher.

Riding on the success of the first film, Catching Fire continues the story of heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), as she struggles to return to life after fighting for survival in the Arena. But, as always for these tragic heroes, nothing is simple. Furious with her actions at the close of the Games, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) gives Katniss an ultimatum: convince the Districts of her love for Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), diffusing the rising tensions, or die. As the Victory Tour gets underway it becomes clear that many Districts have embraced the desire for rebellion causing Snow to make a drastic decision that will change the lives of Katniss and the previous Victors…

The Tributes for the 75th Hunger Games will all be previous victors.

As the Quarter Quell begins, danger lurks behind every corner, raising the tensions to an all-time high. Gone are the scared children – replaced by hardened, cold-blooded killers. It’s not all bad though as Katniss finds allies in Mags and the pair from District 3. The best scenes however have to be Joanna’s elevator entrance and Caesar Flickerman’s (Stanley Tucci) interviews as they bring relief and triumph to what seems to be a desperate situation.

The Hunger Games has become almost infamous following its bloody teen-on-teen action in the arena, and the second instalment continues to leave little to the imagination. In many ways this film is more graphic and more frightening as wounds become deeper, monsters become more fearsome, and the Arena gives you a reason not to want to walk home in the fog. This film is in many ways more dangerous as it crosses into adult vs. teen action as well as a living Arena that works just as hard as the tributes to cause maximum mortality.

As with all adaptations, there will always be changes made in order to make the pace of the film more accessible and to keep from overcomplicating the plot. Inevitably, some scenes and characters were cut but I didn’t find that these lessened neither the intensity or the enjoyment of the film. As many fans knew, Darius and the District 8 girls were cut right from the get-go as their small contributions to the overall story were deemed too small and unnecessary. And whilst I would have liked to have seen Katniss speaking with a Peacekeeper and learning of the rebellion from a cracker, I didn’t feel at all let down by their absence. In fact, I actually agree with the filmmakers that cutting them was a good idea as the film works so hard to create a building suspense and tension that would have unravelled with the addition of two rather quiet scenes.
Just as things are cut, new material is added. Like in the Hunger Games, President Snow is given much more to do than he ever does in the book. During his first scene in Katniss’ new mansion Sutherland gives a sinister performance which clearly terrifies Katniss into submission. The horrific atmosphere created in that one scene punctuates into every scene that follows as he is shown to plot against the Victors alongside new Gamemaker, Plutriach Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) that just screams conspiracy. The best scene to be added (in my opinion) is a very touching goodbye from Effie (Elizabeth Banks) to the rest of the team. Unlike the book, Effie gets to wish her Victors goodbye in a very emotional scene that left me wanting to give Effie a huge hug and tell her that the worst was far behind her - even if we know that’s a total lie.
However, at 146 minutes it is clear just how hard the filmmakers have worked in order to squeeze in every detail of the 472 page book. This sometimes causes the film to feel a little long in places while other events feel rushed.
The casting of Mags (Lynn Cohen), Johanna (Jena Malone) and Finnick (Sam Claflin) is absolutely brilliant. Finnick is an arrogant dandy, Johanna is sparky and confident, and Mags is simply adorable. And though it may seem strange, I was over the moon upon seeing that the cat playing Buttercup had been recast. Fans may remember that the book describes Prim’s dutiful cat as being ginger but is portrayed by a black and white moggy in the first film. This time however, the grumpy tom cat is played by a raging red fireball whose hiss brought me sheer delight.
Exciting, exhilarating, extraordinary. The second instalment of the quadrilogy is a fantastic addition to the franchise, and as an adaptation it cannot be faltered. Every detail of the book has been brought to the screen making existing fans cheer but does at points leave newbies a little dazed.

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