Some things are more important than an amazing plot. Things like strong character arcs, engaging action set-pieces and a dramatic visual style can really lift a film – unfortunately Catching Fire has none of these things.
It seems a shame to begin on a negative when really, the film isn’t bad by any means, it just feels like what it is: a stepping stone to the next film in the series.
I’m assured by fans of the book series upon which the films are based that a lot of necessary ground work happens in book two to set the stage for book three Mocking Jay (which, incidentally, is being split into two films).
Catching a cold
Unfortunately, for those of us not in the loop, the trilogy/quadrilogy’s second watches very similarly to its first.
This time around, hero Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is back in her home of District 12, struggling to cope with the daily horror all around her as she lives in a special area for the privileged few who have won, or survived, the Hunger games.
Of course, Katniss’ act of defiance at the close of part one hasn’t gone unnoticed by the masses, and as she and Peeta (who actually impresses a little as a character now) embark on a tour of the districts, revolution is brewing.
President Snow (Donald Sutherland) approves a plan from head honcho of the games Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to turn Katniss into the very person she hates in the eyes of the public.
The plan involves a special hunger games, this time for previous winners, and from here the story continues much as before as the tributes begin to brutally kill each other in the games (a lot more off-screen this time, interestingly).
A crisis of identity
This is where the issue with Katniss as a character begins unfortunately. The consistency of her through the various trials she goes through inside and outside the games is all over the place.
One minute she is defiant within an inch of her life, resolute in her belief and nothing can stand in her way. The next she is in tears unsure of what to do or falling for one of the many obvious traps laid out in front of her.
The memories of what happened in the last games haunt her, clearly, but she seems to not have learnt anything from her last experience, making basic mistakes and costing people their lives as a result.
The supporting cast, admittedly, are fairly strong overall. Stanley Tucci is glorious fun as Cesar, while Woody Harrelson brings his role as the uneasy mentor forward from the previous film.
Lenny Kravitz is as unforgettable as ever and the casting of some of the other tributes raises an eyebrow, particularly Jeffrey “call me Felix Lighter” Wright as an overly mentally capable tribute with a penchant for electrocution.
The biggest disappointment from this film is that it could have been so much more if the drama was pushed up in any given scene, but you struggle to care about Katniss’ plight, save after one fairly uninspiring speech which ends in bloodshed (which could, also, have been much more arresting).
The film may stack up better as part of the complete saga, but for those going to the cinema for a memorable experience, it’s hard not to feel short changed.
James Michael Parry