The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

What Catching Fire does well is ramp up the sense of mortality staring you in the face. It is essentially a blood bath; kids killing kids, ADULTS killing kids. If you thought the arena in The Hunger Games was a nightmare, this arena will haunt you: fog that fatally poisons you if you touch it and scalds you if you escape it; birds that drive you to the brink of insanity by mimicking the voices of your loved ones being tortured; RAINING BLOOD. Ghastly stuff. The scene where Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) discover they will have to face the unrelenting horror of the Games for a second time is stomach-churning. “All I can think about is how afraid I am. There’s no room for anything else,” says Katniss at one point, and boy can you believe it.

A lot of setting up is done, but it’s done superbly. Revolution is in the air and built up across the two plus hours running time until you’re smacked in the face with it and wanting more. Relationships between the principal characters are developed gently to whet our appetites for the sequels. Katniss’ feelings towards Peeta have definitely gone beyond indifference. Her flirtation with Finnick (Sam Claflin) is brief but, again, sets up something to be realised down the line. I’m about to sound like a douchebag but if this is the aperitif we’re in for one heck of a meal.

It’s easy to write this film off as a movie for Paramore-loving teenage girls that own diaries with a padlock and key, and in some ways this is true. There’s a lust-free love triangle/square at the centre of it all, the participants of which are so pretty you want to weep. There’s smooching on a beach complete with swirling music, and a fair few slashy, hurt/comfort scenarios that fanfiction writers will dribble over. And the angst! Ye gods, so much angst.

Thank goodness for J Law and J Hutch, whose easy chemistry and solid performances ensure Catching Fire rises above the ranks of Twilight and (shudder) Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. A young heroine who isn’t all butter-wouldn’t-melt (I’m looking at you, Bella Swan) is refreshing. Katniss is only simpering when she’s getting her head kicked in by gorillas – totally understandable. Josh Hutcherson’s turn as Peeta is gentle, powerful, sweet without being mushy and quietly fiercer. He’s got balls. Director Lawrence’s decision to deviate from Peeta’s story in the books was a sound one.

The seasoned cast members are flawless. Donald Sutherland is understated and terrifying; Woody Harrelson brings his much-needed excellent dry wit, and Elizabeth Banks adds depth to her shrill and frilly Effie. Philip Seymour Hoffman is rather underused at first but… just wait until the end. Speaking of the end, there’s a moment right before the credits that only consists of a look, but it’s the chief reason I’ll be baying for Mockingjay.

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