I really worry for the future of the Hunger Games franchise. The first film really surprised me. I expected a rip-off of Battle Royale, toned down and aimed at the young adult market. Instead the movie presented a great satire on reality tv, celebrity, oppression and also an amazing action movie too.
The first movie managed to spend an equal amount of time building the society, demonstrating the process of selection and the furore that goes with the Hunger Games. It then threw the audience into the Games themselves, which were surprisingly brutal considering the 12a rating the movie needed.
The second movie struggles with the first aspect and then under-delivers on the latter. It manages to repeat itself in quite a formulaic way, which is surprising considering it comes from a book as it’s source material.
There is promise in the opening scenes. The aftermath of Katniss winning the first games in a defiant manner, which ended with Peeta also surviving, is demonstrated well, with brutal oppression, a terrible threat and the complete upheaval of her life. The subsequent “tour” that the two victors then embark on feels slightly rushed though, trying to throw the story forward to the announcement of the Games themselves.
This is where the movie falters because the build-up to the games offers very little that is new. Katniss “catching fire” a couple of times, a glimpse of both the training and assessment that we saw much more of in the first and all the other tv appearances and such that go with it. The only major difference is that we are getting a rushed, water-down version of the more interesting parts of the first movie.
Without a doubt though, the best aspect of the movies is the Games itself. Luckily, this is where the movie manages to deliver. These Hunger Games improve on the first, with killer fog and crazy monkeys being just some of the obstacles that the players have to overcome.
The players are much better this time too. Being able to pick from a pool of past victors fleshes out the characters and challenges much more. The pick of the new cast is Jeffrey Wright as Beetee and Jena Malone as Johanna. These two characters offer different takes on the Games and how they are played, making an impact in amongst a crowded cast.
The one part of the acting and cast that did stand-out is how disengaged Jennifer Lawrence seemed to be for the first half of the movie. I don’t know if she was just trying to play the harsh, cold Katniss or whether she was just bored but her performance didn’t really erupt until the Games actually started. It was highlighted even more against the great, much bigger performances of Stanley Tucci and Woody Harrelson.
Unfortunately, the Games section of the movie feels like it is undercut, with a confusing, anti-climactic ending. It is the awful “sequel syndrome” that other franchise movies are plagued with, throwing the action into the next instalment and underselling the movie we have now.
This is why I worry for the franchise as a whole. The best part of the whole Hunger Games series are the actual Hunger Games and without giving too much away, the movie seems to be moving away from that as an actual part of the series and moving towards Katniss as someone much bigger – which isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Overall, Hunger Games: Catching Fire does not exceed on the first. It rushes it’s newest story elements, delivers a watered-down version of the best aspects of the first and then cuts short the best part of the whole movie – The Hunger Games themselves. With the franchise seeming to move in a different direction, this series is losing my interest.
Rating – 3.5
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)