RogerBW's Blog

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire 26 June 2014

2013, dir. Francis Lawrence, Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson: IMDb / allmovie

After winning the Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen is a post-traumatic wreck. The perfect time to send her on a publicity tour! Spoilers for book and film will follow.

She's in a parlous position: the President knows that her show of rebellion raised the possibility of unrest in the other Districts, but she's too high-profile to be disappeared. So she's on show for him. Also, there are two pretty young lads vying for her affections, the one she actually likes (stuck at home) and her fellow competitor with whom she puts on a public show of romance. Unfortunately both of them are played by interchangeable slabs of actorly beef and there's never any sense of chemistry from either of them. Even with each other. The only young fellow who comes over with any plausibility at all is Sam Claflin as Finnock Odair.

Jennifer Lawrence is a year older than when The Hunger Games was made, and her face has changed in the way that sometimes happens to young women (the same thing happened to Molly Quinn after the first season of Castle); she looks somehow much more synthetic, and less convincing, than in the previous outing, even before she's made up for the show.

Donald Sutherland and Philip Seymour Hoffman look faintly lost among all the pretty young bankable actors; each time they have a scene together, there's a palpable sense of relief that at last they have someone to play off.

Part of the problem is that there's just too much stuff here; it's the modern style of adaptation for a well-known book, that every key scene has to be put in. So we have the Victory Tour, the Quarter Quell selection and games, and the deus-ex-machina ending, all faithfully taken from the book. It all adds up to more than two hours of film, and all too much of it feels gratuitous and even padded: the Legolas-lite arrow-shooting simulation sequence is just the most obviously so.

Call me old-fashioned, if you like, but I like my heroines to have agency. To reveal, as both film and book do, that half the participants in the Games, and their organiser, have been setting up the whole thing in order to enable her escape, and haven't dared give her even the slightest hint of this even during life-or-death situations merely because they don't trust her to keep up appearances… well, I start to wonder who's the protagonist here and who's merely the figurehead. The problem is that the film has to be an accurate version of the story in the book, and the book (whisper it) just isn't all that terribly good. In trying to tell the story of Katniss' personal growth, it forgets to have anyone else recognise that Katniss actually has a personality.

The film-making isn't bad (the train and aircraft internal sets are excellent, the big urban outdoor scenes and long shots are lovely; the rest is workmanlike and competent, which is a step up from the over-kinetic production of the first film), the acting is mostly OK, but it's a middle volume that, at its conclusion, succeeds mostly in reminding me of The Empire Strikes Back. The Refusal of the Call is a key part of Campbell's soi-disant monomyth, and this sometimes feels like a feature-length version of it.

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  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 01:16pm on 26 June 2014

    I always thought The Empire Strikes Back was the best of the original three Star Wars films.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 01:43pm on 26 June 2014

    Yes, but that had the advantage over the others of having an actual science fiction author (Leigh Brackett, shortly before she died) writing the first draft of the script.

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