The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
The second part of Suzanne Collins’ satire of our celebrity-obsessed, consumerist times hellbent on taking money from celebrity-obsessed, consumerist teens barges into cinemas hot on the heels of its enormously successful predecessor. A massive payday is again assured but, while this shows some more teeth than the compromised first instalment, it’s still far from the savage and vital blockbuster it needs to be.
Katniss (Lawrence) and cinematic valium Peeta (Hutcherson) are struggling to adjust to new found fame after a rule-smashing dual victory at the 74th Hunger Games. Corrupt, dictatorial President Snow (Sutherland) inexplicably sees their act of defiance – threatening joint suicide rather than killing each other as Games tradition prescribes – as potential catalyst for global uprising against his regime. To combat this perceived threat, Snow and new Games Master Plutarch Heavensbee (Hoffman) invoke a loophole allowing changes to the Games’ format every 25th anniversary to throw the young iconoclasts into the arena once more, along with an assortment of other previous victors.
Catching Fire initially threatens to do just that with some nice allusions to the hegemonic power of television (discussion of a high-profile, institutional wedding placating the masses is particularly pleasing) and strong images of government oppression. However, this dissipates. Slavish devotion to the text and its legion of fans seems to be a problem; Collins’ world is so lacking in invention that there’s very little for director Francis Lawrence to do. Environments are either grubby wastelands or a paint-by-numbers cyber metropolis, with the Games arena a similarly mundane jungle of bitey monkeys, inclement weather and a big pond. It’s difficult to see evidence of the $140m budget in what is essentially a retread of the first film, with equally dull set-pieces and boring pseudo-characters orbiting Lawrence’s taciturn and tough Katniss.