Hunger Games Catching Fire review: 'Jennifer Lawrence gives another full-blooded performance'

3.00

The second instalment is darker and faster, but ultimately fails to satisfy

The second instalment of the Hunger Games franchise is a definite improvement on its predecessor. This is a darker, more mature film which accentuates yet further the Orwellian elements in the Suzanne Collins novels from which it is adapted.

Click here for more pictures from the Catching Fire world premiere

It benefits from another full-blooded performance from Jennifer Lawrence as the tough, single-minded warrior heroine, Katniss Everdeen. There is strong support, too, from a cast which now includes Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee, the duplicitous new “gamesmaker.” It’s just a pity that when battle finally commences, you again have the feeling you’re watching a bloodier version of It’s A Knockout – a glorified Outward Bound-style games show rather than a proper movie.

As the story begins, Katniss is back home in District 12 after winning the 74th Hunger Games. Her family and the other inhabits of the District still live in abject poverty. The ruthless and cynical President Snow (Donald Sutherland), wants her to go on a “victory tour” and to try to fool the masses that she is deeply in love with her co-survivor from the Games, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson.)

Francis Lawrence (taking over directorial duties from Gary Ross) accentuates the brutality in the early scenes. President Snow is a fascist leader. His military are ready to use the most extreme tactics to suppress any hint of revolutionary fervour. Katniss is in the unfortunate position of being a poster girl for a regime she loathes.

Jennifer Lawrence on the red carpet of the UK premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' (Getty) Jennifer Lawrence on the red carpet of the UK premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' (Getty)

As a dystopian sci-fi yarn, Catching Fire is – initially – effective and chilling. The imagery of district dwellers being rounded up and massacred seems intended to evoke memories of Nazi atrocities. The screenplay, co-written by Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire and The Full Monty) has a strong satirical undertow. The fascist state uses the media in general – and reality TV game shows in particular – to keep the masses distracted.

The supporting cast clearly enjoy themselves. Stanley Tucci plays the game show host with extreme unctuous creepiness. Sutherland is good value as the sleekly evil, beard-stroking President. Elizabeth Banks behaves with the right mix of vanity and vacuousness as Katniss’s absurd chaperone, Effie Trinket.

 Strangely, when the long awaited Hunger Games start, the film loses steam. There are still some tremendous special effects – toxic mist, mutant monkeys with a taste for flesh – but the storytelling becomes muddled. Katniss remains at the heart of the action, using her bow and arrow to explosive effect, even as we struggle to work out who survived, who is dead, who is killing who, what is happening – and why. (All will doubtless become clear in the next film.)

It is heartening to find a teen-oriented movie franchise as gritty as The Hunger Games. Even so, Catching Fire remains contradictory, caught in some nether world between nightmarish political allegory and adolescent escapism.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor