With The Hunger Games being a runaway success from that lucrative teen book adaptation market, I was surprised how refreshing the first movie was and looking forward to the next outing of a brewing tasty rebellion. Looking past the hype though (seriously, you better deliver if you promote yourself as THE EVENT THE WORLD HAS BEEN WAITING FOR), you'll find that Catching Fire is just a 'building' and middle chapter and borderline disappointing.
So fresh from walking out of the 74th Hunger Games together by nearly going ahead with a suicide pact, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson, Red Dawn) return back to Sector 12 as victorious champions to recover and think what to do next. Katniss' actions have caused a stir among the poor populace with the faint drums of rebellion beating. Whilst on tour to the other Sectors, President Snow (Donald Sutherland, Crossing Lines) aims to keep Katniss on a leash somewhat and threatens her family, sector and her true love Gale (Liam Hemsworth, The Expendables 2). He aims to sully Katniss' image with a Quarter Quell edition of the games with former champions roped back into the arena. Katniss must deal with this new threat with her entourage whilst at the same time being the face of an upcoming revolution.
As much as I dig the world, setting and the characters, I can't really say the big three leads in our Hunger Games love triangle are engrossing. Lawrence is pretty good at capturing the emotion in Katniss, especially through the paranoia she goes through at the start of Catching Fire but I don't really feel she has a spark between either the nice plain guy Peeta and big brick of meat, boy at home Gale when that's meant to be a selling point. Watchable by all means but not exactly oscar contenders.
On the other hand, there are some ridiculously fun performances if you're willing to wait for them to turn up amongst the ridiculous two and a half hour run time. Sutherland rips up the scenery as the evil President. Stanley Tucci (Percy Jackson, Sea of Monsters) as the lavish purple haired, overly friendly interviewer is a blast. Jena Malone (Sucker Punch) is so memorable as a crazy, axe wielding ex-champion who drops her clothes in a crowded elevator. Harrelson is on verge of parodying himself as the alcoholic raging mentor character. For all this though, Lenny Kravitz of music fame sucks almost all the charisma out of any scene he's in with anyone.
The real highlight is the expansion to Elizabeth Banks' (What To Expect When You're Expecting) Effie Trinket character. Previously you can tell she's just a leechy lady with beyond ludicrous fashion serving her own needs to raise herself from Sector 12. Well she retains some of the leechiness about her, giving all her love and kisses to both cheeks to her champions who would have undoubtedly raised her profile, but this time round as the film goes on she expresses doubt over her role in an intriguing turn. Credit to Banks for delivering when needed.
What I really enjoyed from the first has been transplanted somewhat. The dome where the first Hunger Games tournament which Katniss and Peeta survived was in a forest environment and, if you ignore how weapon preferences and a supply point was set up in the middle of the arena, it felt like it could have been in any forest anywhere. It could have been done the road from you so good was the set up. All the kids are decked out in hiking clothes and left to it. It all makes sense. It almost feels real. This is round it's in a beach/rainforest setting. Not too much of a problem with that you'd think yet everyone this time round is dressed in like skintight bathing costume/survival suits dealies. Add the twist with what the high stakes in this Hunger Games and it really took me out of it with the constant nonsensical threats. There was a blood bath-rain for god's sake – since when does that naturally happen.
The actual Games this time round is made disappointingly even less violent. My slight gripe of the first was that didn't go the whole hog with seeing the kids from the first off each other with most of the hits happening just off-camera. Of course, I realise it's aimed at a teen market and there's no way they'll ever pull the trigger on that but with more adult on adult violence promised this time round I held out hope. Shame it was dashed. We get people given the big introduction, like there's a brother and sister Sector couple and they're hyped up, yet they're offed without too much fuss. In fact, it's almost the film's intention not to show you any of the kills as we're signalled another person being bumped off with a cannon shot. That's it. We hardly see any. Sometimes the pull away trick works with the old guy doing Katniss' symbol and Mockingjay whistle and the door closing on his execution, just seeing the flash from the muzzle before it's fully closed. Not to show anything at all, which is a selling point in the Battle Royale fights, is a travesty.
At least the politics are left intact and are easy to get into. Granted, they take awhile to get going who the players are and it's only the very end before we get the kick off to the building rebellion cemented. It's there though at least. I blame the too long runtime for delivering the points more effectively. I was running out of patience more than anything else with Catching Fire's delivery. Aside from that, it's thematically rich, exploring the survivor's guilt from the Game's winners and the dark side is brought up with the champions doing anything they can to dodge the next one.
The trouble is, I don't really hate or dislike the second outing of The Hunger Games trilogy. If anything, Catching Fire is kind of like the local bus, taxi or walking journey you need to take when you get off the train in your hometown to actually get home. It's a way of getting you from Point A to Point B. I'm still intrigued whereabouts the story The Hunger Games is going but Catching Fire isn't really enough of a film to stand on it's own. It is mere a vehicle to get from Scenario A to Scenario B. It moves from where we are from the end of the first movie and sets up the last two, yet on it's self it's not great.
The 411: The world I fell in love with the first time round is in here somewhere but the second time I took The Hunger Games out, I couldn't help but feel disappointment. I feel like I could go somewhere in a year or so's time with it but Catching Fire was an awkward evening together. A whole two and a half hours of build for the final two chapters and doesn't deliver on what it promises on the tin in this movie, yet it's done well enough in it's own remit.