So, the first film in this series got me into it; invited me inside, made me a cup of tea, now it’s up to the sequel to fetch the biscuits and keep me entertained with an anecdote or two. This analogy fell apart quite quickly, didn’t it? Never mind, I’m pressing ahead anyway…
Even though the first film had engaged me enough to want to see its follow-up instalments, I wasn’t completely all-aboard with the franchise as a whole, and it still ran the risk of losing me if it didn’t come good on a lot of its more interesting plot threads.
After the events of the first film, Katniss and Peeta (Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson, respectively) are living a better life in the winner accommodation within District 12. As dissension grows amongst the districts, and Katniss shows her sympathy towards their plight, President Snow decides to change the rules surrounding the games, thrusting the pair back into the deadly competition for their lives.
One thing I’ll say about Catching Fire straight away is that it suffers from ‘middle movie syndrome’. As in, it’s a film in the middle of a series that naturally suffers from a lack of a concrete ending, given that it has to set up for subsequent iterations. The first film had its fair share of this too, but could at least have been viewed as a standalone experience to some extent, now we’re deep into franchise territory and it shows.
Not that I can begrudge a film for serving a purpose, as this does, but those who like their individual films to be complete experiences on their own are going to be left disappointed, but as a part of a series that is indisputably aimed at people who are already fans it certainly works.
I’d say it’s a more polished affair this time around too, the cinematography is less jumpy and more fluid, and the pacing is much improved too. As much as I enjoyed the first film, it did seem a tad over-long, happily, this sequel does not share this issue.
It is also starting to explore the larger themes at play in this world; the first film was very much about introducing the concept of the games and the world it inhabits, and with this done, it can now start to knuckle down and work on building the world around the characters. As a result, we see the theme of tyranny explored in a more direct manner, as our protagonists are dragged into the conflicts, being pulled by either side and manipulated, while the other occupants of the world are finally starting their fight back in earnest with their symbol of hope, Katniss, firmly established as being on their side.
Speaking of tyranny, we also get more time to get to know President Snow as a character, although, not as much as I’d like, admittedly. I want to know what led him to this point, what events have shaped his approach, instead he seems to have the same air of self-righteousness that most stock villains have in films; that being said, I feel like the film is starting to turn a corner in how the despot is portrayed, and we get a lot more insight into his personal philosophies in this instalment.
Steps have also been taken to round-out Katniss as a character, she doesn’t have the same sense of naivety as she did in the first film, although she hasn’t yet had her moment to stand out among a large cast, I feel as though that moment is coming, and that her character is on a slower boil than most.
As for the other characters, they’ve remained unchanged between films, even if their motivations have shifted, their characters have largely stayed the same. I found myself quite apathetic towards Peeta, for instance, who barely has any character that makes him rise above the usual portrayal of ‘hunky male love interest’. The really interesting characters are still in the background, like Effie and Caesar Flickerman, their personalities are more effervescing and colourful, but I understand that they serve their purpose in the background, they run the risk of being annoying if they’re too heavily spotlighted.
I also had an issue with the films ending, which was very abrupt and anticlimactic. It reminds me of the ending of Harry Potter and the deathly Hallows Part 1 in that it didn’t seem to know where a good place to end would be, so it picks somewhere completely random and leaves its audience perplexed. This should all come with the qualifier that its ending serves as the set-up to the next instalment, but it doesn’t leave the audience very fulfilled when you screech your plot to a halt in such a sudden way.
All in all, then, it’s very much more of the same. A passable film that didn’t make me want to stop watching the series, but didn’t particularly grip me either. It’s not helped by being the middle part of the story and therefore it’s bound to be an anti-climax, but it doesn’t do anything to stand-out ahead of its future finale either.
It has its merits, and may very well be a better made film than its predecessor, but I feel like I didn’t get enough out of it to truly recommend it. I want to watch the last two simply because I want to know how the story ends, and that’s a shame, as the world and some of its inhabitants seem genuinely interesting, it’s just that they get glossed-over in favour of the undercooked lead characters.
I feel like it needs to do something big in the next film to really grab my attention, as it’s building a great anticipation with no sign of a pay-off. I anxiously await the next instalment.