The stars have really aligned for The Hunger Games as a film series: in the time since they shot the first film, Jennifer Lawrence has picked up an Oscar and seen herself become one of the world’s biggest film stars. Liam Hemsworth has also become a leading man in his own right. But most importantly, they’ve followed up the (enormously successful) first film with a sequel that improves on the formula in almost every way.
Following on from the events of the first chapter, we find Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) still recovering from her big win at the Hunger Games. Back in her coal-mining hometown in District 12, she and her family have been moved into a ‘Victor’s Village’ that’s exclusively inhabited by Woody Harrelson and her fellow survivor Peeta (a name one imagines is best pronounced by Lois from Family Guy).
As an A-list celebrity power-couple, Peeta and Katniss are sent on a tour around all the districts, where they are expected to deliver speeches supporting their oppressive central government. What they see, however, is the inklings of a revolution that has taken Katniss as their talisman. Unhappy with this development, slimy president Donald Sutherland concocts a plan to quash this uprising: a special edition of the games that will pit former champions against each other.
New characters, of course means new character actors and the producers have gone to town with their cast: Jeffrey Wright (who’s currently killing it in Boardwalk Empire) and Amanda Plummer are middle-aged former champions from the Nerd District while Philip Seymour Hoffman takes the prize for ker-raziest name as Plutarch Heavensbee, the new ‘gamesmaker’.
It seems at first that Hoffman’s simply phoning in his performance. His drawling speech pattern marks him out from just about every other character in the Capital but its enigmatic, out-of-place quality plays out very nicely as the story unfolds. Stanley Tucci is back as talk show host Caesar (complete with Dale Winton perma-tan and chiclet teeth) and it’s great to see a veteran actor make a meal out of such an eccentric character.
Many critics and fans are obviously making the connection between the Hunger Games movies and the Twilight Saga. After all, they’re both fantasy stories with a romantic edge aimed at teenage audience. But if you were to make a comparison between the two then The Hunger Games would be killing it right now. The cast is stronger, the writing is better. Katniss is kept in the dark a lot for a lot of this movie but she is evidently smart, resourceful and a deeply human lead. And a lot of this is down to Lawrence’s performance.
When we talk about the need for more strong female characters in films, we’re not talking about women who are literally strong: we’re looking for characters who characters with agency, which is precisely what Katniss is. She gets by on her wits and principles.
We’re not saying this is Citizen Kane or anything; but as blockbuster sequels go, Catching Fire isn’t messing around.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is in cinemas now