Ever since the Harry Potter franchise adaptations of young adult literature have been a lucrative Hollywood trend. Yet the quality has descended into a ceaseless torrent of substandard replicas piloted by a toxic, pseudo-feminist, profit-driven vampire saga. That was until 2012 with the arrival of Gary Ross’ flawed, yet hugely successful The Hunger Games which towered above its feeble competition and though it failed to stem the flow it offered enough to restore at least a little faith in young adult films. Though fans remain loyal to their beloved franchise, a degree of scepticism remained to greet its successor, but Catching Fire surprises us all over again as a darker, more serious and far more mature sequel that surpasses the first in every way and reignites a genre that looked all but extinguished.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire continues from its predecessor with Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark fulfilling the requirements of champions as they embark on a victory tour. Meanwhile, the civil unrest that our heroes sparked when they defied The Capitol’s cruel regime continues to spread among the districts and murmurs of revolution begin to surface. Under the threat of an uprising, the tyrannical President Snow restores his autocratic rule by devising a new Hunger Games, one that forces past victors back into the arena and therefore sends Katniss and Peeta to face the turmoil all over again.
While it wouldn’t be a Hunger Games film without the Hunger Games itself, the Battle Royale-esque tournament is a secondary element. Freed from his predecessor’s necessity to introduce the audience to this futuristic dystopia and supported by the role of his film to set the tone for the conclusion, director Francis Lawrence and his freshly assembled writing team, Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt, deliver an expressive, emotionally-driven exploration of the characters suffering severe political oppression, class division and police brutality. Not only does this sophisticated approach allow themes to be anchored to the narrative with more subtlety, but it also galvanises the supporting characters who become as detailed, essential and emotionally engaging as the leads.
With the support of a stronger script the entire cast discover superior performances and though the improvements in the returning cast members are most blatant, the way the new characters are seamlessly introduced is the greatest triumph. Still, it’s Jennifer Lawrence who continues her dominance.
In the time since The Hunger Games Lawrence has blossomed into an actress of the highest calibre and returns to her leading role as Katniss with the Academy Award-winning ability to deliver a more natural and convincing performance this time around. Katniss is conflicted and scared, but Lawrence balances a range of emotions ensuring she maintains the determination and defiance that sets her character apart. Even when facing an all too familiar love triangle, an unfortunate symptom of the source material, she remains a strong female character; the sort of role model young adult storytelling should present.
In many respects, Catching Fire is the perfect sequel; one that elevates everything its predecessor offered to satisfy your appetite on its own, but also leaves you hungry for its successor. Some flaws remain, but they exist within the novels and far be it for any filmmaker to deviate from the source material. Like the original, but to a greater extent, Catching Fire surpasses its expectations and offers a thoroughly entertaining experience for fans and new audiences alike.