|'a film which feels much tighter, crafted in a better-realised world, home to a collection of people you're fairly certain you're spending time with for a reason'|
The Hunger Games is not a force to be taken lightly. On the back of a strong showing from the first film (though not entirely in the quality stakes) its sequel, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, is raking a mightily impressive box office on both sides of the Atlantic.
In terms of the problems incoming director Francis Lawrence solves when compared to the first film then Catching Fire's increased performance appears to be richly deserved. Largely gone is the shaky-cam, instead replaced by some really impressive establishing shots that bring District 12 and its surrounds to life much more than the previous film. Similarly, Lawrence appears careful to avoid 'the montage', so favoured in the first film's snapshots of districts and elongated training section. When the latter does finally arrive here it is cut down, shoved as much to the side as possible.
The result of that and other changes Lawrence introduces is a film which feels much tighter, crafted in a better-realised world, home to a collection of people you're fairly certain you're spending time with for a reason. The first third, whilst not joyous in the song and dance sense, is a pretty perfect mainstream blockbuster; dirty rebellion bubbling in the provinces, whilst malevolent excess comes to confront Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) in her own home: an early scene between her and President Snow (Donald Sutherland) proving a highlight.
By the time the final act is churning out its action, Catching Fire has confirmed itself as a film of some repute, adding tension and plenty of character intrigue, where it would have been so easy to provide neither.
The potential to have made something really spectacular here makes the problems all the more frustrating. Firstly, there's a marked inability for the film to take its own moral medicine. In the middle third, we spend far too long flirting around with sculpted eyelashes and spectacular dresses, admiring all The Capital has to offer again, forgetting the involving substance of the opening.
Perhaps though it is the final few scenes that will prove to be the most frustrating for most viewers. Having pulled off some substantial climactic action and character points, Lawrence decides to end on not one but two significant reveals, both of which he keeps off screen. Mentioning instead of showing substantial moments is frustrating enough but then, reveals duly dictated to us, Catching Fire fades to credits. Is that it? We've built to this point only to be told how it ended, and then be pushed away until the sequel? Presumably so, but the reason I now care so much about what happens in the next two films is solely down to this one, and Lawrence's significantly successful changes.