Jennifer Lawrence has had an incredible couple of years; after landing the lead role in The Hunger Games franchise as Catniss Everdeen, she led the film to serious box office success. She then went on to join the X-Men franchise as a young Mystique and starred in Silver Linings Playbook, a movie that would change her life and see her become one of the youngest actresses to win a Best Actress Oscar. J-Law as she’s now affectionately known is one of Hollywood’s hottest young stars (and a brilliant role-model) and she returns to the role of Catniss in this next instalment Catching Fire which sees Catniss having to deal with the choices she made in the previous Games.
The film opens with Catniss back in District 12, she and her family may have moved into a better life in the victory village, however life in 12 is still hard and wearisome, and she hasn’t forgotten her roots, hunting with love interest no.1 Gale (Liam Hemsworth). As her and love interest no.2 Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are due to go on a tour of the Districts, it’s apparent that the two of them are not on good terms, Peeta finding her deceit about her feelings toward him difficult to take. As the trip gets underway though, the two come to an understanding and start to re-bond over their shared experience. Lawrence has an easy chemistry with both men, but it’s her scenes with Hutcherson that I love the most; it’s easy to see that Katniss is trying to kid herself that she doesn’t have feelings for Peeta, but at the same time they both convey the care and love they feel for one another.
The stakes are much higher in this film, particularly politically for Katniss as she faces pressure from President Snow (played brilliantly by Donald Sutherland) to keep a rising rebellion forming in some of the districts. Katniss and Peeta are forced to put on a show during their trip, and continue to act out a lie. When they think it’s over Snow announces that the next Games will feature those that have already won past games, in an effort to try and eliminate the threat of Katniss. Katniss and Peeta must then forget everything they learnt in the last games as they must align themselves with other tributes in order to stay alive and survive the games.
Jennifer Lawrence carries this movie effortlessly, with beautiful poise and elegance at times but she’s also not afraid to show Katniss’ vulnerability. It does beg the question how would these movies have fared with another actress in the leading role but thankfully this never has to be questioned with Lawrence. The PTSD that Katniss is clearly suffering from after the games is highlighted by Lawrence in certain moments, particularly the way she reacts to finding out she will have to face the Games once more. With Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth, the franchise has three young actors with a brilliant chemistry and unity, making it the success that it has become.
Of course the other supporting cast members also have a role to play and there’s certainly a few standout performances; Woody Harrelson returns once again as Hamich in a role I adore him in. He’s hardened by what he has seen and knows how to play the game, coming across as direct; he really does care about his two new charges, particularly Katniss. There’s almost a fatherly bond he develops with the two, but he never doubts them, simply telling them both to ‘stay alive’. Elizabeth Banks plays Effie with a lot more emotional charge during this film as the character too has bonded mores so with these two tributes; behind the affluent costumes, hair and make-up that Banks has to contend with, there is a heartbreaking performance. Donald Sutherland is also able to develop Snow much more so in this film as he’s further portrayed as the patriarch of all people, but underneath is a dark side, fuelled by his need for power and dominance. Of the new cast, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman is brilliant as the new games maker Plutarch Heavensbee, who all along has a secret agenda to help Katniss become the leader of a rebellion that Snow has feared all along. Two of the new tributes also stand out in the forms of Sam Claflin as Finnick and Jena Malone as Johanna, each aligning themselves with our lovers from District 12. Claflin brings a sense of distrust to his character, the audience never completely sure to believe that he wants to help but also bringing his sheer loyalty to the surface with his connection to a fellow tribute as he refuses to leave her. Malone takes whatever she is given and completely runs with it, with her character becoming an instant standout.
The franchise has perhaps performed so well in the box office and gained critical success not only because of the acting bones behind it but also due to its subject matter; the concept of a Battle Royale style future where children are forced to kill one another in a reality show concept is quite a grim subject matter. The filmmakers don’t water the concept down as well to reach younger audiences as several moments in the film are hard to watch. When a man is taken from the crowd and shot in front of hundreds of horrified faces; when Gale is whipped viciously in the centre of a square and when Stanley Tucci’s Caesar announces that after tonight all but one competitor will never be seen again (an albeit harsh fact), but then breaks into hysterical laughter, a grin and applause is a complete juxtaposition. It can perhaps all be summed up when Katniss glances at her younger sibling, taking charge of Gales wounds after he has been beaten by the Capitol’s version of the police – she realises she has had to grow up extremely quickly because of the life they live in.
As well as the overall theme of the movie, the action sequences of the games are just as intense as the last movie; it’s not so much about the hiding in these games but about the obstacles that are put in their way. Deathly fog, killer monkeys, blood rain are just the tip of these games and they offer an intense, adrenaline ride for the second half of the movie. New director Francis Lawrence picks up the reigns of the franchise and gives us a movie to remember which flows brilliantly thanks to its well-gauged pacing, which could have easily felt dragged thanks to its impressive running time. As the movie closes, the larger scale plan emerges with the simple phrase ‘Remember who the real enemy is’. That lasting image of Lawrence’s face morphing into a steely determination summons the final instalment Mockingjay which follows the pattern of many film franchises and is splitting the book into two films. What’s clear is that The Hunger Games train isn’t de-railing any time soon, and with Jennifer Lawrence at the helm, it is in safe hands.
Hamich: This trip doesn’t end when you get back home, you never get off this train. (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire)