Francesca Rudkin

Francesca Rudkin is an entertainment reviewer for NZ Herald.

Movie review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Woody Harrelson star in 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'.
Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Woody Harrelson star in 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'.

The Hunger Games, based on the young adult novel by Suzanne Collins, was released around this time last year.

A slick action-adventure blockbuster, it was also smart, poignant and thrilling, and had us on the edge of our seats for two-and-a-half hours.

From the moment it finished, the pressure was on the sequel, Catching Fire, to live up to the impressive beginning - and it does.

Taking over from The Hunger Games screenwriter and director Gary Ross is director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend), working from a script by famed screenwriters Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine) and Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours). The narrative is as tight and sharp as you'd expect, filled with drama and brutal action, lightened by a touch of comedy and romance.

Round two doesn't have the same shock value of the original, where we watched Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) fight to the death with 23 other teenagers and kids in the reality television show of the title.

But Catching Fire does continue the momentum and nerve-tingling intensity by immediately picking up Katniss' story where we left off.

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As Katniss and her surviving Hunger Games partner Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson) prepare to go on their victory tour around the 12 Districts of the post-apocalyptic world of Panem, Katniss is unaware she has inspired a revolution in the Districts against President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and his oppressive regime. By changing the rules of the game, Katniss has given people hope and the courage to fight back and a rebellion has begun.

Keen to eliminate Katniss, President Snow declares the 75th Hunger Games will be a special anniversary game called The Quarter Quell, (think: Hunger Games All Stars) where the tributes from each district will be made up of past winners. Before Katniss and Peeta know it, they're heading back to the arena for another round.

Obviously it's a familiar set-up, but it's a different game this time around.

It's an all-age affair as opposed to just kids, the arena is new and even more dangerous than before, and alliances between the tributes are even more important. The significance of these alliances becomes apparent at the end of the film, which, once again, cruelly leaves us wanting more.

It may be less shocking, but director Lawrence's version of The Hunger Games is no less violent, gritty or cruel.

The camera is less jerky this time round but the sense of urgency remains and the complex action scenes are clearer. He also makes good use of classic horror genre tricks to scare us witless; once again the visual effects and extravagant costumes are impressive, and the foreboding tone of the previous film continues.

You can watch this sequel without seeing the original, but why would you? This series is turning out to be one of the more memorable and exhilarating literary adaptions we've seen for a long time, largely due to Lawrence's performance as Katniss.

Lawrence's Katniss might be a smart and courageous killing machine, but she's far from immune to the horror around her, her emotions are real and her fear is palpable.

Even the few lingering kisses Katniss has with her love interests, Peeta and old friend Gail (Hemsworth), have gravitas.

Catching Fire is a transitional film, taking us from the shocking introduction of this fantasy world through to the two-part finale, Mockingjay, expected out over the next couple of years. But it's managed to be just as good a film as its predecessor, and a must-see chapter in this terrific and terrifying story.


Stars: 4/5
Cast: Josh Hutcherson, Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth
Director: Francis Lawrence
Running time: 146 mins
Rating: M (Violence)
Verdict: Another thrilling, intense feature that leaves you wanting more. Again

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- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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