Science fiction and fantasy
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
directed by Francis Lawrence
As in The Hunger Games, the look of this movie is spectacular. I particularly liked the ancient Roman influence on some of the costumes and sets. It brings out the sheer barbarity of Panem society, and the gulf between the splendour of the Capitol and the districts. Capitol wealth comes at a cost of great inequality, and it's hard to miss the political points this story makes. However, they're made more nuanced by Donald Sutherland's reasonable and grandfatherly portrayal of Snow. He's a tyrant who doesn't have to raise his voice, and this makes his arguments seem almost credible. So whilst he's cruel and evil, his position as the leader of Panem is very believable.
Jennifer Lawrence puts in a great performance as a conflicted lover. She's supposed to be pretending to love Peeta, so it's unclear at what point her feelings for him change from pretence to something more substantial. The love triangle is sweet but underplayed. The characters are too busy being heroic to mope about their thwarted love lives too much, and this understatement makes them even more endearing.
Of course, if there's less romance that means there's more screen time for action, whether that's through rebellion and its brutal suppression by the peacekeepers, or in the Hunger Games itself. The games are deadly, frenetic, and inventive. Yet, in spite of a high body count, most deaths are either bloodless or off-screen.
There are plenty of new characters, and apart from guessing who will survive the film, part of the interest is in figuring out who Katniss can trust. In the first episode Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) and Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) began as a colourful supporting cast for the show, but in this movie they reveal hidden depths of feeling. That's true of the movie as a whole, because a lot of characters reveal their hidden sides, and we're starting to get down to the gritty essence of the conflict. It's a lot deeper and more emotionally intense than the first episode. The ending has quite a twist, and it left me feeling gutted that I would have to wait several months for the next movie. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is all I hoped it would be.
24th March 2014