Hunger Games: Catching Fire. (12A.)
Directed by Francis Lawrence.
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Sam Clafin, Woody Harrelson, Elisabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland and Philip Seymour Hoffman. 145 mins.
No matter how well you tell it, a stupid story is a stupid story. The Hunger Games, a kind of Strictly Come Rollerball, seem to have its heart in the right place and some very potent plus points. A parable about a cruel metropolitan elite that pacifies the impoverished masses with a cruel and vapid game show should be something we can all get behind. But, on screen at least, it is a deeply dippy tale.
The sequel gets straight into it, with no opening titles and no recaps. Like being back at school, you are expected to arrive having already
done the required reading. We are back in an improbable dystopian future United States where 12 districts of grindingly poor, manly, backwoods mining folk are ruled over by a single city of flouncing, perfumed libertines where life seems to be one long Roman costume ball. Their control is maintained through a network of bullet trains and legions of Imperial Storm Troopers. At the heart of it all is President Snow (Sutherland), who looks like the only man refusing to join in with the fancy dress.
It is, of course, foolish to complain about the lack of credibility in a sci-fi allegory. The Hunger Games were created as kid’s stories and at a similar age I can’t remember being bothered by the implausibility of Logan’s Run. Yet as our previously introduced heroes, Katniss (Lawrence) and Peeta (Hutcherson), are forced to go back into the arena yet again I just kept thinking that nothing much makes any sense. If the games are supposed to be a TV spectacle and to discredit Katniss’s position as a focal point for rebellion why would they unleash a cloud of deadly poison gas which is not a particularly telegenic way to die and would just make her a martyr?
The books have a Twilight of the Good reputation but for me their great appeal is even less fathomable than that of Edward Cullenhands and Bella. I just don’t get it.
Still let’s end on some positives. The movie really whips through that bulky running time, so much so that the end is disconcertingly abrupt. It feels like it should be the end of the second act rather than the whole film. The cast is really top notch – add Liam Hemsworth, Lenny Kravitz, Jeffery Wright, Jena Malone, Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones and Amanda Plummer to the names listed above. They are all pretty good but it is a one woman show. Lawrence, who returns as an Oscar winner, is simply superb. Her every move seems plausible and gives credibility and meaning to scenes that would have little of either without her.