Directed: Francis Lawrence
The Indian Express rating: ***1/2
THIS is one of those rare films where the character, the actor and the movie treatment all develop together in tandem to signify a maturing that mere words won't do. Devoid of both the adrenalin-fuelled action of the first film as well as the satisfaction of a climax, this second part of the successful Hunger Games trilogy manages to carve itself a notable space.
A large part of it has to again do with Jennifer Lawrence. Though several years older than the heroine of the books, Katniss Everdeen, she has that air of wounded innocence that one would expect from someone in her shoes. Plus now that the Games and their horror/rush are behind her, Lawrence is really in her elements as a reluctant rebel and fleeting celebrity caught between some very difficult choices. The fact that in real life too she has seen her career graph veer in quite the same direction perhaps helps.
Suzanne Collins's series with its obvious political overtones, starting from the name of the land, Panem -- Latin, conveying superficial appeasements -- also doesn't have to try very hard to establish its dystopian credentials here.
Catching Fire so has an easier, less jarring progression where it captures well the simmering undercurrents of rebellion against the Capitol here -- often going beyond the book. Led by the mocking President Snow (Sutherland), the Capitol continues to rule Panem and its impoverished 12 districts with an iron hand.
Francis Lawrence, who charted similar ground while directing I Am Legend and salubrious romance while helming Water for Elephants, particularly impresses in how he conveys the effect of two different worlds cohabiting in the singular form of Effie Trinket (Banks). Her outlandish clothes (the costumes overall deserve a special mention), her elaborate get-ups, her fuss, her seeming attention to non-essentials, her stress on "We are a team, isn't it?" are revealed to a whole new meaning here. The screenplay has been co-written by Simon Beaufoy, of Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours and The Full Monty fame.
To the readers of the series, and even to those who aren't, the plot itself holds little surprises. It starts from the day of the Victory Tour, when Katniss and Peeta (Hutcherson), the winners of the previous Hunger Games, have to take a celebratory round of the other districts leading up to a grand party at the Capitol. Katniss has spent the first part of the day trying to convince friend Gale (Hemsworth) that her romance with Peeta in the arena of the Games was just an act to save their skins. The latter part is spent trying to assure Snow that she will continue that romance with Peeta on the victory tour, to convince the districts that she didn't have the Capitol fooled.
As Katniss and Peeta's visit to the districts, and even a very public engagement, fail to quieten the growing restiveness among people who have come to see her as a sign of their rebellion, Snow says the 75th Hunger Games will see the victors of the previous years once again entering the arena to fight each other to death.
Once they are back in there, Catching Fire loses some of its sting as there is way too much fighting for anything meaningful to register. You never get the sense of the tentative bond the victors have come to share and with the novelty worn off, little in the arena actually registers as a shock.
As movies of this budget, bandwidth and expectations go, Catching Fire is not exceptional. But it can't be dismissed either. And that is good enough.