13:40 Thursday 28 November 2013

Second helping of the games is a sure fire hit


AS teen franchises go, The Hunger Games may not have the pulling power of Harry Potter but it does have a lot more going for it than the dreary Twilight movies.

Yes it has a love triangle that is an unwanted distraction but despite being saddled with a cartoon character’s name, Katniss Everdeen is a far more inspirational heroine than Twilight’s pasty-faced misery Bella Swan.

The Hunger Games’ bleak vision of a totalitarian future is also a more intriguing concept than the vampires vs werewolves nonsense that upsets the rain-soaked town of Forks.

The Hunger Games is political and satirical with ambitions that go well beyond just deciding which boy Katniss will end up with.

Saying that, Suzanne Collins’ dystopian vision has never been original. The first book and film are so frighteningly aligned to the Japanese novel and movie Battle Royale that it’s hard to believe they are not just an Americanised remake. Battle Royale had the edge in savagery but not in box office, so few people in this part of the world noticed.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire moves away from Battle Royale territory but is still begging, stealing and borrowing from dystopian fiction and films at every angle.

The Running Man, 1984 and the twice made Rollerball are just the tip of the iceberg. But once you have accepted that you aren’t seeing anything new, then it’s easy to sit back and enjoy this second helping.

Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), having survived the last hunger games are being sent on a tour of the rebellious districts by the president (Donald Sutherland).

Here they have to keep up the pretence of true love, despite the fact that Katniss is yearning for Gale (Liam Hemsworth) rather than Peeta.

But instead of just reaping the rewards of her triumph in the games, as the victory tour progresses Katniss becomes increasingly unwilling to be a tool of the repressive state, especially when Gale gets a nasty flogging.

However, before she can lead a rebellion, the president announces a Quarter Quell – a 75th anniversary version of the games where all the contestants are past winners.

Suddenly, Katniss and Peeta are back fighting for their lives and not just facing higher calibre adversaries but also new evils dreamed up by games designer Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

Jennifer Lawrence (who won an Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook) is really too old and too good to be involved in all this but gives the material far more than it’s often worth and is always the Hunger Games best asset.

She’s also a great role model – an independent, intelligent heroine who leaves the simpering and moaning to the two boys and puts duty and honour first (take note Bella).

There’s also sterling work in the characer acting department from a string of Hollywood notables - including Stanley Tucci and his gleaming teeth as the vulgar TV host and Sutherland as the slimy president.

A lot of trilogies find their feet and deliver their best work in the mid-section (Star Wars and Lord of the Rings being just two examples) and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire certainly picks up more merits than the opening movie, upping the ante in almost very department.

The only downside is that it leaves us knowing there will be a two-part adaptation of the final Suzanne Collins book Mockinjay.

That’s clearly more about money than it is about being truthful to the material so, like Harry Potter and Twilight, expect a dip in momentum before this particular saga reaches its conclusion. In the meantime, enjoy a superior piece of teen action that might surprise those not already converted to the Hunger Games cause.

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