A much better exploration of the dark political themes lurking amongst this Young Adult story. This sequel with a new director at the helm breathes new life into the warring district world with new cast members, twisty turny government threats and the running theme of character development.
After some time away from being joint winner of the 74th Annual Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is back in her home of District 12, she learns from President Snow (Donald Sutherland) that her actions have inspired rebellion across districts and he tells her to use this to try and make them think it was genuine, not an attack on the Capitol. Not long after a Victory tour, Snow announces a Quarter Quell where all past winners must come back and fight again. Katniss is keen to make sure Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) is kept safe as they all enter the new arena with new allies, enemies and time orientated deadly challenges.
I have to admit, I wasn’t a fan of the first film. I may not have read the books that are apparently well written, but on seeing ‘Hunger Games’ I felt it quite slow, cleansed of any worrying drama and a tween-esque ‘Battle Royale’. I can happily say that upon viewing the second installment, this movie is so much better in my opinion. The dystopian future is as prominent but it feels more filled with dread, the shots of the Victory train shuttling through bleak landscapes alone does more than enough to conjure up a blend of futuristic and oppressing images. What with the over saturated market of YA movies, Hunger Games was pretty lucky to be the first out of the blocks, giving it the lead mould to follow for things like ‘Divergent’ and ‘The Maze Runner’. To be fair, it isn’t all luck, the story idea of numbered home dwellings, uprising and created battle arenas is a neat one and this sequel shines a greater light on all these qualities.
Francis Lawrence, the new director manages to blend elements of love, drama, tension and fun in this 2013 sequel and it feels like a more watchable movie as you see Katniss evolve in her fight to protect her home, Peeta and try to rebel against the constraints of Snow and the Capitol. The direction of the actual Quarter Quell is smart and well paced, with a cool dark touch throwing in baboons, poison mists and lightning to keep the excitement levels up. Through all this, Lawrence makes it clearer of the underlying themes, especially control as we see Plutarch manipulating the arena and Snow exerting as much control as he can to set up Katniss as a symbol in his power.
The character development is greatly appreciated and amongst more spectacular visuals of the clock inspired arena, Katniss’ dresses and Effie Trinket in general, we get to see Katniss struggle with Snow, her love for Gale and her possible rising attraction to Peeta. The interactions are perfectly handled in demonstrating the initial awkwardness between Katniss and Peeta at the start to the frightening hold of power seen through Capitol guards beating anyone who stands in their way or with Katniss. This power play switches a lot and gets moments of drama in not knowing who to trust as Katniss tries to pick alliances. The government itself is another holding ground for possible twists as a certain member may not be as Snow aligned as thought.
Everything from music through to costumes builds up this world, it may be over the top at times with gowns burning to shreds before being reborn as a Mockingjay but in amongst this heightened world of fashion and power, there is a genuine sense of believable ideas. Most aspects come together to rattle up tensions and story in a glorious and sometimes colorful tale of Katniss’ plight as an unexpected beacon of hope. James Newton Howard with his impressive back catalogue of scores masters a good soundtrack that compliments the moodier tones of this film, it goes hand in hand with the more assured feeling this film carries.
Jennifer Lawrence is as great as ever, using training and archery lessons to make you buy into Katniss, she possesses the physical strength to make her seem like a viable winner and she has the acting talent to spark the dialogue alive and her face alone as Jena Malone strips in the lift is priceless. Josh Hutcherson gets to be a little more interesting as he rubs against Katniss for a while and in his moments of speaking to districts or announcing a fake rumour he shows he has the chops to act opposite Lawrence. Elizabeth Banks is as zany and brilliant as ever, Woody Harrelson seems more beleaguered then before but is just as great in creating that bond between Haymitch and Katniss. Philip Seymour Hoffman is a superb addition to the cast in his sly looks and game controlling manner you never know where to stand with him. Also big thumbs up to Stanley Tucci who may not appear much but is always gold as the excitable and flamboyant Caesar Flickerman.
A sort of anti-climax weakens the dramatic rumble in the jungle arena sequences and some slow melodrama places are some stand out moments of negativity but on the whole it’s a more confident film with acting prowess, witty flashes of humour and spectacle in abundance.