The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

Trilogies. They’re always interesting concepts; sometimes they work (Star Wars), sometimes they fail (The Hangover). Often, the success of these franchises hinges heavily on how compelling the second instalment is. It’s got to glue together the “intro” put down in the first film, but also leave it hanging at the end in order to get you to come back for the final film. See, Star Wars, although not my favourite series of films, did this well. Arguably, The Empire Strikes Back was the best of the three films as it ended on a fantastic cliff-hanger that left audiences walking out saying “What? They can’t end it like that? This is bull****!” – this is the PERFECT response that’ll sucker you back in for the ending. So, how does the middle of The Hunger Games trilogy fare…?

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

The Hunger Games franchise has picked up a lot of steam over time. The original Hunger Games was a success… a big success. Obviously, it fed off the fandom generated by the set of books, but it also pulled in others that hadn’t read the books (The Phage included). Although at Film Phage, we thought that The Hunger Games was essentially a new version of the Japanese classic, Battle Royale. It was fun, but it wasn’t mind-blowing. If we’re honest, we weren’t that phased by the thought of the second instalment… but we were pleasantly surprised.

Obviously, a lot has changed since the first and Catching Fire. Notably the fact that the star, Jennifer Lawrence, has seen her star rise higher and higher thanks to… you know… that little Oscar she got for Silver Linings Playbook. Now people really care about her. No more crappy roles in films like The House at the End of the Street. Hopefully…

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

Anyway, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire picks up where the original left off… Katniss (Lawrence) has won The Hunger Games (a fight to the death to keep her home town alive and thriving) along with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), after they faked their love so that there could be two winners. Now they must continue this premise on the orders of President Snow (Donald Sutherland). But there’s something stirring… a revolution. And Katniss finds herself at the centre of it all as the unintended figurehead thanks to that damn badge of a bird she has!

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is a fun ride. As I’ve attested, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the original so I didn’t bother to re-watch it in preparation. The film makes no apologies for this, and doesn’t really remind you of what went on before. This can be a bit jarring as you quickly try to recall what was going on. It doesn’t provide a quick little recap like Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 did… this is a shame, but I could soon piece together what happened. The film then riots along at a fair old pace. I must say that not knowing the books’ plots makes these films far more enjoyable as I don’t know what twists and turns lie ahead. This is kind of the point of films, so being a fully-fledged fan of the book may not help you.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

I also hear that the book is much more graphic in its depiction of violence than this film. That’d be owing to the PG-13 / 12A rating that THG:CF has picked up. This is neglected somewhat here. It’s not an overly violent film. Sure, people get killed (in a goreless way) and there are some disgusting looking boils on people’s skin, but it’s not a shocker. This isn’t a reason to slight the film though; not in my eyes.

The strength of the film lies in the plotting. Sure, the casting is good and everyone delivers on what you’d expect, but for me the film isn’t there. As I said at the outset, the success of a second instalment rests on it being glue. And Catching Fire IS the glue in this franchise. It develops the plot an absolute ton, sucks you in, then leaves you begging for more at the eleventh hour. I heard a lot of people complaining about the ending, and that was fantastic. They weren’t complaining because the ending was bad… it wasn’t… but it sure does end on a “what the hell?” note. Yes… Han Solo is in carbonite…

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire continues to develop this ridiculously successful franchise. Whilst I found the first outing to be somewhat derivative, this second dose of Katniss and friends (and enemies) sated my appetite and in fact got me excited again. I’m now looking forward to 2014’s next entry: Mockingjay. Let’s hope it can keep up the pace and action. I can already see where the plot’s heading, but I’m hoping I’ll be surprised with developments…

Although saying that, my excitement is tempered somewhat by the sad fact that (Part 1) is attached to the end of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay. Just like Twilight and Harry Potter, Hollywood can’t help but extend a series by splitting the final book into two… Star Wars this ain’t… or maybe it is… considering we now have parts I, II, III and VII on the way. Only time will tell whether this pays off, or whether audience fatigue will have set in by the time we see The Hunger Games‘ trilogy (or quadrilogy) wrap up.

Phage Factor:

4 Star

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The Dark Knight Rises… and Soars.

No-one can question the monstrous popularity of Chris Nolan‘s take on the wealthy guy with the gruff voice, cape and penchant for telling women his secret identity. So with the final entry in Nolan’s trilogy rolling into town, can the film live up to its hype to surpass the success of its predecessors and the other tentpole superhero movies of the summer?

Let’s just skip the formalities and foreplay and bare all – this is a stunning film and a fitting climax for the current iteration of “The Batman”. Without explaining anything substantial about the plot, this essentially picks up the story some years after the events of The Dark Knight and follows Bruce Wayne / Batman (Christian Bale) as he contends with Bane (Tom Hardy) – the new bad boy on the scene, who’s got a number of plans for the city of Gotham. That’s all I’m going to say about the plot, so safely read on…

Casting was once again spot on. Just as with Heath Ledger‘s casting announcement in The Dark Knight, Anne Hathaway‘s selection as Catwoman was a bit peculiar for some, myself included. But it worked. It really worked. But for me, it’s the role of Bane that held the movie together, with Tom Hardy proving a great choice.  His role in last year’s criminally overlooked Warrior showed his physical capabilities and he’s clearly trained hard to achieve the juggernaut-esque build of Bane, much like he did with Bronson. Thankfully the ‘roid raging, grunting imbecile in a luciador’s mask from 1997’s Batman & Robin is no-where to be seen; this one is far smarter, more devious and more sinister. Kudos to Nolan and his wardrobe team as the costumes, especially Hardy‘s, just worked so well. The only real under-used element is actually Bale himself for reasons that will become apparent when you watch the film. For a guy with such fantastic acting skills (The Machinist, The Fighter) it’s a shame, but that’s the nature of the beast that is Batman. A further honourable mention has to go to Joseph Gordon-Levitt who continues his run of form from Inception and 50/50 and really rounds out the lead cast despite his lack of cowl, mask or “I’m in disguise”-voice.

Batman and Bane tussle over which is more fashionable: cowl with ears or ventilator.

Sure, the film had its flaws and plot-holes, such as a teleporting Bruce Wayne and a seemingly unclimbable rope (like the one from your gym class when you were 12), but it’s called the ‘suspension of disbelief’. Maybe it’s a compliment to Nolan‘s world that we pick up on these inconsistencies as you almost forget that this is a comic book tale. It’s not a documentary, don’t treat it like one – the guy’s dressed as a bat gallivanting around New York (Gotham) afterall…

People will inevitably ask “Ok Phage, who is the better villain? Ledger‘s Joker or Hardy‘s Bane?” and “Oi, Phage, which is the better comic book movie of the summer? Avengers Assemble or The Dark Knight Rises?” And if you weren’t, you probably are now. Or you’re at least mildly curious. Well, I’ll ask you – what do you prefer: breathing or eating? Unless you have a grudge against staying alive, you’ll say both because they’re things you can’t choose between or compare, and the same is true here. The two villains are stylistically and ideologically distinct and both Ledger and Hardy do those characters real justice. You’ve also got to take into account that Hardy’s Bane wears a huge piece of breathing apparatus on his face – you’re not going to get nuanced facial ticks – it’s all based off of physical presence, dialogue and manner of delivery (I truly loved the King of the Gypsies-inspired accent). Similarly, Marvel and DC’s summer blockbusters are worlds apart in tone, with Avengers Assemble arguably sticking more to the ‘comic book’ template than Nolan‘s grounded take on the Bat. Both are great examples of adapting comics for the silver screen.

Attentions will now turn to Nolan‘s next turn at being (partially) involved with a superhero: Man of Steel, due in June 2013 (check out the trailer here). Will lightning strike twice and it now be the turn of Superman to get his moment in the sun? Or will Zack Snyder oversaturate the screen, add some little skirts and put the whole film in slow-mo? Time will tell. Until then, we have the hero we need right now up on our screens.

Nolan‘s Batman began, became a knight and has risen to unassailable heights at the cinema, but you can’t help but have mixed feelings about his final entry in the Batman franchise. On one hand it’s a fantastic slice of cinema and is what summers were made for, but on the other… what can we next expect from the world of Batman, which the public has clearly taken to heart? Hopefully Warner make some good decisions before we see the inevitable reboot in 5 years time.

And in a summer choc-full of superhero shenanigans, people will argue over which was the “hit” of the year, regardless of box office figures. Ultimately, the only winner is the general public getting two great, must-see movies in a summer (and Spider-Man…); unless you’re a Marvel (Avengers etc) or DC (Batman etc) fan-boy then you’ll blindly argue that ‘your’ film was best and the other was ‘bloated and predictable’… A bit like your comments.

Enjoy the comic book adaptation Golden Age!

Phage Factor:

5 Star