Watch Hunger Games 2 Online ebt to Kinji Fukasaku's controversial Japanese hit Battle Royale (and Koushun Takami's source novel), this second instalment leans more towards the themes of Norman Jewison's dystopian 70s offering Rollerball. In Jewison's bleak morality tale (expanded by screenwriter William Harrison from his short story Roller Ball Murder), a lethal game dreamed up by corporate leaders to pacify the people runs into trouble when a hero accidentally emerges from its ranks. hunger games Woody Harrelson, Josh Hutcherson and Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Photograph: Allstar/LIONSGATE/Sportsphoto Ltd./Allstar
This theme is clearly echoed in Catching Fire, which concentrates less on the horror of kids killing kids (the returning contestants are necessarily older than before) than on the Games' true purpose as an anaesthetising spectator sport. Within this paradigm, Katniss presents a problem; a global icon whose (Grimm) fairytale victory has allowed her to transcend the all-powerful arena. As John Houseman's sinister executive Bartholomew explains in Rollerball: "The game was created to demonstrate the futility of individual effort… If a champion defeats the meaning for which the game was designed, then they must lose."
There's a lot of Bartholomew in President Snow (and more than a smidge of Rollerball's Jonathan E in Katniss E), with Donald Sutherland relishing the role of an ageing autocrat whose benign manner hides a murderous resolve. The extravagantly coiffed couture of Catching Fire's super rich similarly acknowledges the future-retro chic of Rollerball's executive revellers, although this time Elizabeth Banks starts to crawl out from under Effie Trinket's wig to express something approaching sisterly resolve.
As for Woody Harrelson, as the hour of orchestrated carnage approaches, you half expect him to start shouting: "Game?! This was never meant to be a game!" Upping the dramatic ante is franchise newcomer Philip Seymour Hoffman's uncharacteristically dressed-down games designer, the technical wizard behind the human suffering whose sinister conversations with Sutherland give clear voice to the story's most radical elements. And there's Stanley Tucci and his terrifying false teeth, presenting a ghoulishly satirical grin while biting anew into the sickly flesh of deadly game show presentation.
Somewhere in the background of all this popcorn agitprop there's a nominal obligatory "love triangle", which initially helped sell The Hunger Games to the Twihard crowd. Forced to maintain the illusion of romance with dreary Peeta (square-jawed Josh Hutcherson) but actually devoted to smouldering-but-inert Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Katniss simply accepts that the problems of three people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, leaving the boys to do the angsty moping while she gets on with the more important task of saving her community.
This is significant not only because it inverts more conservative gender roles, but also because it makes clear that the story isn't about love (at least not for the moment) but war. "Would you like to be in a real war?" Snow asks Everdeen with bristling malignance as he orders her to maintain the pretence of love that has won the hearts of the public. Her terse reply is typically dispassionate: "What do I need to do?"
Whether the series can maintain the necessary narrative momentum for another two movies (the final book, Mockingjay, has inevitably been split into two parts) remains to be seen. There's already an element of repetition evident in the overly lengthy Catching Fire, and although new incumbent Francis Lawrence has proved himself an efficient director, one cannot help but wonder whether Gary Ross bailed out partly because he didn't want to repeat himself.
Nor will co-writer Simon Beaufoy (whose credits include The Full Monty and Slumdog Millionaire) be returning for Mockingjay, with Danny Strong taking over script duties after wrestling the true-life tale of Eugene Allen into the fanciful fiction of The Butler. Yet with a star turn as commanding and imposing as Jennifer Lawrence front and centre, it may yet transpire that every element of the franchise is interchangeable except her. Like Katniss, Lawrence has become bigger than the Games themselves, something that makes her very powerful, very dangerous and rather inspirational. That in itself is a victory worth cheering.