Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Following their victory in the Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta embark on an emotionally draining victory tour throughout the districts, trying to keep up appearances while appeasing the government. As the spirit of rebellion stirs in the populace however, a twist in the games, led by a new overseer, sends the pair back into the arena to face off against past victors in order to show their weakness.
Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson reprise their roles are our heroic star-crossed lovers, as do Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks as their mentors. Donald Sutherland gets more face time as the mendacious President, as does Liam Hemsworth as Katniss’ hopeful lover. Jeffrey Wright, Jena Malone, and Sam Claflin are introduced as former games’ winners.
A year and a half has passed since the last time we saw Katniss on the big screen – and barely a year has passed in her own world of impoverished districts, totalitarian states, and haunting flashbacks. So naturally (and thankfully) the characters have matured and have a better sense of the world.
Certainly the first installment (of four) was harrowing – they were fighting for their lives after all – but the sense of something bigger, something more important was lacking. This sure to be incredibly successful franchise is moving towards less superficial meaning as its two heroes face political oppression and consequences for insubordination.
It is on a grander scale, with more characters and, depending on whether or not you read the book, more uncertainty. Katniss and Peeta are forced to deal with a very real and malicious threat of an oppressive government, as President Snow (a figure who is President it would seem in the same ways that Kim Jong Un is ‘President,’) wants to the pair to be less inspirational and more elite.
Inspiring a watchful audience with love and resiliency, the two became close during the previous year’s violent event and ended up prevailing when both were ready to end their lives.
So the story and tone is naturally a little bit darker, as Katniss is haunted by events past and present, dealing with the death she was forced to inflict while also watching as a government violently crushes any signs of rebellion in an impoverished populace. The tour might be the best-edited and constructed pieces of the film, and it may remind viewers of the lack of a potent musical score in the first film.
The contrast between the gray, chilly districts against the lavish, colourful capitol city is handled much more smoothly by new director Francis Lawrence, who usurps the inaugural installment by avoiding some of the more cartoonish and childlike missteps of the first, more hesitant film in the series. Simply by spending more time in the districts, you actually start to feel for the people, especially during a troubling scene where government soldiers beset District 12, wreaking havoc and conducting a brutal public flogging. It may not be completely gut-wrenching, but it will keep you nicely stirred.
He does well in crafting a second half of this second film that is precariously similar to the first. After President Snow, who by the looks of his ornate pink palace moonlights as Priscilla, Queen of the Districts, manipulates the rules alongside new game master Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), we are lead down a very familiar path.
There is a reaping, more somber due to the predictability of the outcome, with the same results from the prior year; a training session where we size up the competitors; and the America Idol-type celebration with interviews done by an only slightly tampered yet still orange-skinned and white-toothed Stanley Tucci. Lawrence wisely removes this character from much of the rest of the film, instead keeping tension and intrigue high in the arena, forgoing the sort of frivolity and melodrama that muddled the first.
Peeta and mentors Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), Effie (Elizabeth Banks), and Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), and even Katniss’ would be lover Gale (Liam Hemsworth), all carry themselves with a slightly wiser air, with Harrelson and Banks once again bring plenty of welcome humour. Even though Harrelson is forced to utter the eye-rolling line, ‘Forget everything you think you know about the Games,’ (actually, don’t Katniss, it’s still really deadly), everyone realizes they are a part of something bigger.
Well, except for Katniss. She ponders running away, she is stubborn, and she is the one who always has to be told what to do or what is going on. So while Jennifer Lawrence is still a captivating sight as the Everdeen heroine, it’s her character, which, at the moment, is the least interesting of them all.
When the second half of the film takes off, it’s far more entertaining to watch the cocky Adonis that is Finnick, the trident-wielding tribute who may or may not be an ally, and Johanna, the maniacal killer who carries an axe and a hatred of the government.
The franchise is certainly heading in the right direction, with each and every cast member transforming wonderfully into their character, elaborate costume or not, but there is a sense that just as this second film has outdone the first, the next one will be better than this.
It is all a whirlwind, though, refusing to give you time to think about some of the more ridiculous comments or (the oh-so many) plot conveniences (thank goodness water washes off all those ugly boils from such an attractive cast). But why bother reflecting on those distractions in what is such an enjoyable experience? There is no time to look back, even if it’s silly, especially when the ending, albeit poorly-paced, will have you rabid for the next film.
Should You See It?
Well yeah, everyone else is. And do it right away – because, again, everyone else is.