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THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (review)

hunger_games_catching_fireTHE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE
Written by Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt
Directed by Francis Lawrence 
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth and Phillip Seymour Hoffman
 

Katniss Everdeen: It must be very fragile if a handful of berries can bring it down.

Upon its release last year, THE HUNGER GAMES seemed to many like just another young adult craze taking the world by storm, but it is so much more than that. Many, however, saw the film as a kid-friendly version of, and less brutal telling of for that matter, BATTLE ROYALE, the Japanese movie about punishing bratty teenagers by pitting them against one another until they’re all dead. But it is more than that too. That story was about punishing the individual; those who did wrong had to fight to survive. THE HUNGER GAMES isn’t about punishing one person for their deeds; its tale is far worse, concerned with punishing entire communities for events that happened long ago by constantly reminding them that they are worthless blue-collar workers who should continually live in fear of their government. Its about classism and the sick, twisted way the higher society entertains itself through the suffering and degradation of the lower classes. CATCHING FIRE, the second instalment in the wildly popular series, isn’t so much about the struggle of these young people, like we saw in THE HUNGER GAMES, but more so how the actions of one young woman have turned her into a symbol for a potential revolution and a beacon of hope for a bright future no one ever imagined.

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Almost one year after winning The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen’s (Jennifer Lawrence) life is no better than it was before she volunteered herself to replace her younger sister in the under 18 death-match. Wrought with guilt, Katniss must deal with, and come to terms with, what she has done. Her televised romance with fellow District 12 tribute, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), has not only caused a riff in her relationship with longtime friend, Gale (Liam Hemsworth), but the lovelorn Peeta actually thought that their romance was more than just for show. And now, to add fire to the flame, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has the two young “lovers” parading around each District in order to convince the communities that their love is in fact genuine, and thus extinguish any possible uprising that may be brewing. Like any teenager with a head on their shoulders though, they of course won’t allow themselves to be made into government puppets. Meanwhile, there is something else escalating within the Capitol and the Districts. People are beginning to show defiance towards the appointed authority and Katniss must somehow be made an example of because the way she played the games seems to have stirred something in the people. They are changing; they are beginning to feel a renewed sense of promise and this gives the Capitol reason for concern, especially when the President sees his own granddaughter sporting a hairstyle in the same fashion as Katniss. Conveniently, it is now the 75th year of The Hunger Games and time to host its third quarterly massacre which brings back victors from previous games (this time, all adults) to fight it out.

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Director Francis Lawrence, who takes over for Gary Ross, isn’t afraid to tell a dark story, and considering his previous ventures, I AM LEGEND, CONSTANTINE and even WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, the source material for CATCHING FIRE, written by Suzanne Collins, is right up his alley. The second film in the teenage geared franchise feels much more grown-up, even though it is still aimed towards a younger crowd. There are moments in CATCHING FIRE that feel as though they were taken right from today’s news captions from around the world. Not to say that the dystopian vision in the first film didn’t have an odd tinge of realism to it, but the second film makes sure its audience knows that this world is not so far removed from our own. Crowds in the Districts show signs of protest by raising one arm in the air and standing silently before armed guards. And anyone who has participated in any worthy protest knows just what happens when people begin to question authority, no matter how silently or peacefully the demonstration is.

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The violence is believable in CATCHING FIRE, which will probably resonate with audience members, but luckily there is still the backdrop of the outrageous Capitol with its over the top fashion and bourgeois mentality to distract from the real life issues. Discussing the issues at hand, rather than showing them, is both the strength and weakness of this second instalment. The majority of the film is used as set up for scenes to follow later, as well as for character and plot development, which is fascinating by its own right, but may come across as dull for those looking for action. As Peeta and Katniss tour the Districts and are paraded around the Capitol, we see the scheming and plotting behind the scenes by President Snow and Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), who are of course the masterminds of these latest games. When the action does eventually get underway though, it is, among other things, as satisfying as most any action film on the big screen today, which is to say it’s full of blood and explosions. Even though raining blood is typically reserved for horror movies of the non-young adult variety, it nevertheless finds its place in CATCHING FIRE, even if it isn’t seen on screen. As unexpected as some of the violence is, which some may see as excessive or just not appropriate for its target audience, it is never gratuitous, even when seeing an old man get shot in the head. It is sad however, and fans of the franchise will probably be wiping away a few tears throughout the film.

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The two and a half hour runtime goes by much quicker than I had expected, and to be frank, I didn’t think I was going to enjoy CATCHING FIRE as much as I did THE HUNGER GAMES. But, with the way that teen novels are being adapted in this post-Harry Potter world of ours, it really should come as no surprise that this film really is that strong a film. While I won’t be rushing out to buy the book to know what happens next, I will eagerly be awaiting the third and fourth instalments (yes, they are dividing the last story into two parts) of the series. CATCHING FIRE is great entertainment for what it is, and it certainly tells a more important story than most teen geared movies do these days, one about a world being controlled by fear, where the mere act of defiance is interpreted as treason. If anything, this series is actually teaching a younger generation to question authority and to stand up for what they believe in. And I’m pretty sure that audiences young and old will stand up for Katniss and for CATCHING FIRE.

4.5

Your turn!

How many sheep would you give The Hunger Games: Catching Fire?

3 Comments

  1. Great review. Was initially on the fence about seeing this one right away, but you’ve convinced me!

  2. Awesome review! Cannot wait to see this one now after all these stellar reviews.

  3. Great review, Nick! I agree that the film did a very good job of conveying the gravitas of the political situation and that they were more blatant about drawing comparisons between this fantasy world and our own. I didn’t enjoy Catching Fire as much as the first film but it is certainly worth seeing and a cut above most of the other YA and blockbuster offerings that have come out this year. I found the film a bit awkward structurally but it is the middle portion of a larger story so that was bound to happen. And the entire cast really grew into their characters so I’m very excited to see where they take them in Mocking Jay parts 1 & 2.

    Oh, and one last thing, #TeamPeeta!

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