Catching Fire Review

poster from the Lionsgate film Hunger Games 2 Catching Fire

With the exception of a couple of blips, I like the Hunger Games book series. One of the blips was the first person present tense narration, which was carried over into the film adaptation in the form of a lot of unnecessary and annoying close-up shaky-cam work. With director Gary Ross replaced by Francis Lawrence for the sequel, I hoped that Catching Fire might be an improvement over The Hunger Games.

A pair of traumatized teens are forced to compete in a second bout of televised gladiatorial combat after they become symbols of rebellion against the government.

I went into Catching Fire hoping for it to be a little better than The Hunger Games but I was surprised to find that it was a LOT better. They got rid of the confusing direction. They took more time to explore the dystopian aspects of the world. And best of all they didn’t shove the main character’s other (more suitable) love interest aside this time.

Unfortunately, if you haven’t seen The Hunger Games or at least read the book, you may not get as much out of Catching Fire as you should. They do run over the basics, but it’s pretty perfunctory. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is a bow hunter from the coal mining District 12. Her love interest was Gale (Liam Hemsworth) until her sister Prim (Willow Shields) was picked to compete in the yearly to-the-death game show put on by the Capitol to remind everyone who’s in charge.

President Snow from the Lionsgate film Hunger Games 2 Catching Fire

People of Panem! Lend me your children… so I can kill them.

Katniss volunteers, makes friends with kids from other districts instead of killing them, and pretends to fall in love with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) to force the Capitol to let both of them live at the end of the game. That’s what you need to know to start with, but you only get it in little snippets through conversations between Katniss and President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who hates her because her show of compassion for other competitors has made people realize that their real enemy is the government.

Katniss hugs Primrose from the Lionsgate film Hunger Games 2 Catching Fire

Though that really should have been obvious from the fact that the government
has been ripping children away from their families and killing them for 75 years.

President Snow threatens Katniss’ loved ones to get her to cooperate when she and Peeta go on a ‘victory tour’ of the districts. She purports to want to please the president and save her family, but she doesn’t really try very hard. Her robot speech-reading voice is enough to cause riots, but what else can you really expect when you send a pair of teens with PTSD to confront the families of the people they killed?

Katniss and Peeta on the victory tour from the Lionsgate film Hunger Games 2 Catching Fire

Dear District Whatever, sorry I shot your guy in the face, but in all fairness, he was a psychopath.

Clashes ensue and eventually the president decides that the only thing to do is to get Plutarch Havensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to design a new and better Hunger Games in which all the winners from previous years (most of whom have PTSD and/or substance abuse problems) are sent to wipe each other out, thereby eliminating all but one of them as symbols of rebellion.

President Snow plots with Plutarch Havensbee from the Lionsgate film Hunger Games 2 Catching Fire

Are you sure we can’t just dangle them above a pool of sharks with laser beams on their heads?

Thematically the action in the new Hunger Games is less about making the tributes kill each other than it is about sticking it to the government. The arena is loaded down with so many traps that the tributes don’t even really need to attack each other all that much, which is good because with the addition of Finnick (Sam Claflin), Mags (Lynn Cohen), Johanna (Jena Malone), Beetee (Jeffrey Wright) and Wiress (Amanda Plummer) to Team Katniss, there aren’t a lot of other people left to be the ‘bad guys.’

Finnick and Katniss from the Lionsgate film Hunger Games 2 Catching Fire

Get lost, Devil Monkeys! We found this dirty pond first!

By the time they even mention sending Katniss and Peeta into another Hunger Games, it’s 45 minutes into the movie. By the time they get around to actually showing it, we’re an hour into the movie. This should have been annoying, but it wasn’t. Why? Because this time the important parts of the story aren’t the ones taking place in the arena. It’s not just about survival in the face of impossible odds for one or two people, it’s about the survival of all the normal people in the districts in the face of a massive government campaign to squash all their hopes and dreams for the future.

Peacekeepers arrest Gale from the Lionsgate film Hunger Games 2 Catching Fire

We find you guilty of hopefulness. Your sentence is death.

Also, I like spending time outside of the arena, because inside the arena Katniss’ love interest is the wimpy, soft-hearted Peeta, whom she is pretending to be married to (and may actually be developing feelings for, but it’s hard to tell) in order to generate sympathy among the viewing public. He has his moments, but mostly he just needs to be rescued a lot, and I find him annoying.

Caesar interviews Peeta from the Lionsgate film Hunger Games 2 Catching Fire

Well, Caesar, my hobbies are hiding, whining, and being useless.

But outside in the real world, when nobody is watching, it’s Gale that Katniss gravitates toward. Gale’s tough, he’s brave, and he’s the kind of guy who will stick his neck out on the off chance that it’ll make things better for everyone else. To my mind, he’s the more suitable love interest, though circumstances seem to be conspiring to cut him out of Katniss’ life.

Gale kisses Katniss from the Lionsgate film Hunger Games 2 Catching Fire

Gale smoochies: automatically makes this movie better than the last one.

Catching Fire is the middle book in the trilogy – the Empire Strikes Back, if you will – which means it’s got to be darker. It’s hard to get darker tonally than a bunch of teenagers killing each other for food, so they’ve taken the odd step of making everything literally darker. Even brightly colored contestant coordinator Effie (Elizabeth Banks) and her party clothes are dark somehow. At times this makes the action is hard to follow, as it looks like the whole movie has been filmed through a filter made of coal dust.

Effie Trinket and Peeta at a party from the Lionsgate film Hunger Games 2 Catching Fire

Hey you guys, is it just me or is this the dreariest everything ever?

But that’s the only thing I could really think of to pick on about Catching Fire. The rest of it was great. I recommend that you go see it immediately, regardless of whether you’re in the target age group (teenagers) or you’re an adult. If you haven’t seen/read any Hunger Games yet, do start. This is some quality storytelling, people.

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