The Hunger Games: Catching Fire ★★1/2
By Aaron Lewis
We’ve seen the same tropes of dystopian society over and over again, yet somehow Catching Fire remains an entertaining two and a half hour butt-"numb-er". The frenzy and merchandise surrounding this new film is astounding. You needn’t see the first one to understand what’s going on in this story—yet another nod to the brilliance of this giant marketing scheme. “Oh, but it’s so much more than entertainment,” cry the naysayers of my review! “It’s a social commentary!” Am I impressed?
What makes this film distinctly more interesting than its predecessor is the emotional and moral weight seen explicitly on Katniss Everdeen’s (Jennifer Lawrence) face in the opening shot of the movie. The film also benefits from a new director, Francis Lawrence. Francis Lawrence adds an emotional depth and drapes the opening scenes in dreary gray and black. He rightly takes his time to explore the characters’ internality before transporting us into the violent arena where the 75th annual Hunger Games Quarter Quell will take place. The Quarter Quell, occurring every 25 years, marks the anniversary of the Capitol’s victory against the rebellion. There is special celebration and the games utilize a unique twist. And boy, are there twists!
The story begins with Katniss and Peeta Mellark’s (Josh Hutcherson) victory tour of Panem’s Districts. They offer their sympathetic eulogies to each District’s fallen tributes, but soon learn to only open their mouth to promote the Capitol’s ideals. While on tour we begin to see each District’s murmurings of uprising as they have come to see Katniss as a symbol of hope. President Snow, played by the wonderful Donald Southerland, (Have you noticed the size of his head?) means to wipe out this idea of hope that could cause his entire totalitarian system to collapse. “It’s a fragile system,” says the new game designer, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Heavensbee advises Snow to up the ante and “double the executions and floggings—broadcast them live”. Anything to destroy the idea of hope Katniss is bringing to unify the Districts. To snuff her out, this year’s games will involve previous victors from prior Hunger Games. Yet again we are thrown into the action of a claustrophobic and lush jungle-arena to watch a brawl for survival.
Jennifer Lawrence carries this movie. Gracefully she shows the fragility and strength of her internal choices. She is a strong female character who is not degraded to the role of a mere sex object. More than that, she is a strong character. Here we have a young hero, who because of her selfless sacrifice of volunteering in the place of her sister has found herself against all odds for survival. Now she is thrust once more into this tyrannous arena, not only worrying about survival, but also caring more for the survival of Peeta and her mother and sister who reside back in the poverty-stricken District 12. She also struggles with embracing the persona of a symbol of hope. Seeing this ambivalence about not wanting to be a hero is refreshing to watch. In one shot Lawrence’s face fills the frame; we see the fragile Katniss transition from despair into fierce determinism.
While the film sucks you in, it is rather long. Some elements do seem rather heavy handed. Gee thanks, I really needed to hear Peeta tell me something along the lines of, "They have drinks to make themselves sick so they can eat more while people in the Districts are starving." If only it worked more as a stand-alone film, but alas, it is constrained by the structure of its episodic nature. I left the first Hunger Games indifferent to seeing the next installments, but I left this one knowing that I will shell out the cash for the inevitable two-part moneymaking scheme of the third installment.