HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE
STARRING: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh
Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci
2013, 146 Minutes, Directed by:
who have enjoyed The Hunger Games books and/or
the first movie will find Catching Fire a satisfying return to this
world. In many ways it’s a better film. It keeps the strengths of the first film
– the brilliant casting, the striking art direction – and does a much better job
telling the story. As a film based on a middle book in a trilogy you need to
know what came before and you need to understand that it will be not resolved at
Without giving too much away,
Catching Fire is a con game or a bit of sleight of hand. Viewers will do
well not to pay too much attention to the plot and instead focus on Katniss
(Jennifer Lawrence). What she sees and her reactions to them is the real point
of the story. The movie picks up where the last one left off. Katniss and Peeta
(Josh Hutcherson), having won the 74th annual Hunger Games, are now expected to
tour the various districts, playing the roles set for them by the dictatorial
President Snow (Donald Sutherland).
However Katniss, who saved
herself and Peeta by threatening suicide if they didn’t both win, has become a
symbol of defiance. Worse, in Snow’s eyes, she’s become a symbol of hope. Snow
believes she must be destroyed and the new Game Master (Philip Seymour Hoffman)
has just the thing: the 75th Hunger Games will be a special edition consisting
of past champions. Of necessity the movie spends time recapitulating the
pre-game ceremonies and the game itself, but those wanting to see more spectacle
or more violence (many of the deaths occur off-screen) are missing the point.
They are like the decadent denizens of Capitol City – the 1%, if you will –
whose lives of luxury and indolence are built on the suffering of everyone else.
"In many ways it's a better film than the first one."
As with the first film, the
performances are strong. Lawrence manages to convey both ferocity and insecurity
as Katniss, try to make sense of and survive in a world she can’t control. (On
one level the series is a metaphor for adolescence, which explains the
phenomenal appeal of the YA novels.) Stanley Tucci steals every scene he’s in as
the over-the-top TV host Caesar Flickerman, while Elizabeth Banks manages to
convey that Effie – who chaperones Katniss and Peeta – has a human heart beneath
the outrageous clothes and makeup. Credit also goes to Woody Harrelson’s
Haymitch, an elder champion who mentors Katniss whenever he sobers up. He
underplays the role befitting someone who has not bought into the mythology
pushed by the central government. New cast members including Hoffman, and Amanda
Plummer and Jeffrey Wright as two of the past champions. She’s crazy and he’s an
eccentric inventor who get nicknamed Nuts and Volts.
Rather than focusing on the
brutality of the games this time we get much more of the brutality of the
regime, from the execution of a man for a simple act of defiance to the public
whipping of Gale (Liam Hemsworth), the other young man in Katniss’s life. For
the viewer, as for the reader, we are trapped in Katniss’s point of view. Unable
to do anything about Snow’s threats and violence, she focuses on surviving and
protecting those who are important to her, like her mother and sister. It is in
the third book, Mockingjay, that she dramatically decides to stop being
the pawn of others and take control of her own destiny.
The success of Catching Fire
makes one hopeful they will get Mockingjay right, except they’ve already
made one bad choice: it’s going to be made in two movies. This was done with the
last Harry Potter adaptation and it was appropriate there because
Harry Potter and the Deathly
Hallows was a sprawling book that needed two films. Since then it was done
with Twilight series and
currently with the bloated rendering of The Hobbit.
So here’s a plea to Lionsgate:
congratulations on getting Catching Fire right. Now do the right thing
and do Mockingjay as a single film. The only people who agree that making
two films is a good idea are the residents of Capitol City.
Daniel M. Kimmel is a
veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His recently
released his first novel, Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood
and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.
Watch trailer / clip: