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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

I’m not a big Hunger Games fan. Is it because I’m a cynical adult male? Hopefully not. I liked the first book, never read the others, and enjoyed the first movie though I’d be lying if I said it was on my mind ten minutes after seeing it. Though I do remember being caught up in the hype of the first film and didn’t immediately turn to every social media outlet available to complain about the “changes” made after seeing it.

It’s hard for me to not be drawn to films when they become such phenomenons. This is why I bought a matinee ticket to Catching Fire. My only problem with the second chapter of this arrow-slinging heroine’s saga was I already felt fulfilled after the first film. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) rose to the challenge, took out some tots, and everything was A-OK. What I didn’t realize was how much deeper this world went.

I got too caught up in the familiar sci-fi territory of “Big Brother vs. the Bourgeoisie.” Therefore I overlooked Suzanne Collins and her excellent grasp of structure and storytelling techniques. This means the story behind Catching Fire aren’t merely the table scraps of a good concept. I might even go as far as saying I was rooting harder for Katniss and Co. in this latest installment.

The story, as to the understanding of someone well past the age demographic, picks up after Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) have returned home to the slummy District 12 after winning the Hunger Games under the platform that they are in love. Continuing the charade, much to the chagrin of Katniss and her teen beat centerfold friend Gale (Chris Hemsworth), Peeta and Katniss go on a glitzy publicity tour to speak of their heroic victory, undying love, and to memorialize all those who lost their lives in the games.

Much to her surprise, Katniss becomes a symbol of hope among the Districts of Panem which in turn grinds the gears of President Snow (Donald Sutherland). In an effort to shift public opinion of Katniss, the President announces Panem’s third Quarter Quell, a 75th anniversary all-star version of the Hunger Games featuring previous winners from each district. Hoping to use this as a ploy to turn people against her, Katniss and Peeta once again must struggle for survival.

It’s a lot of ground to cover and I can already feel myself short of breath. Though I will add that the Hunger Games competition this time around is made unique by the tropical locale being run like a giant ticking clock. This means that certain sections at certain times are subjected to an array of terrifying threats including; killer smog, killer baboons, and other stuff of a killing nature. New additions to the cast add a few more welcomed twists and turns, most notably Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee. Don’t let his his word jumble of a name fool you, he’s a clever game maker with far more clever intentions.

Before I faint from details, I’ll leap to my immediate reaction. Catching Fire like its predecessor is exciting and humorous even against a sinister backdrop. The twists and turns are well crafted and the characters are worth following. That’s not to say these films are perfect. Like most modern blockbusters they are far too long. I understand that the filmmakers want to do justice to the source material, but in trying to encompass so much they sacrifice the rhythm of storytelling. Getting from point A to point B in any of these movies feels like running a marathon. Not to mention some of the gears that do move the film forward can feel a bit rusty. These films are often guilty of delivering not-so-subtle strings of dialogue (particularly Katniss) that act as thinly veiled foreshadowing.

The fact that this is now a powerhouse franchise that will see its third installment split into two parts doesn’t send me through the roof. Still, if Hollywood had to turn something into a money grubbing franchise I’m glad they went with this. The Hunger Games may not be the freshest franchise in regards to its ideas (see the Japanese film/book Battle Royale and/or read the 1979 Stephen King novel The Long Walk to see what I’m talking about) but at its heart it is careful storytelling with carefully developed characters. That is far more to carry a franchise than most of the other flash in the pan Hollywood flicks of the today.

  1. You picked up on how loyal these movies are to the books, and I kind of wish they weren’t. Katniss spends a lot of the book unsure if Snow is watching, terrified of what he’s thinking. So the movie cuts to Donald Sutherland wringing his hands and talking about how much he hates Jennifer Lawrence periodically, because, while it’s not bound by a first-person narrative, it still wants to stick to the book. But wouldn’t it have been more compelling to watch the president do some evil shit to unrelated people? I feel like a lot of his menace is dulled by this movie.

  2. While I didn’t like this one as much as the first, it still works well in its own way and ultimately has me excited for what’s next to come with this world, as well as the characters that inhabit it. Good review John.

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