Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Hunger Games Catching Fire

Picking up soon after the 74th Hunger Games in which Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) were victorious. The two set out to visit each district and pay homage to the fallen contenders from their competition in a bizarrely required victory lap. Katniss is told that she must do this to quell the brewing rebellion that is taking place or the ones she loves will suffer the consequences.

As Katniss and Peeta make their victory tour we get glimpses of events of the past. Characters such as Rue and Thresh make simulated appearances that help to tie the movie nicely back to the original. The desolate nature of the districts is highlighted strongly for the first 2/3rds of the film. Dancing between the starving peasants of the districts and their counterparts in the capitol allows for a clear division to be drawn between the haves and the have nots. There is one such scene where the notion of Roman style vomitoriums are even used so the residents of the capitol can extend their gluttony. The movie does a fantastic job of establishing the hardship of district living and what Katniss and Peeta comes from. Frankly, this was nice to see considering the exploration of the districts was fairly minimal in this first movie.

When President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland) decides that the impending rebellion must be stamped out in its earliest form he sets out to use Katniss as the means by which to do so. Snow takes the counsel of a new Games maker, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Heavensbee advices Snow to ramp up beatings and executions in all the districts while simultaneously increase coverage of Katniss and Peeta supposed love life. Heavensbee’s plan is to bombard the district folks until they outright hate Katniss. Snow agrees and the public torture garners a massive increase. One such victim of these beatings is Katniss's true love,  Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth). This event pushes Katniss and Peeta into the already murky grounds of the rebellion. Soon after, the announcement of the 75th Games commences. Due to the nature of a special Hunger Games every 25 years, called a Quarter Quell, President Snow decides to make the competitors all be drawn from the pool of existing past victors.

This announcements guarantees Katniss’s involvement, as she is the only female living victor from District 12. Once all the past victors are chosen we are whisked away to the training facility for the 75th Games. Put up against trained killers proves that the stakes are even higher this time around. Unlike the previous Games, Katniss will be battling mostly adults, an interesting swap from the kids vs. kids motif of the first movie. The last third of the movie is the games and they don’t disappoint. A far greater experience than the first Games. Here we don’t have to suffer from extremely close shot action sequences to keep the PG-13 rating. Rather the subtle art of implication works better. No gruesome deaths here, but the few that happen on screen are vivid, but not graphic. The difficulty here is to not simply remake the Game scene from before but make it fresh. Director Francis Lawrence does well to make you care about what comes next. Stirring the ship into familiar waters can be a nightmare for a director and fears of redundancy can be hard to navigate. However, I felt the Games take on a new sense of meaning and urgency. New allies, enemies, and environmental elements made the Games feel like it was controlled by a new person. The Games maker changes from the first movie to this one, and so does the film’s director. Somehow those factors make for a fuller experience. The movie ends on a cliffhanger and I can’t wait to see where the series goes after this. Both Francis and Jennifer Lawrence do a great job making me care about the universe and characters within it.

Jennifer Lawrence is superb as Katniss Everdeen. Coming off an Oscar win you can see the level of maturity in Lawrence since last playing the character. She plays the role with such nuance. Katniss is fearful, scared, and reluctant but you slowly and logically see her growing as a fearless leader for the coming rebellion. Much like the character of Harry Potter she is growing with her audience. Demanding they face their fears alongside her. The tale of a young adult woman put in a place of death, social division, and sociopaths and yet rises to the occasion is a sight to see. One of the best written female action characters of all time. She has a complicated love life, but it doesn’t consume her. She never plays to damsel in distress, even when she is in distress. Katniss is a proper female hero for this generation, and I can’t wait to see her go further.

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