Directed by Francis Lawrence
“We star-crossed lovers of District 12, who suffered so much and enjoyed so little the rewards of our victory, do not seek our fans’ favor, grace them with our smiles, or catch their kisses. We are unforgiving. And I love it. Getting to be myself at last.”
In the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Melark from District 12 pulled off a historic stunt; by playing up a star-crossed lovers romance in front of the cameras, for the first time ever, two victors were allowed to win the Games. But this victory has not come without a heavy price. Katniss’ suggestion of a double suicide was interpreted as an act of love in the Capitol, but in the Districts, it was recognized as an act of defiance. Now, as they embark on the Victory Tour through the Districts, meeting the families of the Tributes they killed, Katniss must try to convince the Districts, and President Snow himself, that she is truly in love with Peeta, and quell the unrest in the Districts with her act. But the things she sees in the other Districts cause her to seriously question whether rebellion would be such a bad thing after all. The already impossible task of placating the Districts is made more difficult by the fact that Katniss and Peeta have barely spoken to one another since he realized that she wasn’t really in love with him. And for all that the romance with Peeta was an act for the cameras in the arena, it has irrevocably altered Katniss’ relationship with Gale as well. Katniss’ only thought is to keep herself and her family safe, but she must also contend with the fallout of her choices in the Games, and her own confused feelings.
If, like my husband, you were expecting the rebellion to really get underway in Catching Fire, you may find yourself a bit disappointed; this middle movie is about stirring the pot, and bringing Panem to a boil. Desperate to eliminate Katniss as a symbol of defiance for the Districts, President Snow announces an extra-special 75th Hunger Games—a Quarter Quell, which reaps the Tributes from the existing pool of Victors. As the only female Victor from District 12, Katniss is inevitably going back into the arena, and the only question is whether Peeta or Haymitch will go in with her. Despite being a set up for the grand finale in Mockingjay, and revisiting the premise of The Hunger Games, Catching Fire is engaging and gripping. It is only regrettable that they weren’t able to find the screen time to give District 13 the bit of set up it receives in the book. Undoubtedly there will be plenty of time to lay it out in the two-part Mockingjay, but for those who haven’t read the books, District 13 might seem to have come out of nowhere.
Given that the The Hunger Games series is narrated in the first person from Katniss’ POV, the movies have a lot of work to do to convey the nuances of the story that were explained in her internal monologue. Jennifer Lawrence has to do a lot of wordless emoting, which fortunately is something she is very good at. From the serious scenes, such as staring her defiance at Snow from the chariot, to the more humourous, like making faces behind Johanna’s back as she strips off in the elevator, Lawrence is able to give us a lot of Katniss’ thoughts through her body language. Whereas the abrupt ending of the book concludes with a line of dialogue from Gale, and no reaction from Katniss, the film ends on Lawrence’s face as she processes the news he delivers. Lawrence had a lot to do in this movie, from moving the audience to tears in District 11, to giving wooden, unbelievable speeches in the other districts, to conveying her fear at being forced to revisit the arena, but she pulls it all off, carrying the movie with her.
Catching Fire also gives the secondary characters more room to shine. Elizabeth Banks has much more to work with in her role as Effie Trinket when the horror of the 75th Hunger Games begins to crack her Capitol facade. In The Hunger Games, Head Gamemaker Seneca Crane wasn’t much of a presence. He is felt much more in Catching Fire, after his demise, as Katniss uses him as a subversive symbol of the ill-effects the Games can have even on residents of the Capitol. But his death paves the way for new Head Gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee, who has a much more fleshed out presence in the film than he receives in the book. It would have been a shame to waste Philip Seymour Hoffman on the role as it was written in the book, but by showing Heavenbee and Snow plotting the political messaging and spin of the Games, his character becomes much more interesting. The new secondary characters, particularly Johanna and Finnick were well-cast—in fact, Jenna Malone occasionally steals the scene. Unfortunately, the character development and back story we get for Haymitch in the book—his victory in the second Quarter Quell with its double-sized Reaping of Tributes—didn’t make the cut.
Catching Fire stuck closely to the book, and reaped the benefits, lifting many pieces of dialogue line-for-line. While some of the back story was removed for run-time, the movie didn’t suffer too much for it. The groundwork for Mockingjay is solidly in place.
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