The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,
directed by Francis Lawrence
(Lionsgate, 2013)

Katniss Everdeen has returned home with co-champion Peeta Mellark after winning the 74th Hunger Games. After a brief visit with family, they must undergo a train tour of the 12 districts in order to proselytize the greatness of the horrifically oppressive class system. No longer heroes but symbols, Katniss and Peeta try to make sense of their new lives, even as signs of serious, deep-seated unrest seem to be spreading throughout the districts.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is more intense than the first movie, in the same vein as The Empire Strikes Back. The pacing is definitely on track, even improved. The same themes are present but well expanded. President Snow, worried about the growing riots, orders Katniss to prove that she didn't deliberately undermine the first contest. He wants her to convince the people of the dystopian districts that her defiant double win was based on love and not an act of subversion.

But putting on a dog-and-pony show doesn't convince the masses so much as incite them further. Taken off doing the rounds when their presence seems to be having the effect of riling people up instead of calming them down, Katniss and Peeta are subjected to another Game, a much a more enhanced one that is held once every 25 years, in which the other competitors are former champions of previous Games. This one takes place in a jungle filled with man-eating baboons, blood rains and flesh-burning fog, among other things.

Meanwhile, Snow and gamemaster Plutarch Heavensbee plot to destroy Katniss on live TV, which is the real purpose of the Game: get rid of the troublemaker in order to quell the rebellion -- but nothing can gloss over or slow the growing conflagration.

Being a lightning rod for a movement means understanding that it's the idea you represent, as much as your actual presence, that drives people to hope and action. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) doesn't necessarily want to be a role model or hero, but when the lives of her family and friends are on the line, she shoulders her burden as well as she shoulders her bow. She's nothing if not stubborn, and pushing her into a corner is never wise.

Co-star Josh Hutcherson (Peeta) has more to do this time around, his character expanding even as Katniss seems to contract, trying so hard to hide her thoughts and feelings that she ends up convincing no one, least of all President Snow. Jenna Malone succeeds in stealing the show with her scenery-chewing rage as former champion Joanna, who has an agenda of her own. Philip Seymour Hoffman's understated performance as Plutarch is a cool offset to Donald Sutherland's ice-cold Snow.

More than just a bridge between the first installment and the ending, Catching Fire is a dark, bold, sometimes overly plotted but mostly well-done story that's intriguing, balanced on the whole and rich with characterization that's definitely gone up a notch. Winners don't want to fight each other and neither do the residents of the districts, but everyone is ready, it seems, to finally fight the system.

review by
Mary Harvey

14 December 2013

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