Movie Review - The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

Runtime: 2 hours, 26 minutes
Rated: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some
frightening images, thematic elements, a suggestive situation, and
Director: Francis Lawrence
Writers: Simon Beaufoy, Michael Arndt
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth,
Woody Harrelson, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Action | Adventure | Sci-fi
In The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, it has not been long since “Katniss Everdeen” (Jennifer Lawrence) and “Peeta Mellark” (Josh Hutcherson) claimed victory in dually surviving the 74th Hunger Games. But doing so did not come without a price.

Things haven’t changed back home for either of them. District 12 would gladly trade the honor of producing two game champions for things like food, clothing, and a working economy. When it is revealed to Katniss that the Capital saw her willingness to die with Peeta as an act of defiance - with all of the colonies beginning to revolt - President Snow warns that failure to “tow the line” and put on the best show to quell the uprising will result in harm coming to those she loves.

In an unprecedented turn of dictatorial rule - with Katniss and Peeta and other former champions again forced back into the games, a revolution is rearing in one of the most creatively written sci-fi books-turned-movies in a while. Despite some disturbing flaws in the first film, the foundational premise on which both films rest is solidly backed with enough life to make it interesting. And I don’t just mean seeing the future Appalachian scenery or technological dresses that light aflame when its wearers twirl around.

Reprising their roles as our two leads, both Lawrence and Hutcherson give stirringly devoted performances, as does a new face this time around with Philip Seymour Hoffman as “Plutarch Heavensbee,” Chief Game Operator and Advisor to President Snow. Woody Harrelson is again giving his fractured-but-oh-so-wise “Heymitch Abernathy.” Now, with Jeffrey Wright as “Beedee” and others who enjoy their small but poignant parts with its juvenile-garnished story and rather overbearing message, the grand total of performances offers us yet more.

Despite being exciting, the movie is long and struggles to launch us back into the game mindset when we are ready to see something else; namely, the despairing lives of the families who fight the tyrannical rule in Panem. They are still centered around these cruel games. We watch as sophomoric training scenes try to impress us, and indeed, some might deserve to.

The glaringly one-sided presentation of despotic rule that plays on emotions in public floggings and executions, embodied all too well in Panem’s “President Snow” (Donald Sutherland) are so overtly done that we find ourselves asking why this government chooses to so operate. Snow’s paranoia of a revolution and his staff’s ability to remain largely apathetic to the consequences of their actions no matter what allow us to think of a number of ways to resolve the central power struggle without coming to what the movies present us with.

Of course, the movie is tied to the three-part book series and has the responsibility of incorporating content that touches us like it was intended to. It does that well enough, being better than the first film in every way. What can’t be overlooked is the superficiality behind it; where the good people are always the prettiest and the not so good-looking people are either expendable or are the bad guys, and where borderline emotional manipulation passes for genuine pathos, but where art and the impending stakes of the story take the upper hand at last, making us care when we otherwise wouldn’t.

No, you don’t need to have read the books (I haven’t) to see that there is some intelligent filmmaking here with perhaps its best quality being the subtlety and passiveness with which the characters must operate and the low-key symbolism employed to demonstrate the at-last vanquishing power of the human spirit. We end on a cliffhanger awaiting part III.