The odds are certainly not in Katniss and Peeta’s favour in the second instalment of the Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire. The film picks up a while after the last Games have come to an end. Katniss is hunting in the woods, but not out of necessity – she and her family now live in the Victor’s Village, and have more money than they can ever spend. Katniss has a panic attack as she aims at a wild turkey with her bow, and her post-traumatic stress continues to plague her throughout the movie. She and her fellow victor, the hapless Peeta, are heading off on a tour of the district regions and Capitol of Panem to be paraded about as celebrities.
They attempt to continue the charade of being star-crossed lovers on their tour to convince the audience that her actions were romantically, and not politically motivated. Jennifer Lawrence, as Katniss, pulls off a spectacular impression of a bad actress during these scenes and their scheme fools no one, least of all the President, played masterfully by a bearded and devious Donald Sutherland.
Unfortunately for them, Katniss’ act of defiance with the poison berries in the previous film has sparked unrest in the poorer districts, and she has become a liability. The tyrannical President Snow, along with his new Game Master, Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) plan a PR-friendly way of disposing of her: Reap former victors as the tributes of the 75th Annual Hunger Games. Katniss and Peeta are due to enter the arena once again, this time alongside 22 other proven killers.
The Panem Capitol is captured mainly from Katniss’ “bumpkin” perspective. The city, the colours and the lights are expansive, seductive and surreal. They draw you in. President Snow’s candy coloured Barbie Dream House glitters like a liquid Baz Luhrman party.
Woody Harellson kills it as Haymitch, their mentor, and Effie, the primped and styled escort, gets some much-needed characterization and heart. Elizabeth Banks does a wonderful job with the character, but seems to have changed her accent since the last movie came out, which is a little jarring. Her costumes are the most incredible in the movie, and her hair is an ever-changing landscape of swirls and peaks.
Stanley Tucci plays the manic talk show host, Caesar Flickerman, with predictable panache, coaxing many laughs out of the audience with his over-wide grin and frenetic speech. The talk show theme is most memorable score from an otherwise unobtrusive soundtrack – the opening bars will be stuck in your head for days.
Probably the least convincing acting belongs to Josh Hutcherson, playing our male lead, Peeta. He bumbles around looking confused and doesn’t seem to feel things quite as strongly as Katniss does. This is odd, as it seems everyone around them is constantly commenting on how cold and unfeeling she is and holding up Peeta as a sort of foil. Mainly he comes across as sweet but boring, which to be fair is exactly what Katniss needs.
Among the victors, Jena Malone shines as the mouthy, axe-wielding Johanna Mason, winner of the 71st Hunger Games. Johanna is none too happy about being called up for another round, and makes that completely clear. This character oozes sexuality from the first scene she appears in, when she disrobes completely in an elevator to bother Katniss, to the last when she’s covered in grime, blood and sweat.
Finnick Odair, (Sam Claflin) seemed underdeveloped, given his importance. In the book, it’s made very clear that Finnick, like all young and attractive victors, was forced into prostitution in the Capitol after his triumph in the arena. The movie hints at this (and alludes to Johanna’s experiences as well) but doesn’t spell it out. Much has been said about the North American rating system (the film is rated PG13) but this seems absurd. This is what they shy away from, when the entire premise of the movie is children hacking other children to pieces.
The violence, for the most part, in the movie is treated respectfully. One of the most gut- wrenching scenes is that of Katniss and Peeta in agony, washing away poison from under their skin in shallow water. The relatively few deaths that are shown on screen aren’t glamorized or to be celebrated, and the film does a very good job of showing the consequences of violence – all of the past victors are traumatized in visible ways.
The movie is a long one – clocking in at over two and a half hours. The film is extremely quickly paced, with little-to-no downtime. It’s better enjoyed as a companion instead of a replacement for the book, as it leaves out some critical back story and context, but it’s an excellent adaptation and definitely worth a watch.
What did you think of Catching Fire? Let us know in the comments below.