Is It Cool?: Excellence in Filmmaking
“Hunger Games: Catching Fire” has changed directors! (New director: Francis Lawrence, “I Am Legend.”) The difference? More slick and polished rather than gritty, and handheld. More lush, shiny “Harry Potter” and less “Where the Wild Things Are.”
Jennifer Lawrence (as Katniss, the main character) carries the story through like a pro, showing us why her Hollywood star just keeps on rising. This is a quality, pull-out-all-the-stops, blockbuster production. It’s mostly non-graphically violent, loud, but also very beautiful. “Catching Fire” is well stocked with seasoned and believable actors: Donald Sutherland, Jena Malone, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, and always-good-for-laughs Woody Harrelson.
Katniss continues to be her noble self, doing her best to protect others and save lives (starting with her family and friends) in a brutal and impossible Catch-22 situation. But the Districts are starting to rise up—with Katniss as their icon, beacon and sign of hope—something she doesn’t want but can’t avoid. She feels partially responsible for every further death that occurs, but the revolution is bigger than Katniss.
Katniss’ strong romantic feelings for both Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) continue. Who will it be?
The movie doesn’t have a strong beginning at all (visually, action-wise or dialogue-wise), which is a bit of letdown. It’s even stiff and dry, until the conversation between Katniss and President Snow raise the stakes. But once it quickly gets into the groove, it takes off with a heart-pounding “turn” every few minutes, all the way to the last frame, which, of course, is not the end of the story.
What’s it Saying?: Message of the Movie
“Catching Fire” is long: 146 minutes, but extremely watchable and never tiresome.
There seems to be an underlying theme of goodness and friendship: “Why can’t we all just get along?” But since we can’t, we must protect our own and forge allegiances, and then be fiercely loyal. It’s never just about saving one’s self, but often self-sacrificing to save others.
The one problem with the series—and it’s a big one—is the underlying dystopian setting of young people killing young people (“Catching Fire” includes older tributes, also). There’s even a tribute who filed her teeth so she can kill by biting people’s throats.
What are we telling/showing youth and why? That life is war? That this is a future we’re heading to? That we must be vigilant about authority, oppressors, totalitarianism? How to keep one’s humanity in the direst and trickiest of situations? Or is it just a juicy, dark story?
As with most Hollywood films, there is no God (or religion) in “Catching Fire.” Only people acting like God (the State). Of course, human beings are the image of God, so from that standpoint, every movie is filled with God.
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: Morality in the Movie
Good is good and evil is evil in “Catching Fire.” The good guys are really good and the bad guys are really bad.
There is a moral clarity here. But there is not much backstory for any of the characters to tell us why they are the way they are. People seem born good or bad and locked into that categorization. There have been no real transformations or conversions throughout these first two films.
Human dignity (not just human freedom) is what Katniss and her friends seem to be fighting for, so there is a comprehensiveness and a human richness to the “good guys” and their ideals that is lacking on the side of the grotesque, plastic, vain, shallow, ruthless rulers and denizens of the “Capitol.”
That's Right. I Said It: Reviewer Comments
As I complained about the first installation of “Hunger Games,” Katniss is almost too perfect. Her flaws are negligible, and she always does the highest moral, heroic thing with great courage. (My friends who have read the books assure me that the books reveal more of her inner dilemmas and shortcomings.) Good storytelling must zero in on the main character’s weaknesses as well as strengths to be realistic.
Despite its shortcomings, “Hunger Games” is a very entertaining, life-is-worth-living-affirming tale.