Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth,Woody Harrelson
Director: Francis Lawrence
Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy, Michael deBruyn
Action/Adventure/Science Fiction, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 146 minutes
Release Date: November 22, 2013
Today, it’s my pleasure to introduce our guest reviewer for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. It’s none other than Professor Jeff Green, who toils away in the psychology department at Virginia Commonwealth University. Jeff, welcome
Thank you, Scott and Greg I’ve always been a fan of tales in which an underdog fights fascist or other anti-democratic forces. So I love 1984, and my favorite heroes include Winston Churchill and the recently departed Nelson Mandela. And The Hunger Games series includes the ultimate underdog: a teenage girl caught in a deadly game.
We’re introduced to Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), fresh from her surprise winning of the 74th Hunger Games. She and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) have been putting up a good front, acting like they’re madly in love. But the truth is she’s much more partial to Gayle. In a meeting with President Snow (Donald Sutherland), she is told to impress him and the rest of Panem or her family will pay. They are sent on a tour of Panem but it isn’t going well. The masses look to Katniss as a symbol of hope that the government can be overthrown, which is not at all what President Snow wanted.
President Snow is aware that the tour is backfiring, and so he sets up a special Quarter Quell 75th anniversary game featuring all the games’ previous surviving winners. Conveniently, that means Katniss and Peeta get to reprise their roles as as participants in these deadly Quarter Quell games.
This group is even deadlier than the group from the previous year, since all were champions. Once again, they go through training and get to meet their competition. As before, Katniss does not want to ally with the dangerous “careers” but with some of the odder and more vulnerable champions.
Jeff, Scott, Katniss Everdeen is one of my favorite heroes in recent movies. Aside from the fact that she’s one of the few female heroes in modern literature, she’s a strong hero, period. She stands up for people who otherwise cannot stand up for themselves. She defends and protects her “friend” Peeta, who is clearly a weaker player in the games. And she is skilled with a bow – her “secret power.” Plus she’s endowed with several weaknesses herself – among them a lack of confidence that she constantly has to overcome.
Greg, I agree that Katniss is a strong female hero and that we do need more women heroes. But one minor criticism I have with Catching Fire is the same one I had with the original Hunger Games. While I applaud Katniss Everdeen’s strong heroism, I don’t really see any evidence that she has transformed herself in any meaningful way. In the first movie, she is a strong, resourceful, self-sacrificing character from the outset. Her heroism is admirable but it is always in place. Same thing with this second installment. The best heroes evolve or grow into their heroism. Don’t get me wrong – I love Katniss as a character. But I just don’t see her undergoing any kind of heroic transformation — at least not yet.
I think I agree with Scott. She seems to be a hero in the making, but is not fully there yet. She is loyal and protective (perhaps to a fault, in the arena), and she is true to herself. But she seems particularly reluctant to accept the mantle of the symbol of a revolution.
I have to disagree with both of you. True, this is a “middle-movie” and as such we aren’t presented with as much of an arc as you might expect in a stand-alone installment. However, Katniss goes from wanting to run away to standing to fight. I do believe she has more growth ahead of her, but she is the classic reluctant hero. She doesn’t want the adulation imparted upon her, but she takes up the cause and bears the burden.
Well, we’ll just have to agree to disagree on Katniss. Overall, I enjoyed Catching Fire I admit, when I heard that a Hunger Games sequel was coming out, I was skeptical. The best way to ruin the reputation of a good movie is to follow it up with a stinky sequel, and most sequels are, by definition, putrid. But this one delivers.
I really liked it as well, perhaps more than the first installment. Even more action, and better special effects. But also good character development. There are some new and somewhat mysterious characters who are great fun to watch, such as new Head Gameskeeper Plutarch Heavensbee, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman.
One thing I liked was the development of Peeta’s character. In the last film he was much the sidekick, needing rescuing more than contributing. In this installment he takes more command – even comforting Katniss. I liked this growth in his character. The movie does suffer from the fact that as a sequel called “Hunger Games” there HAS to be a “hunger game” scene. They’re a little tied into that plot element. But I was happy with how it was handled.
Another thing I liked was the jaded view this movie takes toward celebrity. How what we see on the big screen is nothing like what is going on behind the scenes. This was recently ominously portrayed when I saw Jennifer Lawrence in a talk show segment with a smiling snarky guest host. How very close it was to the scene with Katniss and Caesar Flickerman. Life truly imitates art in this case.
I agree with you both that Catching Fire owes its success to its strong ensemble cast, with the addition of Hoffman as Heavensbee an absolute delight to watch. Peeta’s character development is most welcome, too, and the complicated nature of his relationship with Katniss unfolds in some surprising ways. As Jeff notes, the effects are fun to behold, especially the poison fog and the ape-like creatures with fangs reminiscent of my colleagues in my own psychology department.
Scott, I too might prefer a day in the Hunger Games arena to a faculty meeting! Death is usually quicker in the former. But back to the film, I love the depiction of this dystopia, where there is little respect for life, and celebrity (as Greg notes), fashion, and the media are all harnessed for subjugation. Katniss and her colleagues have the supreme challenge of not just trying to stay alive, but trying to change the status quo. They are willing to sacrifice their lives, not just for their friends, but for the greater cause of bringing freedom to Panem.
Hunger Games: Catching Fire is one of the best action films of the year – fully worthy of standing up with the likes of Star Trek or Iron Man. I’m looking forward to the next film (although disappointed that the producers decided to break the story into TWO more movies – clearly wringing all they can from the franchise). I give Catching Fire 4 out of 5 Reels for a great adventure and Katniss Everdeen 5 out of 5 Heroes for a classic heroic character. While Katniss doesn’t transform much, she transforms those around her, and that is also the mark of a true hero.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire works as a sequel because the first movie left room for a follow-up in which all the stakes can be taken to the next level. I’m reminded of the first Rocky movie, which ends with Rocky losing the match after fighting the good fight. This loss allows space for a Rocky sequel in which he triumphs.
The makers of the first !Hunger Games! allow similar space for a sequel to take everything to the next level – all the prior winners of the games are thrown into a super competition, and the welfare of President Snow’s entire social structure hangs in the balance. Very cool. I agree with Greg that the film earns 4 out of 5 Reels.
But I beg to differ about Katniss as a hero. There is almost no character development in Katniss, which is not to say that she’s a weak hero. Far from it. She’s terrific but she’s been terrific and self-sacrificing since the beginning of the first movie. I don’t see signs of growth or evolution, at least not yet. So I very generously award her 3 out of 5 Heroes.
I agree with you both and give the film 4 Reels for a rollicking good time. I agree with Scott and give Katniss 3 Heroes, though I suspect she will earn more in the last two films. And I think I have earned at least 1 Hero for working with you guys
I enjoy the reviews, thanks!