The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the second installment of Suzanne Collins’ wildly popular young adult novel series. The film takes place after Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) have come home to District 12, riding the waves of their victory from the Hunger Games. Being home post-games has its fair share of problems and not everything is exactly rosy for Katniss.
On the outside Katniss, along with Peeta and Haymitch, is living a life of comfort which comes with being a victor of the Hunger Games, but her internal life is a mess. She’s exhibiting signs of post-traumatic stress disorder when she hallucinates seeing one of the contestants she killed with her bow and arrow from the first film. Her best friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) has confessed how he truly feels about her and seals it with a kiss. Peeta won’t talk to her after telling him her display of love for him during the games was all an act to help them survive. Toss in a very polite but tense visit from President Snow (Donald Sutherland) to warn her about squashing this spirit of rebellion she has ignited in the districts with her poison berries stunt or else, and you can see Katniss really has too much going on right now to really enjoy a peaceful existence at home.
When Katniss fails to convince President Snow of her love for Peeta during the Victory Tour and all the districts around Panem are in a continued state of utter chaos, it becomes clear to President Snow that Katniss is a huge threat to the carefully constructed balance of government and law he has enforced for years. To celebrate the Quarter Quell, President Snow announces that past victors of the Hunger Games in each district would be reaped and forced back into the arena to compete for a second time.
Catching Fire directed by Francis Lawrence is a faithful adaptation of the second book. Jennifer Lawrence brings her A game again when she portrays Katniss’ inner conflict with survivor’s guilt and being always on edge over the safety of her family and those she cares about the most. There’s an introduction of new characters who become significant to the story much later, from Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the new Gameskeeper Plutarch Heavensbee to Sam Claflin as the very handsome and charming Finnick Odair, a past victor of the Hunger Games who Katniss is very suspicious of. Where the first film is about survival and being forced to make hard choices, this second film is about people not appearing who they seem to be and knowing who your true enemies and allies are.
What I enjoyed about the film is how the director managed to keep this sense of people knowing more than Katniss does. She’s kept in a constant state of emotional turmoil, holding it together in spite of the single thread of sanity she has left. Paranoia eats away at Katniss as she’s both highly distrustful of her fellow opponents, while back to where she started in the first film, unwilling to kill anyone if it can be avoided. It becomes particularly hard when she encounters more good people stuck in a terrible situation, like Mags (Lynn Cohen) or Beetee (Jeffrey Wright) and Wiress (Amanda Plummer). It’s these kinds of moral dilemmas that remind us how cruel and brutal these games really are.
Some of my favorite moments in the film are the ones between Katniss and Peeta. After getting over the initial awkwardness of Katniss telling Peeta her feelings for him was all an act, they manage to put it behind them and become friends again. There are moments in the film where Katniss nearly goes into a complete breakdown when she thinks Peeta has died or is in danger. Maybe Katniss doesn’t always act in a way that makes her deserving of Peeta’s love, affection, and devotion, but over time, you can see in the book and in the film that he’s just as important to her as Gale is. Whether she likes it or not, she does have feelings for Peeta too, which makes it hard for her to really explore them fully. Even when Gale asks Katniss if she loves him, she avoids giving him an actual answer by telling him she can’t really think of that right now when all she has room for is making sure her family stays alive. Katniss lives in a grim reality and having normal thoughts a seventeen-year-old girl would normally have is slim to non-existent.
Movie critics have said the film ends abruptly and in an awkward spot, just as the story is getting good. This is usually a problem with most middle books/films in a series. There’s really no good place to end it, but at the very least it keeps people wanting more. And if you’ve read the entire book series like I have, things are about to get worse before it gets better for Katniss. I certainly can’t wait until the first part of two films for Mockingjay comes out to a theater near us soon.
Reviewer Rating: 10/10