Using “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” as one of the few examples, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is the rare occurrence of a franchise sequel exceeding the greatness of the original (i.e. do yourself a big fat favor and watch Jennifer Lawrence kick butt as Katniss Everdeen).
It had been a while since the first time I saw “The Hunger Games” from a few years back, but fortunately, director Francis Lawrence (Water for Elephants, I Am Legend), provides the audience with just enough ‘flashback’ material from the first entry in the franchise. This is wonderful for those who haven’t seen it in a while, or perhaps not at all. Of course, while I enjoyed Katniss’ first journey, it did not particularly stand out to me. For some reason, “Catching Fire” succeeds in not only being a better movie than the first, but also tells an even more compelling story than its predecessor.
The plot follows our old friends: the ever-reliable Katniss, the slightly hunky Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), the never-not-drunk Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), screen candy to the point of not very useful to anyone at all Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), the pretentious Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), and plenty more. Now that Katniss and Peeta have survived the Hunger Games, they are forced to travel around to various districts, delivering speeches to those families that lost children to the games. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) wants Katniss dead because the people are in such support of her, practically to the point of inspiration to uprise against the oppression from the upper class. Aiding Snow is the mouthful of a name, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Hoffman, coming off of his powerful character portrayal from last year’s “The Master” is really quite wonderful here. He acts as the new game master and Snow’s right-hand man, replacing the failure from the previous year. Within time, a new Hunger Games, called the Quarter Quell is called to bring together previous Hunger Games winners to combat each other.
I really do hate writing plot synopses. I’d rather talk about why a story works and let you do the dirty work of actually seeing the movie yourself.
That being said, the main reason “The Hunger Games” as a franchise works so well is more than Suzanne Collin’s extremely successful book series. I’d venture to say it’s also more than how beautiful Jennifer Lawrence is, and how cavalier her persona comes off towards the media. On a side note, you should add the film “Winter’s Bone” to your watch list. It’s Jennifer Lawrence before she made it big. She was humble then, and she still is now, but it earned her an Oscar nomination. But again, I digress!
“The Hunger Games” is so exciting because of what it stands for. If you know anything about the story, then you know it’s about messed up class conflict and endless entertainment that comes with the price of countless innocent lives. It is a story about the rich upper class being fed from the woes of the poor lower class civilians. The everyday middle class person is erased in this existence. Oh, how the lack of the middle class brings such an imbalance in this not-so-distant future. Even now, you sit comfortably in your computer chair, reading this movie review, while there are uncountable numbers of innocent people in North Korea, brainwashed by an evil regime, forced to labor and starved by the upper class dictators who literally own those underneath them. In the same way the villagers in M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Village” were entirely unknown to the knowledge of a world outside of their forest, so are the betrayed and seemingly hopeless lives, contained in the barrier of North Korea’s own districts and sectors. Perhaps that’s a bit much of a stretch for you, but please, bear with me.
I don’t say these things to put you on a degrading guilt trip, or one of those “I’m going on a two-week mission trip to Africa, because these are the poorest people in the world, and they need our help,” speeches. Okay, so there is nothing wrong with those little personal development visits; but let’s be brutally honest, because outside of helping you get out of your comfort zone and ethnocentrism, a two-week trip to another country isn’t going to change much relationally. It’s the people who commit their lives, or at least years of their lives to these missions that can enact change.
I’m only going there because Suzanne Collins saw a lot of injustice in our world, and she did something more than complain about it. She found a way to illustrate that injustice, or as someone in the industry would say, “show, not tell.” You see, “The Hunger Games” takes our reality, exaggerates it, pushes it forward a hundred years or so, and puts a nasty twist on it: “it’s not just people being forced to kill each other, but let’s make it kids! That’ll keep the revolution down! Let’s use fear!” Is it a call out to conspiracy theorists who think our government stages things like the Sandy Hook Massacre and 9/11, or is it something more realistic?
I encourage this constantly, but talk about what movies stand for. “Catching Fire” comes off as a blockbuster event, but it’s so much more than that. Katniss stands for the power of all that is good and noble. The dark class system set up by the highest tier in her world invites her into it by plastering her face (and symbol of the Mockingjay) everywhere. What President Snow begins to realize is that by allowing something so full of good into their presence, it can take over like a virus. After all, hope is contagious, is it not?
It’s a bit out of context, but in “The Dark Knight”, the Joker says, “introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos.” You see, in the world of these upper class goonies, their daily lives are very simple by living at the expense of others. For them, there is only order. To them, Katniss represents anarchy, and by the end of “Catching Fire” this will become extremely obvious to you I hope.
Even if everything I have said here is totally jumbled, I hope you see it for what it’s worth. “Catching Fire” is worth your time. If not for the wonderful character development, then for the themes at stake here. You may even shed a tear in the first fifteen minutes!