The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Review
By Bret Dorman
Shaky cam! Bloodless violence! Forced romance! A simple message that takes itself too seriously! An hour of movie that ultimately makes zero difference!
There were many reasons why I hated The Hunger Games. Those were just some of them. Fortunately, Catching Fire manages to fix some of the most glaring issues. Unfortunately, this is still The Hunger Games world where the stuff before the games don’t really matter and the games themselves are terribly boring.The Story: Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has become a sort of symbol for the poor people of the lower class districts. Now that she’s won The Hunger Games she would love to just spend time with her family and Gale (Liam Hemworth). However, The President and new Game Maker (Donald Sutherland and Philip Seymour Hoffman) decide to throw her back in the Hunger Games in hopes that she disgraces herself out of hero-hood and dies a non-martyr. Peeta and Haymitch (Josh Hutcherson and Woody Harrelson) help her out again. Also, she’s REALLY good with a bow and arrow even more than before!
Even though The Hunger Games is aimed at sort of the same audience as Twilight, there are some obvious differences. Instead of two boys pinning after a girl for no reason, Katniss is obviously a super cool chick and she has good reasons for liking both of her would-be suitors. Yet the romance can’t really get off the ground because anytime she gets close to Gale she is forced away and any time she gets close to Peeta he almost dies. There’s a lot of pretending going on as Katniss and Peeta are thrust in the spotlight (both post-Hunger Games 74 and pre-Hunger Games 75). The audience is constantly told how important their relationship is and how important they are to the people yet we never really see the effect it has on anyone else. Sure, there are glimpses of a revolt, but that’s in respect to Katniss taking a stand, not her kissing some bread making boy. In fact, the story really seems to ditch the districts for most the important stuff. The point of The Games was to keep the people in line, yet they stand virtually completely defenseless to brute force, which is used several times. Instead, more time is spent in The Capital where the people seem more interested in the behind the scenes gossip-y parts of the games and not the actual competition, which is never shown outside of the arena and overlooking game room.Like the first movie, the sequel can be divided into four parts: the setup, the pre-game show, the games, and the short bit after to set up the next movie. Similar to the Paranormal Activity series, it’s amazing to me how little they actually achieve until the end where they do a super tease on the next movie full of promise and reward. The only difference is Paranormal is pretty upfront about its blatant time wasting by using found footage and the movies are pretty short. The Hunger Games on the other hand, packs the filler to the brim until it almost becomes a story, but ultimately flushes it all away. Also the movies are way longer than they need to be.
The Setup: Katniss is a hero who feels super guilty about having killed some people. The Government is concerned with uprisings. There’s a great scene that involvs Katniss in a verbal chess match with The President early on. Plus anytime people display the boy scout hand signal they are taken out, which adds some real weight to the beginning. The new Game Maker, Plutarch Heavensbee, comes in wonderfully and adds a bit of mystery to the movie as he constantly throws everyone curve balls.The Pre-Game Show: The big twist for the 75th Hunger Games is that the tributes will be pooled from existing winners. Unlike the first movie, there’s not as much emphasis on sponsors (which did NOTHING the first movie and are basically useless here as well). There is however, a ton of emphasis on forming alliances. Which seem silly seeing as this is a game where only one person can win. Oh no, I hope they don’t betray each other! Something happens later that basically undoes all the “work” put into this, which means just like the first movie an hour of this film is wasted on setup with absolutely no pay off. Also, as mentioned before, the whole Stanley Tucci show really has no context within the world of The Hunger Games seeing as the only effect we see it having is making some Capital people cry backstage at one of the more phoned in sob stories of one of the tributes.
The Games: Katniss once again is in a jungle with a bow and arrow. There’s a neat spin on the design later on but for the most part it’s filled with traps and deadly animals. Which makes me wonder… is the point of The Hunger Games to watch people kill each other or just put them in a deadly arena and have the Game Makers kill them off themselves? Katniss must run away from a deadly fog (just like fireballs in the first), battle some mean baboons, and most comically, avoid talking birds! The baboon part provides some decent moments of action-y type things until you realize they are fighting monkeys. I don’t care how mean they are, it’s pretty ridiculous.
Most of the time is spent sleeping, talking, and immediately and constantly obsessing over water. A lot of the character deaths happen off screen. And not just off screen in the sense that something is happening and the camera just doesn’t show the killing blow. Off screen in the sense that “Oh yeah by the way 8 more people died. FYI.” I’m not saying I need to see gruesome deaths for every character, but for a movie about people forced to kill people, the movie really seems to shy away from confrontation. I mean, early on there is a man publicly executed (tastefully, effectively, and bloodlessly done). And a couple of minor, but key, characters are, well let’s just say not taken prisoners and put out of the movie for good. All of this happens pre-Games. So once The Games start, why change?The Short Bit After To Set Up The Next Movie (Spoilers): So Katniss shoots an electrified arrow at the dome. She destroys it and shuts down The Games. Next thing you know, she’s on a ship and being told (mostly) everything has gone according to plan! Learning that Haymitch and Plutarch are working together effectively undoes all the suspense of the pre-Games and the actual Games. Don’t worry about all those alliances you were trying to make, Haymitch already made them for you! And don’t worry about all those other players, Plutarch tried his best to save you and kill the ones who weren’t in on the rebellion! Yay! Normally I would eat something like this up (Metal Gear Solid has many similar crazy elements and twists and I *LOVE* MGS so so so much). But the story is too serious to take any sort of pleasure in its wackiness. And the payoffs are almost entirely different from the setups. There is no A->B setup->payoff here. There is A~~~C setup~~~’oh yeah this thing.’ Once again the movie is way too long for what is actually achieved.
(End Spoilers) This movie isn’t an absolute piece of unwatchable garbage like the first one though. Director Francis Lawrence really brings out some beautiful looking moments. The camera doesn’t shake around when it doesn’t need to and when it does there is still an overall sense of geography. The design of The Capital looks great and explored more, even though it is mostly shown from Katniss’ point of view. When this movie operates on its surface level, all the actors do a great job of playing characters. A few arguments and monologues showcase a showy sense of dialogue which are much better than the more cliched character building parts. And as mentioned the movie starts off with some really dark moments and heavier plot points before giving way to the same old song and dance of (needless) training and (boring) gaming.
In Conclusion, The Hunger Games is a series without a genre. It most definitely is not an action movie. No way is it adventure. There’s not enough sci-fi to make it an outright sci-fi. It isn’t really a thriller since most the plot is telegraphed or brought out of left field. It isn’t romance because the romance just isn’t strong enough. And as far as political/social commentary goes it’s really operating on a high school level. Once the movie actually starts to explore its characters, they turn out to be hollow, which pretending or not, doesn’t really make for good drama. I guess I just don’t understand why The Hunger Games is so universally loved by critics and “regular people” alike for taking a hodgepodge of junk and making a couple of decent, crowd pleasing moments (even if blatantly contrived). While this movie is way more watchable than its predecessor, it really comes down to a bunch of plot beats and sound bites that make for a fantastically great trailer, but a pretty dull movie.
Final Grade: C-
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