The Hunger Games: Catching Fire | Film Reviews | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
DONATE

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire 

Catching Fire doesn't deliver enough of its heroine’s rebel spirit

Pin It
Favorite
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence)—“girl on fire,” District 12 tribute and reigning co-champion of the 74th Hunger Games—is something of a wild card. That’s what makes her dangerous to the autocratic government of post-apocalyptic Panem, led by President Snow (Donald Sutherland). And that’s what makes her appealing as a hero—both in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games novels and the subsequent film adaptations.

Yes, Katniss is a compelling character—but what makes her compelling is the edge she brings to her interactions with those in positions of authority. The more she pokes her finger in Big Brother’s all-seeing eye, the more she turns into an improbable rallying point for the downtrodden. Most of what gives her that special something is on display before she takes to the field of battle to fight others to the death. And that means the stories in The Hunger Games wind up at their least interesting during the actual Hunger Games.

Catching Fire, the series’ second installment, finds Katniss still suffering from flashbacks and survivor guilt, having faked a romance with fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) to get them both out of the last Hunger Games alive. But President Snow isn’t fooled; he knows this was an act of rebellion against the government’s carefully orchestrated sacrificial circus, and he’s not about to let the people look to Katniss as a sign that the government is vulnerable. So, when Katniss and Peeta’s “victory tour” of the districts doesn’t result in the desired suppression of rebellious sentiment, the answer is to turn the 75th Hunger Games into a kind of Survivor All-Stars, forcing previous winners—including Katniss and Peeta—to compete to the death again.

The story kicks off by reminding us that there’s a complication to the faked Katniss/Peeta romance, in the form of hunky Gale (Liam Hemsworth). He loves Katniss, she seems kind of into him, and the Katniss/Peeta/Gale triangle is clearly supposed to carry a heaping chunk of the narrative’s emotional weight. While Gale gets considerable more face time in this chapter than he did in last year’s The Hunger Games, it’s still hard to build the connection between him and Katniss to match the ample time she spends with Peeta. And while Hemsworth and Hutcherson are both pleasant enough lads to look at, neither one has the charisma to hold the screen with Lawrence.

That charisma gives the opening two-thirds of Catching Fire most of its energy, as Katniss squares off with everyone trying to tell her what to do, from antagonists like President Snow to her mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson). While the structure of Catching Fire is nearly identical to The Hunger Games—with set pieces involving battle training, the public broadcast hosted by Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), the chariot parade, even a metaphorical flipoff to the game designer (Philip Seymour Hoffman)—Lawrence brings a ferocity to Katniss that makes the scenes feel fresh.

Then it’s Games time, and suddenly Katniss is considerably more passive as a participant. On some level, the battlefield material is significantly better than in The Hunger Games, thanks to a less irritating visual sensibility from director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, replacing Gary Ross), and a slew of solid new allies for Katniss and Peeta played by Sam Clafin, Jena Malone, Jeffrey Wright and Amanda Plummer. Yet, there are also a few borderline-ridiculous set pieces that find our heroes fleeing toxic fog and fighting a troop of angry baboons (I wish to heaven I were kidding). Once again, there’s so much ground to cover that one of the book series’ most unique ideas—the general public getting involved in helping players, and being likeable becoming a survival tactic—is all but eliminated, leaving nothing but a final hour of running and punching and PG-13-friendly stabbing.

As a middle-trilogy chapter, Catching Fire faces the challenge of ending with a major cliffhanger, building to the resolution to come in the two-film adaptation of Mockingjay. The biggest problem, however, may not be that Catching Fire leaves you hungry for the next movie. It’s that it leaves you hungry for what you’re not getting enough of in this one: the girl on fire, who doesn’t get to be fiery enough.

THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE

2_5_stars.gif

Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth
Rated PG-13

Twitter: @ScottRenshaw

Pin It
Favorite

Speaking of ,

  • Walk of Shame, The Lego Movie

    New DVD/VOD Tuesday, June 17
    • Jun 16, 2014
  • Drinking-Class Zero

    Following a night of drinking, Wendy Simpson, 25, walked to a McDonald’s restaurant in West Yorkshire, England, where she was told that the counter was closed and only the drive-through was open but that she couldn’t be served
    • Jun 16, 2014
  • Night Moves

    Night Moves is as terrific as it is frustrating
    • Jun 13, 2014
  • More »

More by Scott Renshaw

  • Sundance 2022 Day 5 capsules

    Call Jane, The Janes, The Mission, Palm Trees and Power Lines, and more
    • Jan 25, 2022
  • Sundance 2022 Day 4 capsules

    Alice, Cha Cha Real Smooth, My Old School, Resurrection, Jihad Rehab and more
    • Jan 24, 2022
  • Sundance 2022 Day 3 capsules

    Good Luck to You, Leo Grande; Master; Dual; All That Breathes; and more
    • Jan 23, 2022
  • More »

Latest in Film Reviews

  • A Different Toon

    Hotel Transylvania: Transformania, Belle and alternate ways of looking at feature animation
    • Jan 12, 2022
  • Moral Arguments

    Asghar Farhadi again digs brilliantly into complex choices in A Hero.
    • Jan 5, 2022
  • Individual Greatness

    A personal, idiosyncratic, non-aggregated list of 2021's best movies
    • Dec 29, 2021
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Simple Creatures

    The monster movie Sputnik can't deliver the subtext it promises
    • Aug 12, 2020

© 2022 Salt Lake City Weekly

Website powered by Foundation