Written by: Simon Beaufoy & Michael deBruyn
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks
Living on the outskirts of corruption comes with a sense of purity but none of the spoils of being complicit in the system and having every desire met. This shift in Katniss’s experience since surviving defiantly in the first Hunger Games puts her in this position. Now, more politically motivated, this feature takes the already established world and moves things forward with more uprisings occurring in the less privileged districts. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire moves slightly away from the action and more so about symbolism.
After collectively winning the previous Hunger Games, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) must continue their love story facade while also traveling to other districts to promote the games. Essentially as a puppet under the threat of President Snow (Donald Sutherland) wiping out her entire family, Katniss and Peeta get reentered into another Hunger Games comprised of previous winners as a way for Snow to get rid of the victors.
With this established world, Catching Fire gets the opportunity to get deeper into it and the mindset of Katniss as she continues to navigate her personal feelings and what she represents to all individuals. A heavy burden to put on one person but one she wears with reluctance. It becomes difficult to remember she’s merely a teenager, partially due to Jennifer Lawrence portraying the character, but also because of the responsibility she receives from a decision to save her sister in volunteering as tribute. The story becomes less about the game but more so about the political machinations behind it and how Katniss now fits into it.
Essentially serving as a spokesperson for the games now, this enters a gray area with this character and what she must do for survival. Yes, she no longer has to worry about amenities like basic food like she did in the past but now she needs to speak positively on an empire she loathes, as she knows the damage done by them firsthand. It posits what one would be willing to do for the sake of comfort as well as protecting those they love. This gets turned around to the audience and it honestly becomes difficult to blame her for her actions even if she does not sell it in the most authentic manner. This wrinkle in the story adds a different dynamic to what occurred in the first feature and makes for a better film overall.
The reason for having this special edition of the Hunger Games comes together with the issue of symbolism, which this series of films goes all-in on moving forward. Previous victors of the Hunger Games receive plenty of perks, like never having to worry about anything else in life but this film asks how untouchable they truly are and what they represent to President Snow and those in the capital. One specific incident involving the three victors of District 12 and a peacekeeper definitively draws the line and truly moves things in motion. No, these victors are not untouchable and what they represent begins to annoy Snow, thus setting up what occurs in this Quarter Quell, or 75th anniversary of the games.
Everything happening in the arena this go-around serves as a marketable improvement from the first feature with the challenge becoming much more daunting for Katniss and Peeta. Instead of taking on people their age, they must fight previous winners who all had their different ways of surviving the games themselves. A tournament of champions, which will certainly up the stakes for these two to survive especially considering Peeta just barely survived the first time around. At least Katniss has her exceptional proficiency in archery to fall back on. The setting begins in a water arena, which demonstrates everything has gone up a level with more obstacles put in front of these characters in order for them to survive. The shaky cam ailing the first feature gets minimized to make it easier to actually see what’s occurring here, go figure, which makes for a more enthralling viewing experience.
Bringing back all of the surviving characters for this sequel, one of the major additions to the cast came in Philip Seymour Hoffman. Taking on this character became his final role in his illustrious career and it serves as a reminder that the man can make anything work. Stepping in as the new Gamekeeper for this special edition of the Hunger Games, he has this strange calmness to him, especially compared to President Snow, who’s desperate to see Katniss die. Plutarch, Hoffman’s character, believes in doing things when the time is right, and the way he navigates this feature is quite impressive. Definitely a softer touch on his end but still an interesting character to take on.
A vast improvement as it takes the torch of the first feature and goes deeper, Catching Fire stands out as the best of the entire film series. It matches the action one would hope to see along with the deepening political machinations making everything work. Lines begin to get drawn and individuals are ready to unite in a way they never have before and Katniss, whether she likes it or not, represents this change. This makes her dangerous and fuels the mind games she must undertake with President Snow.