44 Days of Paranoia #31: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (dir by Francis Lawrence)

For our latest entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, we take a look at a film that might, at first, seem out-of-place in this series — The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Why is Catching Fire included in a series of films about conspiracy and paranoia?  Because, even more than the first film, Catching Fire is a film with a political subtext.  Beneath its franchise surface, Catching Fire is about how the government and media establishment manipulates its citizens and how, occasionally, the citizens are smart enough to manipulate them.

When reviewing Catching Fire, probably the first and most important question is how it compares to The Hunger Games.  Is it that film’s equal, is it better, or is it worst?  That’s not necessarily an easy question to answer because Catching Fire is a very different film from The Hunger Games.

One of the main reasons that I loved The Hunger Games is because, after a countless number of Twilight-style films that all featured teenage girls willingly sacrificing their independence for a boyfriend, The Hunger Games finally gave us a female protagonist who kicked ass and made no apologies for doing so.  Katniss Everdeen was defined by her mind and her soul and not her relationship status.  I loved The Hunger Games because, like Brave, it celebrated female strength and independence.  While I have always been willing to defend the Twilight films for what they are, I would not want my niece or my future daughter to grow up to be Bella Swan.  Katniss Everdeen, however, is a role model for both our times and our future.  The Hunger Games was all about celebrating girl power and, for that reason, I loved it.

Katniss Everdeen is still a worthy and independent role model in Catching Fire but the film itself is far more political than The Hunger Games.  Whereas The Hunger Games was all about establishing Katniss as a strong woman, Catching Fire is about how that strength can be used to challenge the status quo.

As the film opens, Katniss (played, of course, by Jennifer Lawrence, who I have such a girl crush on) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) have returned to District 12 after having “won” the 74th Hunger Games.  Realizing that their act of defiance could lead to a full-scale revolution, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) attempts to co-opt their rebel image.  He orders that Katniss and Peeta continue to pretend to be in love so that, during their Victory Tour, the citizens of the other districts will be convinced that Katniss’s actions were the result of love and not of defiance.

This is actually a very interesting premise and definitely that shows a lot more sophistication than what we, as filmgoers, have been conditioned to expect from a movie based on YA fiction.  While thousands of films have depicted love as a form of political rebellion, Catching Fire is unique in suggesting that love (or the appearance of love) can also be used to maintain political suppression.

During the Victory Tour, both Katniss and Peeta balk at having to play the roles that Snow has assigned them.  While at District 11, Katniss pays tribute to Rue and then watches in horror as Snow’s “peacekeepers” executes a man who dared to hold up the three-finger salute.  Trying to avoid further violence, Katniss agrees to become engaged to Peeta.

Snow, however, realizes that, as long as Katniss is alive, she’ll be a threat to him.  He announces a special all-star edition of The Hunger Games, in which all the tributes will be past winners.  Since Katniss is the only female tribute from District 12 to have ever survived the Hunger Games, she knows that she’s going to have to compete for a second time. When Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) is selected to be the male tribue, Peeta immediately volunteers to go in his place.

The first hour of Catching Fire, which deals with the media and political manipulation surrounding the Victory Tour, is brilliant.  The second half, which features Katniss and Peeta competing in their second Hunger Games, feels a bit familiar and rushed.  It’s not that the second half of the film isn’t good.  It’s just far more predictable.

But here’s what’s important — everything that worked about The Hunger Games works for Catching Fire.  Josh Hutcherson seems a lot more confident here than he did in the first film, Donald Sutherland makes for a great villain, Stanly Tucci is a lot of fun as Caesar Flickerman (what a great name!), and the film is a visual feast.  Among the new cast members, Jena Malone is perfectly cast as tribune Johanna Mason while Philip Seymour Hoffman is properly Philip Seymour Hoffmanish as the new director of the Hunger Games.

However, the film belongs to and works because of Jennifer Lawrence.  Whether she’s playing Katniss or Mystique or Ree Dolly or Tiffany Maxwell or Rosalyn Rosenfeld, Jennifer Lawrence kicks ass.

Yes, that is my official review as a film critic.

Jennifer Lawrence kicks ass.

Other Entries In The 44 Days of Paranoia 

  1. Clonus
  2. Executive Action
  3. Winter Kills
  4. Interview With The Assassin
  5. The Trial of Lee Harvey Oswald
  6. JFK
  7. Beyond The Doors
  8. Three Days of the Condor
  9. They Saved Hitler’s Brain
  10. The Intruder
  11. Police, Adjective
  12. Burn After Reading
  13. Quiz Show
  14. Flying Blind
  15. God Told Me To
  16. Wag the Dog
  17. Cheaters
  18. Scream and Scream Again
  19. Capricorn One
  20. Seven Days In May
  21. Broken City
  22. Suddenly
  23. Pickup on South Street
  24. The Informer
  25. Chinatown
  26. Compliance
  27. The Lives of Others
  28. The Departed
  29. A Face In The Crowd
  30. Nixon

9 responses to “44 Days of Paranoia #31: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (dir by Francis Lawrence)

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