Catching Fire review: Katniss is cooler than ever in this powerful film
Catching Fire is a powerful, evocative movie that does what any good sci-fi movie set in a dystopia should do.
The Hunger Games trilogy always kicks off a discussion on gender equality and the lack of strong female characters, and rightfully so. A recent study by the New York Film Academy confirms what you already know about women in Hollywood: they’re grossly underrepresented, underpaid, under-appreciated, and underdressed. So when movies like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire come along and give you heroines like Katniss Everdeen, it’s not just a breath of fresh air, it’s being hit in the face by a hurricane made entirely of mountain winds and Aphrodite’s farts.
Luckily, even if you don’t give two hoots for gender equality or are not in therapy because you accidentally watched Twilight, Catching Fire is also a pretty damn awesome movie.
It picks up where The Hunger Games left off. The state of Panem is as messed up as it was and the Hunger Games, in which kids between the ages of 12 and 18 must fight each other, are over. Katniss and Peeta have won not just the Games but also a contest with the bad guys who rule Panem with an iron hand by forcing them to declare two winners (instead of one). However, Katniss’s act of rebellion in the last film – if you don’t know what I’m talking about, Google ‘Katniss’ and ‘berries’ – has done exactly what President Snow was afraid it would. That Katniss is able to challenge the gamemakers, in public no less, gives the Districts a ray of hope. When passed through the magnifying glass of the ever-growing dissent in the Districts, this ray could set all of Panem on fire.
But before it can, Snow plays a deadly card that establishes once and for all who is in charge – The Quarter Quell, a special kind of Hunger Games that take place every 25 years to heap even more misery upon the Districts, because what’s the point in being the victors if you can’t rub more salt on the wounds of the vanquished. And this year’s twist? Tributes will be “reaped” (ie chosen) from the existing pool of victors – sending Katniss and Peeta straight back into the horrors of the Arena.
Catching Fire is a powerful, evocative movie that does what any good sci-fi movie set in a dystopia should do. It explores political themes that our societies are currently grappling with and raises them to the power of ten, while turning the everyman into a hero and the dominant economic power into the very definition of evil and excess. Much of the credit for this lies with the brilliantly-written book, but director Francis Lawrence takes all the important elements and masterfully translates them onto the big screen. Sweeping camera work, some truly snappy editing and heart-stopping action add up to make a movie that looks fantastic without ever sacrificing on emotion.
Indeed, the emotional moments are what make the film so special. Peeta pledging his winnings to Rue and Thresh, Effie sobbing as she says goodbye, Cinna getting beaten up as Katniss is about to be transported into the arena. Their anger, despair, fear and the hopelessness. It’s these powerful, humane and inhuman moments that make up the heart of Catching Fire.
My biggest issue with the movie is that it doesn’t explain anything for those unfamiliar with the series, as if to treat them with an underlying disdain for not keeping up. As a lover of the books, it tickles my inner snob, but as a fantasy movie junkie, I wonder if it won’t diminish the experience.
There are a few other flaws too. The pace sometimes reminds you of a drugged snail. The dialogue isn’t as powerful as you’d want it to be, especially if you’ve read the book. The action in the arena gets repetitive and at moments, logic slips out of the story and leaves you wondering why, for instance, the Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (a diabolical Philip Seymour Hoffman) is advising President Snow on political strategy.
Jennifer Lawrence is splendid as Katniss Everdeen. Pro tip: watch out for the closing scene, which wasn’t even in the script! A brand new Miley Cyrus-free Liam Hemsworth as Gale is arresting and even Josh Hutcherson fares well as nice dude Peeta, the one everyone’s secretly rooting for. The supporting cast shines – Sam Clafin is the perfect Finnick Odair, swashbuckling and heart breaking at the same time. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland (President Snow), Elizabeth Banks (Effie Trinket), Woody Harrelson (Haymitch) and Lenny Kravitz (Cinna) all embody their characters to perfection.
Catching Fire is a rare gem that defies the norms of a blockbuster and yet manages to entertain as thoroughly as any superhero movie. Except Katniss is not a superhero – she’s just you, or me; a woman trying to survive and save those she loves from a world that’s hell bent on bringing them to their knees. So while I cross out dates on a calendar till the arrival of Mockingjay 1, go watch Catching Fire, before it’s put out by something as inane as R… Rajkumar.
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