SPOILERS FIRST PARAGRAPH!!!!!!!!!!!!
Do you know what's better than coming out of an arena where you've twenty two of the other twenty-three tributes have just died? Better than watching your last opponent die, ravaged by mutant dogs and begging you to kill him? Better than saving the life of your friend and both of you making it out alive when there has never before been more than one Victor in the games? I'm not sure either, but it damn sure wouldn't be going back in. In Catching Fire, the second volume of The Hunger Games saga, it's the seventy-fifth anniversary and the third Quarter Quell. This time, it's victors that are sent back in. This time, it's Catniss Everdeen's second chance to get herself killed, but first there is a tour. It's time to run around getting her picture taken with her co-victor, Peeta Melark and acting like she's in love to prevent a full-scale rebellion. Whether it happens or not I won't say. I just don't spoil endings.
The tour is agonizing to both of our heroes. The pair alternate between scared, bored and defiant. Things don't go as well as planned, even when they make an announcement that should solve all of the problems they've created. TV cameras and speeches abound as we follow two young people who would prefer to just be left alone. Catniss, the Girl on Fire, becomes more human in some ways as she watches her world burn around her. The applause can't prevent the nightmares. The cries of the audience got louder and more strident and then... They find out that they'll end up back in the arena, ready to kill or be killed.
The Games themselves are honestly pretty epic. I'm not sure how much they paid the special effects crew for their work on this movie, but they all deserve a raise. Lightning strikes, poison gas and a spinning arena top the bill and each looks believable and stunning. Each Tribute/Victor has their own strengths that are known from previous years. They're all on display, as are their known weaknesses. This is one of the places where the movie falls down in comparison as the book. In the book we get a much better chance to get to know the majority of the Tributes, where the movie only touches briefly on most of them. The book is always better through, right? (One day I'll tell you all about the one exception to that rule... as far as I'm concerned. I don't feel like getting skinned for it today though.)
Reading these books, I somehow got the message confused by one-hundred-eighty degrees. It turns out that Suzanne Collins is a leftist. Regardless of that, this woman can spin a yarn. Even if you don't agree with her voting habits, if The Hunger Games Trilogy can't entertain you, you don't have a pulse. Love, hate, anger, fear, confusion, triumph, happiness and sadness all show up at some time during this movie. If entertainment equals emotional reaction then this movie is sheer entertainment. In actuality, Catching Fire is the book/movie with the most rebellion but the least message anyway. Sure, President Snow is a bad guy. Sure there is some rebellion. There's not a whole lot in the movie to say why from a right/left standpoint. It's the people against a repressive government. The bad guys are shown as overeating and having money, true. It's also true that the average Soviet system lived in a tiny apartment and Stalin had five dachas. I missed the leftism here, but your mileage may vary.
Is the story perfect? No and neither is the acting. Jennifer Lawrence has a wooden face at times. Granted, she's not as bad as Keanu Reeves but neither is she always believable. Josh Hutcherson isn't always a lot better either. Donald Sutherland, on the other hand, is both believable and thoroughly disgusting; a good trait for a villain. I would complain about some of the costumes as well, but they're supposed to be crazy and over the top. I highly recommend this movie.
Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 arrows
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Lions Gate, 2013