Now I see. Now I understand the political and social messages buried in The Hunger Games. I was blind to them before because the first movie paid more attention to the actual Hunger Games than to the deep underlying domination of Panem’s Capitol. I was more interested in the costumery and design, and in the way the Games ignored moral issues regarding child violence. But now I see. Now I see that the 12 Districts have no choice. They live in poverty and constant fear. Their government is not corrupt; it is merely blind, and in its blindness there is aggression.
Catching Fire is much better than the first movie because it raises the stakes and brings the totalitarian rule of Capitol to the foreground. Capitol organised the first Hunger Games because it wanted its 12 Districts to learn a terrible lesson. It now organises the Games for pure entertainment and to keep the rebels in check. One whistle out of place, and its stormtroopers shoot you on the spot. Tackle one of these stormtroopers to the ground and you’re asking to relive the flogging of Jesus Christ. There is a noose around the neck of the Districts, and with every toe out of line, President Snow yanks the rope.
In the middle of this chaos is our poor heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) who, together with fellow Districtmate Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), wins the 74th Hunger Games. I shouldn’t have to tell you that these Games are brutal contests where 24 children enter and only one comes out alive. Why two come out alive in the previous movie is down to berries. Wild poisoned berries. Here’s a little refresher: Katniss and Peeta are the last two survivors, but there can be only one (cue Highlander theme song). So Katniss comes up with a clever plan — she and Peeta will eat the bad berries together and deny Capitol the pleasure of celebrating a solo victor, or any victor at all. Just before the berries enter their mouths, the Games are stopped, and both are declared champions.
Now it’s been a year since the 74th Games, give or take a few weeks. Katniss and Peeta have been relocated to Victor’s Village, a rather run-down row of old cottage houses where winners of the Hunger Games both past and present must live. There is relative peace now. Katniss returns to her hunting, but constantly imagines her arrows penetrating human flesh instead of bird. She also returns to the embrace of Thor’s real brother Gale (Liam Hemsworth), whose love for Katniss is at a disadvantage because he spends more time mining than kissing her. His life would’ve been a lot easier had he been chosen as Tribute instead of Peeta. But I guess that’s another story saved for another time.
Catching Fire starts with those wild berries from the first movie. President Snow (Donald Sutherland), in what must be an immensely degrading move, visits Katniss’ 12th District personally to warn her of his discomfort with her method of winning the Games. He explains that all the other Districts see her act of defiance as a beacon of hope, and that’s bad news because hope equates to bravery, and bravery will lead to an uprising. I am of course reminded of V’s famous words: “People shouldn’t be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.”. In either case, fear leads to violence. But I suspect that’s what Panem needs. It needs a good shake up.
Snow retreats to Capitol and plots Katniss’ downfall. He cannot have a hero running around freely. So, together with the new Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), he devises all sorts of dastardly plans, including the 75th Hunger Games in which all 24 Tributes will be composed of past champions. Since Katniss has been her District’s only female champion since forever, the odds are clearly not in her favour, and before long she finds herself revisiting familiar grounds.
I shall go no further with the plot. Catching Fire is a wonderfully dark sequel that’s built like a Hitchcock classic running on science-fiction adrenaline. There is no suspense, but the tension that tightens around the fate of our main characters is on-the-edge-of-your-seat stuff. For most of the movie’s first two acts, I was riveted, and I could feel the noose strangling the life out of the Districts. I could feel the unity forming, and I could foresee the eventual downfall of Capitol, which will no doubt be covered in the two-part finale to this trilogy. The third act might be a bit too long for my comfort, but with costumes this beautiful (look out for a dress made entirely out of Monarch butterflies, and a wedding gown that flames up and disintegrates into a completely different costume), with design this sophisticated, with a story this tightly written, and with performances as solid as these I am now officially hooked on The Hunger Games saga. Bring on Mockingjay.
Best Moment | Peeta’s favourite colour is orange! And Stanley Tucci’s laugh still gets me every time.
Worst Moment | Jena Malone stripping in the lift. Waddup with that?