The Hunger Games: Catching Fire — Better than the First!
She has become a legend and a celebrity, but the toll of bloodshed from the 74th Annual Hunger Games weighs heavy on Katniss as she travels on a “Victory Tour” with her fellow tribute Peeta Mellark. There is a sorrow in every step she takes and a thinly veiled disgust for the Capitolites who lapped up the brutality of the Games with pleasure.
She is also homesick and lonely.
Forced to leave her loved ones and do the Capitol’s bidding on the Tour, she goes through the motions with a weary reluctance. However, as she makes her appearances in the districts, she begins to see something startling in the eyes of the people: a hunger for revolution.
Meanwhile, President Snow is in the midst of preparations for a significant milestone: the 75th Annual Hunger Games, called The Quarter Quell. As Snow plots to guard his regime from the threat of revolution, Katniss and Peeta find themselves thrown into the middle of an epic conflict that will either destroy them or transform Panem forever.
Entertainment Value and Film Craft
Francis Lawrence takes the director’s chair, and after seeing this film, I’m convinced that he is one of the most talented and intelligent directors in Hollywood today—right up there with Christopher Nolan and J.J. Abrams. His directing credits include the Will Smith movie I Am Legend as well as episodes of the TV series Kings, which was one of the most underrated TV shows in recent years.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire should be used as a textbook case to show other directors how to pace and fine-tune plot and action so that the audience never has a moment of boredom. I was so engaged with the story that I forgot to eat most of my movie snacks. The acting performances were absolutely superb—especially Jennifer Lawrence. The special effects were gripping but not overly distracting. There wasn’t the excessive, over-indulgent CGI like you might see in a natural disaster movie or a summer action flick.
Although there is no graphic, bloody violence, the film is on the more mature side of PG-13 because of its steamier sexuality (compared to the first film) and the psychologically disturbing nature of the violence. The film has the following objectionable content:
- Sexual Content: The filmmakers clearly wanted to capitalize on Jennifer Lawrence’s emerging status as a sex symbol, thanks in part to her performance in Silver Linings Playbook. This means, of course, that we see Lawrence in more revealing clothing, and the script has written her into more sexually suggestive situations—though on the mild end of PG-13. However, there is one scene—possibly the most random and purposeless scene of the movie—where a female spontaneously decides to undress in an elevator in front of three other characters. The audience sees her bare shoulders, legs, and, for a split second, the side of one of her breasts.
- Violent Content: While the filmmaking craft of this movie was better than the first, it also had more violence and a creepier tone—almost bordering on a horror movie, but without graphic R-rated violence. We almost see a man get shot pointblank in the head until the camera pulls away at the last second. We see beatings, a flogging, stabbing deaths, disgusting boils covering and burning the skin of characters, electrocutions, a baboon mauling, fatal arrow shots, and birds swarming and terrifying characters. Although none of these moments were graphically violent in an R-rated sense, they were psychologically disturbing, intense, and unnerving at times.
- Language: One s-word, one b-word, and a scene in which a character screams obscenities, and, as she does so, the audience can lip-read two f-words that are bleeped out. Four misuses of God’s name (as in, “Oh, my God.”)
- Other Negatives: Characters are seen drinking and enjoying booze. There are several “needle scenes” where a character is injected with a shot that has a long needle. This might make some viewers squirm.
The story focuses on a society that finds great entertainment in watching the deaths of others, and, as the plot progresses, every element of the film joins to communicate a powerful moral tale about what happens when a culture embraces violent forms of entertainment.
The film also presents a chilling portrait of a power-hungry government that abuses its power in shocking and horrifying ways. The way that the Capitolites degrade the imprisoned people from the districts is so outraging that you begin to forget that it’s a movie and you feel like standing up and punching the bad guys yourself; and this is a testament to the movie’s power.
Throughout the movie, I just wanted Katniss to morph into a Jason Bourne or Rambo-like character that somehow singlehandedly brings down the entire wicked, oppressive system. But the filmmakers (and author Suzanne Collins, of course) were much smarter than I was, and they wove an intricate, unpredictable story that I never would have expected.
Despite the unedifying content, the story raises some provocative questions. After the credits rolled, I thought long and hard about the way our culture uses violence as a form of entertainment, whether it’s the news channels we watch, the shows and movies we love, the Internet sites we browse, or some of the terrible video games that we create—including a deplorable, twisted game in which the player is the assassin who shoots JFK in an historical reenactment of his death. There are days when I am afraid to read the news. The violence that fills our country makes me feel sick to my stomach. What has our culture become? How long will it be before we go the way of Rome and begin watching people kill each other in coliseums for entertainment?
Besides these moral questions, there is, in my opinion, a powerful spiritual truth in the film as well. At one point a character says, “Remember who the real enemy is.” The underlying tone of the film agrees—whether intentionally or not—with the reality of spiritual warfare that the Bible depicts: “for we do not fight against flesh and blood,” as Paul says in Ephesians. From a certain angle, the film becomes a powerful metaphor for the spiritual battles we face as Christians.
The filmmaking virtuosity of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire has earned almost unanimous critical acclaim—and rightly so; it is an extremely well made and compelling movie that leaves the audience wanting more. It is disappointing (but not surprising), however, that the film sexualizes the characters a bit more than the previous movie; and, more so than the first film, the violence and the nightmarish scenes have a very creepy, unnerving feel to them that remind me of a Hitchcock film or even echoes of Lawrence’s terrifyingly suspenseful movie I Am Legend. This movie can be downright scary at times.
The objectionable content aside, it’s hard to deny that this second film was flawlessly executed; it was certainly better than the first. Undoubtedly, after ardent fans of The Hunger Games see this movie, they will find it unbearable to wait for the next installments: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 in 2014 and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 in 2015. And, to be honest, I wouldn’t really call myself a fan of The Hunger Games. I’ve never read the books and I wasn’t very enthusiastic about the first film, and yet I absolutely cannot wait for the next installment in 2014. That’s how good this second movie was.
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