Reviewed By

Christopher Armstead and Lisa Sue
The first 'Hunger Games' left such a small impression on me that I had to track back and read my own prattle to remind myself what I thought of it.  Apparently I didn't like it all that much, which I would've thought would give me very little hope for enjoying this sequel 'Hunger Games: Catching Fire'.  But not so fast my friends!  As it turns out I really enjoyed this movie.  Some of the issues I had with the first film remain, but to a lesser extent, and I'm going to use these next few paragraphs to attempt to help my brain decipher why I liked this movie so much more than the first.

Last time we saw Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), they had run some game on the President (Donald Sutherland) and won the 74th annual Hunger Games.  To illustrate how little I remember the first movie, even though I saw it barely a year ago, when the President was admonishing Katniss about the poison berries and whatnot, I still don't remember this happening.  And it was very important.  Regardless, this has not made the President happy.  In fact, if the President had his way, he would kill Katniss right now.  In the annals of people who don't like other people, the President's dislike of Katniss is near the top of the list.

The thing keeping the President from killing Katniss is the new Game Maker, Plutarch Heavensbee… these names author Suzanne Collins gives these people… played by Seymour Phillip Hoffman.  Plutarch points out that simply murdering Katniss will cause more uprisals from the depressed districts.  Instead, allow him to implement his plan, a plan which will put Katniss in such a negative light that even her own district would kill her, taking this task out of their hands.  And Plutarch is just getting started with his nefarious plan.

Back in D-12, Katniss is dealing with her post Hunger Game issues, like recurring bouts of PTSD, a boyfriend in Gale (Liam Hemsworth) she really loves, a boyfriend in Peeta the world expects her
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to love, not to mention the President who only seems to live to threaten her very existence and the existence of her entire district.  The worst part, however, is the announcement of the 75th Hunger Games.  So what, right?  I mean Katniss and Peeta won the last hunger games which means they are on Easy Street for the rest of their days.  Unless some dastardly villain fixes it so that previous winners have to go back and compete yet again.  That is so not cool.

So here we go again.  Our heroes are back in the capitol city catching fire and stuff, Drunken Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) is back to advise, smooth Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) has returned to dress, and hideous Effie (Elizabeth Banks) is back to do whatever it is she does.  24 combatants are sent to the tropics to do battle, alliances are formed, death is the order of the day and there can only be one winner.  The President's plan to finally get rid of Katniss Everdeen is working like a charm.  But not so fast my friends… oh dang.  Now I have to wait for the third movie.  And this time, I actually can't wait to see it.

I almost cannot put into words how much more I enjoyed 'Catching Fire' over the first 'Hunger Games', and I'm still not exactly sure why, other perhaps the simple fact that Francis Lawrence is just a better film director than Gary Jones, though I'm sure it goes deeper than that.  I still have some lingering issues, such as a philosophical difference with the way the capitol city insists on oppressing its people.  I do like the underlying analogies to current events, one percenters, and other modern technologies, but I still think that starving and beating and publicly executing the populace, then sending their children to murder each other on national TV could serve no purpose than to guarantee a surefire rebellion, and as a result I do still have a difficult time buying into the basic tenant of The Hunger Games concept, but I will say that this time around the oppression of the Capitol City was far more impactful, the effects of the oppression of the lower districts was far more affecting to the audience, and where President Snow was more of just a jerk in the first film, he has now morphed into a legitimate, seething, hissing, completely reprehensible villain, which always makes for a better film.

The political and sociological elements leading up the 75th Hunger Games had more power, the backroom dealings were more insightful, a lot less time was spent getting to know Katniss, since the first movie went to great pains to take care of that tedium, but now the audience can exist with Katniss, and a better presented Peeta for that matter and involve themselves deeper into the gravity of what these two are dealing with.  The first film may have been tedious, in my opinion, but it did lay the groundwork for this one.

Even the Hunger Games themselves are better presented, possibly because we are spared the unfortunate distaste of having to watch children slaughter each other, which is still crazy if you ask me, and features the notable addition of a few important characters who will no doubt play an even bigger role in the upcoming film.  This time around more focus is on the environment of the games and less on the individuals attempting to kill each other, which actually flows better into where the film is eventually going. 

Considering everyone is back from the first film, and that the performances were never an issue in a film with a solid cast such as this, the acting was never an issue.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman stepping in for Wes Bentley is trading up, though we do miss Seneca Crane's awesome beard array.  And as we mentioned before, Josh Hutcherson and Donald Sutherland's characters received significant upgrades, but of course the movie sinks or swims on the soft young shoulders of Jennifer Lawrence, and it swims well.  She swam well in the last one too, but this time, if you ask me, the rest of the movie came along with her this time.

We are forced to say that 'Hunger Games: Catching Fire' is of the better Part II's we've seen.  At least in relation to Part I's.  I mean 'The Empire Strikes Back', 'The Dark Knight Returns', 'The Two Towers' and 'The Godfather Part II' it might not be, but those movies followed great movies.  The step up to this, from that, is remarkable.

Lisa's Take:

It has been nearly two years since I visited the Hunger Games world, but my lack of memory for previous plot points didn't detract from the viewing experience. All in all, I would agree with Mr. Armstead that the movie was good. Was it better than the first? That would require me to remember the first movie, which I don't. And I'm only lukewarm about the third movie, I suppose I want to find out what happens to Peeta. But if I don't find out, I'll be ok. If I was really moved, watching this movie would have prompted me to read the books to find out what happens to Katniss and company. I'm just not that into this franchise. I watched the movie thinking, why is that?  The movie went at a good pace, I didn't feel the 146 minutes, which is really saying something. The acting is good, I mean this is carried by the one and only Jennifer Lawrence. And yet, I haven't caught the fire. I have questions, questions that I am sure those who have read the book can clarify for me, and for which I would appreciate. But before the fans cry out in protest, remember I don't know this story, and all I have gleaned is from the movies.

One reason for my lack of enthusiasm is the heroine is herself. When compared to Harry Potter. Luke Skywalker, and Frodo Baggins, Katniss doesn't move me to her cause. I guess the first thing is I'm not really sure what her cause is. Is it remembering those who died?  She seems particularly moved by Rue's death. If that is the case, is killing more people truly honoring or avenging them? She seems to side with the protesters, and is supportive of the uprising. Yet, is she part of the rebellion? I don't see how participating in the Games is rebelling or taking down the Evil. But hey, that is just my view. Also, is there a rebellion going on, or just protesting? Where is the call to arms, did I miss it…

Which brings me to my next point, the Evil. Harry had He Who Must Not Be Named, an Evil so potent, you literally couldn't say his name without striking fear. Even Vader didn't have that kind of range, he continually enforced his stranglehold, by literally strangling insubordinates.  And then Frodo faced Sauron, an Evil strong enough to muster all other unspeakable evils to do his bidding. These were real Evils, and we knew it by the way they looked, carried themselves, and spoke. These evils are not easily identified as humans, two barely had corporal bodies to speak of. They were so evil, there was no face for them. And for the one with a face, well, it was robotic and spoke with the might of James Earl Jones. The Evil Katniss is battling isn't some hideously deformed creature. The face is entirely human, and a rather grandfatherly one at that who speaks in the soft tones of Donald Sutherland. The Evil in the Hunger Games is the President, and he isn't lurking in the shadows. This is the evil we face ourselves, he is us. We, the collective society, are the Evil. And well, that doesn't help me escape or make me join the cause or rebellion, assuming there is a rebellion forming. It just makes me think this is a really a statement on society, and not a fantasy movie.

The statement I got was the age old battle of the haves versus the have nots. The people in the districts are fed up with the way they are treated, and are looking for a leader. The masses are hungry, overworked, and angry. Angry enough that peace keepers have to increase their counter measures, so far it has reached public flogging stage. What exactly is that supposed to do to the rest of the masses? Make them cower in more fear? Fear has several stages, and when the victims have been subjected to so much fear for so long, they no longer are afraid. They get angry. Has the Capital not learned from human history, that harsher punishments only serve to rally their opponents? The harder those in power inflict their will, the less authority they have in the eyes of the people. The masses over time have become increasing more brave, more people are protesting, and more people looking for the Mocking Jay to show them out of darkness.

And who is that Mocking Jay? Is it Katniss? The heroes in fantasy movies encounter along their journey  crises of faith,  while Katniss's  entire journey seems to be a crisis. Harry, Luke, and Bilbo started out and remained innocent throughout their journey. When faced with whether to do good or evil, they always choose good and remained true, making their journey more arduous and their villain more upset. In the battle of good versus evil, showing compassion and mercy is the surest way to strike down evil. Katniss has blood on her hands, and is haunted by what she has done. In the first movie she killed someone, I think, and in the second movie, well I don't know what her end game is. She doesn't even want to survive. That isn't heroic. In the face of evil, we mere mortals will do what it takes to survive, making compromises and straying from the path of righteousness. A hero chooses to do something greater than just survive, they triumph. It also helps the hero to have along their journey a mentor, someone to help them stay on the path of righteousness. Harry had Dumbledore, Luke had Obi Wan, and Bilbo had Gandalf. Who does Katniss have to guide her on this journey, Haymitch? A character whose alliances are still unclear? Even though he is a victor, and probably has some hidden depth yet unexplored, a mentor has to do more than give a spile to tap a tree for water.

What gets me even more about the Hunger Game world is that the real Mocking Jay are the people themselves. They are the key to their own salvation. While we, the collective society, are the Evil for allowing such inhuman treatment to continue, it is also within our power to stop it. The oppressed don't need a wand, a Ring, or a lightsaber to fight back. They just actually need to fight, and it starts by saying No. Saying no to sending children to be slaughtered for sport. Saying no to the Hunger Games themselves, by not watching. The one thing I do recall from the first movie was that Gale character uttered that very line. If no one is watching, the power and influence of the capital decreases. Saying no to taxation without representation (is that what they want? I'm still not sure) Or is it democracy the oppressed want, having their vote count? Whatever it is they are trying to achieve, it all starts with them. Not Katniss. I guess that is why I'm not that into the Hunger Games, it is too much reality and not enough fantasy. I hope Katniss and Peeta do triumph, and that the oppressed get their demands met. I just prefer a good versus evil version with more wizards, Hobbits, or Jedi and less Lord of the Flies/Heart of Darkness human behavior.
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