Katniss shoots an arrow through teens' hearts again
Like many people, I seriously couldn’t wait to see the new "Hunger Games" movie, "Catching Fire." I was even more excited because I was able to catch the opening night double feature, and I’d never gone to such a big premiere event before. There was applause when the first movie ended, and more when the second movie started. Everyone in the theater was just as excited as I was, and with good reason.
To say that "Catching Fire" was awesome is an understatement. There was all the drama and action of the first movie, but with an underlying current of fear. Things get rolling when Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), having won the last Games alongside Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), returns to her home in District 12’s Victors’ Village, which is where the victors of the Games reside--only to find that she has a visitor. A very important visitor, to be exact -- it’s none other than President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who brings very bad tidings for Katniss. Apparently, when she and Peeta pulled their poison-berry trick at the end of the last movie, it set off a spirit of defiance within the districts -- rebellion is in the air, and these “star-crossed lovers” are the symbols. The thing is, President Snow doesn’t think that what they have is real. So he makes Katniss an offer she really can’t refuse: convince him that there is something between her and Peeta, or everyone she loves will die.
No pressure, right?
That’s just where the fear starts. Things go downhill from there when our heroes set off on their Victory Tour, giving speeches in each district to increasingly angry crowds. In one district, Katniss even goes off-script, with unexpectedly disastrous results. The situation is much bigger than that, though; people are actively opposing the Peacekeepers, who are essentially policing each district to keep them in line. Eventually, it appears that rebellion is imminent, and President Snow, like any good dictator, does something drastic. This year’s Hunger Games are special -- this is their 75th year, which constitutes a Quarter Quell, and the rules always change for these Games. So President Snow declares that this year’s tributes will be chosen from among the living victors of previous Games.
Like I said, no pressure.
From there we meet our new (well, newish) tributes, which include the popular Finnick (Sam Claflin) from District 4 and the unpredictable Johanna (Jena Malone) from District 7. We also meet the new Head Gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who aims to make things as difficult as possible for these unlucky souls this time around. (To explain how he came to take this role would definitely spoil something for you.)
Director Francis Lawrence was clearly trying to push this movie to a darker realm than the last. The vibe is more foreboding, there’s less humor than before, and Katniss -- once a naïve central figure who just wants to save her sister -- is now a much more cynical, calculating heroine than in the previous installment.
Additionally, the love story is no longer central to the plot -- and Peeta and Katniss’s “will they, won't they” teen romance barely crowds the central themes of morality, loyalty and death. While that will disappoint some moviegoers, if you’ve read the books (like I have) you know that this is a reflection of the author’s writing. And if you've read the final book, you know there is more romance to come.
What I most loved was how the movie explored the gray areas of friendship and trust. As Katniss navigates her way around "The Hunger Games" land, she also navigates interpersonal conflicts and, with no help from the outside world looking in, is always second-guessing who her real allies are. Unlike most films aimed at teenagers, this element is very unique, and for that reason makes the story all the more interesting, as you the viewer try to figure out who the “goodies” and “badies” are. In the end, the resolution to this question is very satisfying.
This movie was nothing short of a thrill ride. Amid the action, the message of hope and trust overtaking fear will capture young and older audiences alike.