I took four notes, and wrote one question during my time with Catching Fire. This is about 1/10 the normal amount of thoughts that I have watching any movie because the problems with the Hunger Games franchise are so blatant that they're barely worth reminding myself of. They're also the source of the franchise's continued financial success and any complaints I have are likely ongoing as we approach parts one and two of Mockingjay. So my notes are unnecessary, and its better to focus on the important question I had to ask my friends.
Why does anyone care about Katniss Everdeen? Based on these films it's because she is a cute girl who managed the insubstantial feat of telling her governmental / corporate overlords that they stink. Considering this is a brutal totalitarian regime that keeps its control via a sturdy violent grip and constant stream of pleasing media you'd think that she would have done something a bit more to earn the reputation she has. Based on the films she has managed to survive through two Hunger Games because people around her are willing to get their hands dirty while she stumbles her way into the next scene.
She is as weak a central character that I've seen in these films, which apparently remove the agency of her decisions and make her a slave to the PG-13 rating and toothless messaging that is not in-line with the Katniss I hear about from the books. Slavish devotion to the source material rarely results in a good film adaptation and some risks are required to make the transition so that it will leave a lasting impact. But more and more it appears that the films are slavishly dedicated to only the idea of The Hunger Games and are making committing to broad hypocrisy with the material.
Philosophical discussions aside, this is a terribly boring film to begin with, retreading much of the same material that was already slogged through in the first installment. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) returns to District 12 after her success at the games with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). Very little has changed as a result of their win and soon they embark on a victory tour where they pay tribute to their fallen opponents from the other Districts. Now this had potential because the only interesting facet of the first film was the ridiculous media gloss that the government puts on everything to make the horror of their regime go down a bit better.
But the media blitz, other than one interesting sequence where Katniss and Peeta have to play to an imaginary crowd, is sidelined for a lot of frowning. Scene after scene of the winning duo's tour go on as we get a glimpse of every District while they moan about their misfortune that they won. This scene, or variations thereof, establish a fine tone of the deflated protagonists but almost the entire first hour consists of this endless whining. I shouldn't say whining when it comes to their effective enslavement from a violent government, but the presentation is so dull and repetitive that I'm left with little recourse.
Almost every sequence, including the Games that take up the last hour or so of the film, is tinged in purple or blue. I am tired of this lazy color coding for downer middle chapters. The Empire Strikes Back showed the outer edges of the universe while telling a depressing middle chapter but still showed a lush green planet, beautiful orange and white sky palace, and a frozen silver and blue battleground. The action in Catching Fire is not nearly as incomprehensible as the first film but still largely indistinct as many of the participants meet their end at the edge of some sharpened object. When there's a change in the plan for death, such as the poisonous fog, the scenes drag on and get trapped in a dialogue cycle of, "Go! Run! Go! Run!"
The structure of Catching Fire is so familiar that it leaves the talented cast with little else to do but hit the same notes they did in the first film. I felt worst for Woody Harrelson, who had to curb his significant intensity to hack lines like, "This isn't like the first games, this time it's for real," as if the perpetual threat of evisceration was not enough to compel Katniss to action the first time. This also doubles as a sad reminder that Philip Seymour Hoffman's last film will be in this series, but he makes the most out of his limited time onscreen, crafting a skillful deception out of quavering accents and media savvy.
So why, out of the endless Marvel and DC films coming down the pipeline, is the Hunger Games series the worst? It's got nothing to do with the skill of their production, but everything to do with the hypocritical transition from word to screen. These films go out of their way to make sure Katniss avoids getting her hands dirty. Despite her many advantages in both Catching Fire and The Hunger Games someone else almost always steps in to make sure death is not on her hands. Considering the revolutionary possibilities that Catching Fire ends on and the unsubtle critique of media and government the end result is Weak Liberalism 101.
Yes, violent regimes are bad, and deception through media makes it worse. But the Hunger Games series has bought into the very thing that it rails against. True revolution is not something lucked into, as Katniss' victories and mostly bloodless hands seem to suggest, and the series is content with dividing itself up until 2015 to maximize its profits. I am not surprised by this turn of events, but its sad that the series that tries to critique oppression and detached media glitz by keeping Katniss' hands clean of any work and has her stumble into rebellion as if she were Forrest Gump.
I get that early-millennium America is not France in the '60s, where explict political content in films stirred revolutionary feelings. For all the small-minded editorials that worry about modern classics 12 Years A Slave or Fruitvale Station - no film is going to cause a cultural riot in America these days. But the Hunger Games series had the opportunity to tap into the generation whose frustration and rage at our system gave birth to Occupy Wall Street. It could have been a true cultural force. Instead, Katniss will take another two years to win, and I'll be left with the same question I ended this film with. Why should I care?
Directed by Francis Lawrence.
Screenplay written by Simon Beaufoy and Michael deBruyn.
Starring Jennifer Lawrence.