A thrilling adventure film held back only by the lead heroine’s need for a savior.
By Melissa Phy
Screaming tweens and indulgent adults finally got to check back in with Katniss, Peeta, Gale and the rest of The Hunger Games crew this week after the second installment of the series, Catching Fire, was released Friday.
The movie starts out nearly a year after the last hunger games, in which Peeta and Katniss (tributes from District 12 in the futuristic Panem) both survived, making headlines as the first dual winners of the barbaric games in which two children from each district (there are 12 total, with a former 13th reportedly obliterated by the capitol for rebelling) duke it out in an arena in a fight to the death.
Katniss, now a sign of hope for the starving and suffering districts, is considered a threat by Panem’s president. In an effort to eliminate Katniss and restore order among the districts, the 75th’ Hunger Games has a twist: all participants will be pulled from the pool of previous victors, meaning Katniss and Peeta must return to the arena. The catchphrase of the film? “Remember who the enemy is.”
I admit I was enthused to catch the newest flick. I was a fan of the books before the hype began, but was somewhat let down by the first movie and its lackluster script. This time, however, things were different: a new director (Francis Lawrence), fresh characters and a plot twist. Ok, and a really cool arena for the games.
Of course, the screaming teen girls fighting over whether or not they were “Team Gale” or “Team Peeta” were still present, making a movie that should represent a strong, female character become instead about a seemingly-impossible choice of which boy she should marry. It’s disappointing, to say the least, that so many young girls who see the film are more invested in the love interests than the allegorical story.
While Catching Fire stayed fairly true to its literary counterpart, save for some minor details, it failed to accurately represent the admirable character Katniss really is. Since her last hunger game experience, Katniss is experiencing nightmares and overall uncertainty, leaning heavily on the men in her life (Gale and Peeta) to provide comfort and stability.
I’m not saying women don’t need a support system, but to hear Katniss say things like she “needs” Peeta to survive or suggest marriage as a solution to her problems (yes, this seriously happens) is out of character for the girl who once swore she’d never have kids and bravely volunteered to take her sister’s place in last year’s games.
Throughout the film, Katniss is constantly displaying moments of weakness only Peeta can cure rivaled by moments of pure admiration, shown beautifully when she’s training with the other tributes and is in her element with her bow and arrows, unaware of the crowd of 23 other tributes looking on in awe.
But what the movie lacks in with Katniss’s character makes up in another female character, Johanna. Played by Jena Malone, Johanna is a feisty victor, sarcastic and seemingly mean-spirited, declaring at one point “there is no one left I love.” She oozes self-confidence, even if it is a little flippant. The movie crowd laughed out loud most when Johanna was on the screen. She shone in this film, leaving me wondering “Why is Katniss so great again?”
Other new characters worth mentioning include Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), head gamemaker with unclear intentions and skepticism-invoking dialogue, and Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin), District 4 victor with good looks, charm and a surprising ally for Katniss and Peeta.
Notable return characters include Panem TV personality Ceasar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) who’s high energy and ridiculous interviewing skills provide a contagious giddiness to the audience; and Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), capitol escort to Katniss and Peeta who has a shallow soul but a (surprisingly) warm heart. These two characters provide laughter and tears, respectively.
Catching Fire was substantially more satisfying to watch than its predecessor, with more plot twists, developed characters and range of emotions (are those happy tears or sad ones?). The story draws you in, allowing you to become a part of Panem, part of the games, part of the conflict. It’s entertainment at its best. But a strong female lead in a tween-genre film? I’m still waiting for that movie to come out.
This review originally was published by San Diego Free Press.