Film (2013). Lionsgate/Color Force. Directed by Francis Lawrence. Written by Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt, based on a novel by Suzanne Collins. Cast includes Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Jennifer Lawrence and Donald Sutherland. 146 minutes. Colour.
Francis Lawrence replaced Gary Ross, the director of The Hunger Games (2012), for the second adaptation of Collins's hugely popular series; he inherited two significant and unavoidable problems. Firstly, this is a middle volume, so it is always clear that the transition of the story from personal defiance to political revolution (see Politics) will reach no conclusion. Secondly – as with other Young Adult blockbusters – the worldbuilding becomes increasingly creaky as it moves away from its initial high-concept premise (a premise that has become redundant but is still repeated here). Lawrence produces as satisfying an individual chapter as could be hoped for under these circumstances, but viewers must take their pleasure where they can.
The sham romance for Peeta (Hutcherson) that Katniss (Lawrence) used to manipulate the reality Television audience in The Hunger Games produced such public sympathy that for the first time there were two winners of the adolescent deathmatch. Catching Fire opens with the pair living in isolation in identical houses in District 12's model workers' village; Katniss suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Peeta from a broken heart. Not all subjects of Panam viewed their survival as a love story, however, and Katniss has been taken up as figurehead (see Icons) by those opposed to the decadent and dystopian regime (see Decadence; Dystopia) behind the games (see Games and Sports). President Snow (Sutherland) visits her and threatens to kill everyone she knows, if she does not convince the world that she and Peeta really are star-crossed lovers. When their propaganda tour fails, Snow resorts to a special edition of the Hunger Games which pits previous winners against each other in the hope that this will result in the deaths of both. But, as is abundantly clear to viewers, he is not fully in control.
This raises a third problem: the film systematically strips Katniss's agency from her. Whilst she retains some of the self-reliance which made her so attractive in the first film, she is increasingly reduced to a pawn in other people's plans and ends up trapped in a Godgame that mostly takes place offstage. This means that the most satisfying part of the film is the love triangle (see Clichés) between Katniss and Gale (Hemsworth), whom she is attracted to but constantly separated from, and Peeta, whom she is not attracted to but has shared uniquely intimate experiences with. The successful resolution of this dilemma, rather than the revolution, is the real challenge for the final chapter (which will be split into two films). [ML]
see also: Children's SF; Cinema; Gender.
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