“Shut Up, Peeta”- THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE Spoiler Review
The Hunger Games is an international phenomenon but if you somehow haven’t read Catching Fire, then you should know that spoilers lurk past this point, so dust off your daughter’s copy of the book and give it a read before scanning below.
Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games book series has permeated the international consciousness, which is weird because it is both good and actually about something. Careful study of culture and Facebook statuses tells us that the books that transcend language and are read by tweens and warlords alike are either light, simple, and fluffy (Harry Potter) or boring, boring, and fluffy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). The Hunger Games, for all of its leaning on a storytelling structure based on a love triangle, is about revolution, and the overthrow of a government. It is strange that these books are predominantly popular amongst twelve-year-olds, who generally like to think that their government is pretty all right and focus more on the important things, like the next big thing in bra-stuffing technology.
I have read the first two Hunger Games books, after growing weary of answering the question “Where are you from and why haven’t you read The Hunger Games?” with, “From under a rock, why? What are the Hunger Games? Wait—where are you going?”
The first Hunger Games book is a solid adventure and was interesting enough for the second installment to earn a reading. I remember absolutely loving Catching Fire, and don’t really remember much else about it really. Going into this flick was like reading the cliffs notes version of a book I probably enjoyed, if memory serves, which it doesn’t. Most of the good bits are still intact, with only one or two glaring omissions that I could find. There are probably more things missing, but I don’t have time to reread Catching Fire. Too busy rereading those Harry Potter books with the sweet new covers.
But this review isn’t of a book. It is of a movie. And since adaptations have to be more than just a Great Illustrated Classics version of the book, it must be judged on its own merits. So, let’s talk merit. . .
Katniss Everdeen, the stupidest person in existence
For all of the great things that Katniss Everdeen has done, for all of the young women she has inspired to get really into archery and to shoot the rich children around them, she appears, at least in this film to be phenomenally dumb.
Long after she learns that the arena for the Quarter Quell is going to throw lots of nonsense at her—everything from very choosey lightning to blood rain—she still falls for the oldest trick in the book. She hears the screaming voice of her sister echoing out from within the forest, and goes running after her, full speed, alone, and screaming, with unknown numbers of tan people waiting to jump out of the underbrush and potentially bite her throat off. She simply throws caution and Peeta to the wind, and runs off into the scary woods that very recently threw baboons at her. Luckily enough for her, it was just a bunch of birds and not tan people, but that’s more pure luck than anything.
There’s also a moment of phenomenal stupidity that happens early in the arena, where Katniss finds a mysterious fog in the woods, and proceeds to stick out her uncovered hand and touch it. It’s true that at this point Katniss doesn’t not know what this arena has in store for her, but she has been in a Hunger Games before, a Hunger Games that also took place in the woods, and contained fireballs from nowhere and dogs made out of her dead friends. You’d think that watching an old lady get swallowed up by the poisoned cloud would teach Katniss a lesson, but no. She picks herself up, dusts herself off, goes running back into the woods like a champ. A stupid, stupid champ.
I get that Katniss is essentially a reader surrogate, and that that requires that she be thrust constantly into trouble, sometimes at the expense of making it seem like she has a higher-functioning brain, but that doesn’t change what we see on screen. I like the role model she has become for young/fat/all girls, but not when she essentially puts her hand on a hot stove and is surprised when that stove hurts her.
There’s also just not a whole lot to Katniss, unfortunately. Early in the film, Katniss admits that there’s not much to her besides her bow and arrow and her stubborn attitude, and she’s absolutely right. She’s a blank slate. A Skywalker, a Neo, an Isabella Swan. She’s always going to come off as a little flat so that the viewer can latch themselves onto Katniss and feel like they are in the adventure just as well as her. All of the essential reader surrogate elements are there: more than one really pretty and talented person vying for their affections, being misunderstood an dismissed early on and winning everyone over by the end, an entire world that revolves around the choices they make. . . It’s an old staple of storytelling, once used to explain to children what happens when they put their genitals in places that they don’t belong, here used to make you feel like Thor’s brother wants to bone you.
Jennifer Lawrence, that international megastar that she is, does the best that she can with a part that is really hardly a part at all. She deserves better (and has gotten it elsewhere, as her Oscar win last year might tell you) and really doesn’t get the credit she deserves for making Katniss really pop on screen.
It probably doesn’t hurt that she’s gorgeous and often pointing a bow and arrow at you.
The Whole World’s Against You, Peeta, I Swear to God
God, Peeta, just… go away.
I have a distinct amount of apathy for Peeta Mellark, probably because Catching Fire will not stop trying to get me to like him so much.
Every moment, every frame, of this movie is there to make us feel bad for Peeta Mellark. Right out of the gates he gets friendzoned by a girl who once professed undying love for him on camera. A girl who then goes off and kisses a boy who is much taller and more handsome than he is. When Peeta rides through a stadium right next to Katniss, the arena chants for Katniss! Katniss! Katniss! and seems to forget that Peeta also survived the Hunger Games by doing the exact same thing that Katniss did. No one except for Haymitch seems to give this boy a damn bit of credit.
There’s probably some residual loathing for Peeta in me after he was the one behind the most ridiculous moment in the first film, where Katniss nearly tramples a broken and damaged Peeta disguised as a rock. And not in a Rambo sort of way where he’s covered in mud and has closed his eyes, but in a way where he looks exactly like a rock. He’s too weak to get to water or tend to his wounds, but has the faculties to use his apparently exemplary cake-making skills to decorate himself to look exactly like a rock? What did he color himself with, berries?
But that’s not from this film. What’s from this film is Peeta bravely doing this and bravely doing that and being way too nice and kind to Katniss until he finally gets kidnapped by the Capital and everyone goes, “Awwww” and feels bad for Peeta and seriously screw you Peeta she doesn’t like you, move on!
The Katniss-Peeta-Gale love triangle never quite lands because Katniss and Peeta just aren’t good for each other. Their relationship problems are readily on the surface. Peeta would drive himself mad trying to win the affection of and being really nice to a girl that seems to dismiss him, and Katniss’ self-worth would plummet from not being able to return his affections. At least with Gale they have a history and something in common. Peeta admits he doesn’t know anything about Katniss, which makes his devotion to her and willingness to die for her sort of crazy. We are told that he is right for Katniss more than it is actually on display.
Gale: Seriously, Who the Hell is This Guy?
I feel as if Gale has a really compelling story and life that exists totally outside of Katniss, but since it has nothing to do with Katniss, it is obviously not important. Gale’s existence is a hard-fought one. He is the sole breadwinner for a large family and works in a mine of all places, but no one cares about him unless he’s trying to kiss Katniss. If you are a man in Katniss’s life, your existence is pain and your life is awful and I hope that the three times that she kisses you is a solid consolation prize to your agony.
Having now watched all collective thirty seconds that Gale has been on screen over the course of two films, one can come to the conclusion that this is hardly a love triangle at all. There’s no vying for affection. There is only Katniss being forced to pretend she is pregnant with Peeta’s bakery baby and Gayle looking just to the left of the camera all sad.
The Hunger Games: The Books managed to be the only love triangle in history to not make me hate everyone involved. The Hunger Games: The Films makes me hate everyone involved, largely because Gale just will not stop looking to the left of the camera all sad. What is behind there, Gale? Does someone keep dropping a cake?
The Responsible, Responsible Adults of The Hunger Games
Much like the Harry Potter franchise, The Hunger Games relies heavily on casting the living hell out of its adults. The all-star cast really came to play in this one.
Woody Harrelson is settling in nicely as Haymitch, aka The Best Character In This Damn Thing. As the worn-down coach for District 12, Harrelson shows us the lowest lows he can, and paints a really interesting picture of what will become of Katniss and Peeta if they don’t nut up and take down the Capital. It’s sad that Haymitch’s best bit was cut from the film, because that would have added some nice girth and depth to the guy, but Harrelson does a bang-up job with everything that he’s given.
Donald Sutherland’s role has really expanded since the first film, at least, I think so. I don’t really remember it. I just remember a scene where he’s talking to the weird kid from American Beauty and pruning flowers or something. Sutherland makes for a nice villain, the perfect face of antagonism for Katniss to shoot arrows at.
Elizabeth Banks is wonderful again as Effie Trinkett, the official face of dying twelve-year-olds. Her walk and her voice and her wonderful costume design are working in perfect tandem to create a memorable character. Gold Star!
Lenny Kravitz of all damn people is back as Cinna and is still very nice and all that and sort of makes me wish I had a stylist just so it could be him.
The Golden Ticket in this candy bar franchise is, was, and always will be Stanley Tucci as Cesar Flickman. Tucci is phenomenal in the part, the perfect encapsulation of the pomp and circumstance that the Capital uses to frame these games. He is an injection of life, and is positively hilarious as he appears over and over again. Please, someone tell me that he’s in Mockingjay. I know there’s not much reason for him to be, but that’s all I’ve ever wanted in life.
The only adult who ends up sort of leaving something to be desired is, unfortunately, Phillip Seymour Hoffman. It rends my heart to say these words. Hoffman is my favorite actor, and one of the best of his or any generation, but he doesn’t bring much to the proceedings here. This isn’t all his fault. He’s not given a lick to do, and probably has twenty lines total, but it’s a noticeably phoned-in performance, but one that looks like it’s going to have a lot more scenery to chew on next film. Also, his name is Plutarch Heavensbee, which is just ludicrous.
Future Casting Ideas: Sam Rockwell as Wristwatch Fizzlebum, Halle Berry as Slipsnatcha Whizzbee, and Bill NIghy as Pumpkin Zanwigglefinger.
Okay, wait, hold on. . .
There’s still one adult who bears mentioning. Patrick St. Espirit as Commander Thread, the leader of the Capital Guards who attempt to put down the resistance in District 12, gives one of the most spectacularly terrible performances I have ever seen. He has a Batman rasp, and just yells at people. There is a shot that just holds on him as he walks around and yells at people that is rapturously, unyieldingly hard to watch without laughing. It is truly something to behold, and makes me think that the regular casting director, who hired all of these phenomenal people, must have been sick that day.
“I Volunteer as Tribute”—Something the Casting Director Must Have Heard 1000 Times
Whoever gathered the cast of characters at play in the actual arena deserves a special award for. . . well, doing that. Like most great YA franchises, things slowly become an ensemble piece as time goes on, and the movie has succeeded in making me remember the supporting characters after I finished it, which is something the book never seemed to be able to do.
I have no idea how accurate the portrayal of Johanna is from page to screen, but she is a revelation here. Actress Jena Malone brings a manic intensity to the part and creates such a memorable role, contrasted well against the sad people all around her. It’s a go-for-broke performance that really makes me sad when she gets kidnapped, which is something I can’t say for Petta (see above). Also, Malone is almost thirty years old and doesn’t play a day over twenty-three.
There’s also Finnick, Beetee, Wiress, and Mags, who are all great in their own ways, even the dead ones. May they rest in peace. Cannon shot.
Things Inside the Arena
The strength of Catching Fire is not in its arena-set second half. It’s a strong set-up and an interesting execution, but Suzanne Collins didn’t exactly lose sleep over the threats she chose to have in this arena. The poisoned fog was one thing, but by the time we get to the baboon fight. . .
I mean, baboons? Really? You are in a jungle with a magic clock that makes different bad stuff happen every hours, and the best you’ve got is “rabid baboons?” I understand that keeping to the book is the best way to keep angry tweens from lighting bags of poop on your doorstep, but I also will be the first one to tell you that just because something is from the book doesn’t mean that it’s not stupid.
The arena stuff has always relied mostly on Jennifer Lawrence being a really great actress, and Jennifer Lawrence is still a great actress, but there’s much more interesting stuff at play here.
Also of note: the direction this time is much stronger. No longer does the camera fly around, this way and that, the moment a character starts moving. It is decisive, cutting camera movements that make sure you always know what’s going on and just how terrible it really is.
Outside the Arena, aka The Interesting Stuff
The politics if the games make for much stronger drama than the games themselves. Talk show appearances and earning the favor of the judges will always make for better on-screen fare than Jennifer Lawrence spinning around on a cornucopia.
The first major sequence of the film (the Victory Tour) is incredibly thrilling. Riots are being put down, and the people of Panem are on the brink of full-scale rebellion, and Katniss and Peeta have to put down the resistance they started to save their families. That’s good drama.There’s also a particularly mind-blowing sequence in District 11, where we see just how far the Capital’s subjugation goes. It’s mentioned in the book that Rue and Thresh are dark-skinned, but I had no idea that District 11 was… race divided. It’s a really, unexpectedly powerful moment when you see it happen onscreen, the sort of thing you would expect from a dystopian sci-fi series that takes itself much more seriously.
Also, this is the part with Stanley Tucci, so that helps.
If you were to read this review, you might get the impression that I didn’t like it. Well, that’s largely my fault. I’ve been a little bit too hard on the parts of this movie that I didn’t like, and relegated the things that I really loved to single paragraphs, because that’s much less fun to talk about.
I think the production design and costume design on this film is on a level all its own, and the performances, almost universally, are really incredibly strong. There’s good writing, and also I get to look at Philip Seymour Hoffman. Catching Fire is, in the end, well worth the trip to the theatre, and ends up being a mature-enough film with some solid visual something something.
Verdict: 7.75/10 Jennifer Lawrence Gifs!
Chekhov’s Gunman is a film and television blog moderated by Kevin Lanigan, a future writer of moves and TV and current writer of letters to Jennifer Lawrence letting her know that she can do better. Be sure to leave your comments below, and follow or subscribe above for more updates.
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