In Catching Fire, Katniss rapidly discovers that she has somehow inspired uprisings in various districts and President Snow is not at all pleased with her. Katniss and Peeta get engaged on their victory tour in an attempt to placate Snow, but it’s not enough and the next thing you know, they are both in the arena once more. It’s the Third Quarter Quell – a special sort of anniversary celebration of the Hunger Games that occurs every 25 years – and this time the Games feature previous winners. So Katniss and Peeta find themselves in the same boat along with a host of other victors…
Overall, I found Catching Fire a lot more watchable than The Hunger Games. First and foremost because director Francis Lawrence chose not to go down the handheld camera path – so I was not subjected to almost 2.5 hours of shaky cam, and I am very grateful for that.
The political subtext here is quite clear – Katniss has become a political figure, a figure of hope and a symbol that the Capitol can be defeated. So, galvanised by her success in the Games, the districts begin to rise and rebel against the oppressive Capitol, and President Snow tries to keep Katniss under his thumb in an attempt to maintain his grip – and the Capitol’s – on power in Panem. But as I was never overly enthralled by political squabbling in books or movies (because there’s loads of that in real life, anyway) it isn’t something that would keep my interest long.
Fortunately, the characters were generally more interesting this time around and they drove the film. Well, Katniss was a bit irritating and Gale was supremely irritating (I spent most of the first half of the movie wishing Gale would just go away) but thankfully, the other major victors were not aggravating and actually got translated quite well to screen. District 4’s Finnick Odair – one of the characters I liked in the books, played here by Sam Claflin – was suitably tough and suave yet also vulnerable when the situation called for it. Johanna Mason of District 7 was not one of the characters I liked, but it was a good performance by Jena Malone; her angry defiance was palpable. Beetee (Jeffrey Wright) and Mags (Lynn Cohen) also turned out well. The scenes with Mags and Finnick were heart-wrenching… (Actually, anything with Finnick can be pretty emotional if you’ve read all the books and you know his backstory.) Elizabeth Banks did extremely well as Effie Trinket; her distress and sorrow over Katniss and Peeta having to take part in the Games again was quite affecting.
If there was one character that suffered in this adaptation, I think it was Peeta. Poor long-suffering, devoted Peeta really got the short end of the stick here. He didn’t have a chance to do much, and I felt they neglected to give him more scenes with Katniss, or that there wasn’t quite enough solid interaction. I know this isn’t a love story, but considering that their relationship is a pretty important part of the whole thing, there didn’t seem to be sufficient development on that side. But perhaps that left more room for focus on Katniss, although she was not nearly as appealing here as she was in The Hunger Games.
Hopefully she gets a bit more likeable again in Mockingjay. (I’m both anticipating and dreading all the Finnick Odair parts in Mockingjay. heh)