Catching Fire (Movie) – Review
*Disclaimer* This review is for the MOVIE version only. Not everything said will translate across mediums to the BOOK version.*
WHAT IS IT ABOUT?
Catching Fire is the second entry in the ridiculously popular Hunger Games saga based on the novels by Suzanne Collins. The story is set in the fictional, dystopian world of Panem seventy-four years after a failed rebellion to overthrow a corrupt government. To maintain control, the tyrannical government divided the impoverished nation into Twelve Districts. To remind the Districts of the price of their rebellion, the Capitol selects a male and female tribute from each District to compete in the annual Hunger Games – a fully televised, glatiator-style death match. In the first Hunger Games film, District 12 tributes Katniss and Peeta defied the Capitol, finding a loop-hole to become the first ever co-victors. With Catching Fire the repercussions of that defiance are felt. A spark of rebellion is now spreading throughout the Districts and the Capitol has Katniss in their crosshairs. Using the Quater-Quell (a “special” Hunger Games every 25 years), the Capitol decrees that tributes will be selected from the pool of existing victors. Katniss and Peeta find themselves tossed back into the nightmarish games. They must fight for their survival without losing sight of the real enemy.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
Rebellion isn’t the only entity being set ablaze by this movie. Catching Fire torched the box-office to the tune of over $864,600,000, making it the highest-grossing film at the domestic box-office in 2013. The film’s leading lady, Academy Award winning Jennifer Lawrence, has catapulted into stardom as arguably the most popular actress currently in Hollywood. With two (arg, don’t even get me started on this…) sequels hitting theaters in 2014 and 2015, respectively, the Hunger Games craze doesn’t look to loosen it’s snare on pop-culture anytime soon. The series has also set the fuse to the popularity explosion of other Dystopian themed stories (such as Divergent). Catching Fire also came into the public eye due to the tragic death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.
A CRITICAL REVIEW
Catching Fire rises above the dreaded “sequel curse.” The most fitting comparison would be to Empire Strikes Back (lofty praise from this obsessed Star Wars geek). While undeniably a “bridge” entry and therefore lacking closure, it succeeds in upping the emotional ante and character development. The plot recaptures many elements of the original Hunger Games: Katniss is still self-centered, Effie still dresses like a human poodle, Peeta is still utterly useless, and our characters once again end up in a gladiator arena. Yet, this is not the Jurassic Park franchise scraping the barrel for new ways to strand people on an island with a hungry T-Rex. The rehashed ideas flow naturally with the plot and there are enough new characters and surprises (at least to few who haven’t read the book) for Catching Fire to succeed on its own merits.
The acting is, once again, top-notch. Jennifer Lawrence is dynamic and Josh Hutcherson has improved from the original. New-comer Jena Malone infuses energy as the feisty Joanna Mason. However, the most captivating stars are the “baddies.” Whenever President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) share a scene the result is movie magic. One of the films strengths is being able to expand upon the fictional world (the book is told exclusively from Katniss’ limited POV). This freedom allows the screenwriters to paint a clearer backdrop of the spreading rebellion and President Snow’s vendetta against the victors. Don’t let the YA label fool you, this is as well-crafted and executed a movie as you are will find coming out of Tinseltown.
A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
The primary reasons many Christians have avoided this film franchise is the belief that it advocates violence. After all, can a movie with the premise of trapping children in a bloody gladiator-style death-match possibly be acceptable for Christians? I believe so. The first task for a Christian when engaging this (and any) movie is to look beyond the surface. A crucial distinction must be made between Being Violent and Promoting Violence. Catching Fire is a violent story, but so too is the Bible. The Old Testament tells of people being impaled with blunt spears, decapitated, hung, having their head cracked open, having their head served on platters, children mauled by bears, and so on. Likewise, Catching Fire‘s PG-13 rating is actually eclipsed by Mel Gibson’s The Passion (rated R for “graphic violence”). Obviously the Bible is not glorifying these gruesome acts; it is merely capturing the reality of our fallen world. The same principle applies to Catching Fire. In fact, arguably the film’s central theme is to put such horrible violence on trial. The characters suffer from PTSD, alcoholism, and intense nightmares from the acts they have committed and seen. This is not a shoot-em-up flick where countless faceless baddies are slaughtered without a second thought. The violence is handled delicately and the consequences of killing are real. In fact, it is possible to substitute the Capitol with the governments of China or North Korea and the Tributes with Christian and other oppressed factions to see the relevance of the message.
Also of note, because the tributes are selected from pool of previous victors the contestants are all adults and not children (as was the case in the first film). This makes the death-match easier to swallow. Likewise, it is clear throughout the movie that the enemy is the Capitol and not the other contestants, with the oft stated slogan “Remember who the real enemy is.” The prominent theme of fighting for a greater cause then personal survival gives the deaths more purpose.
B) Power of Media
An intriguing dystopian world, a classic love-triangle, and thrilling action sequences have all attributed to the worldwide success of The Hunger Games Franchise. However, another key factor is the story’s timely commentary on the power of media. The message was established in the first Hunger Games movie when the evil government’s primary method of controlling the Twelve Districts is through the mass-televised Hunger Games event. At one point Kantiss ponders what would happen if everyone simply stopped watching, to which Gale responses “They won’t.” Cannot the same be said about the continual box-office topping garbage like the gory SAW franchise or the longevity of television shows such as Sex and the City? The unhealthy addiction between our culture and the silver screen is put on full display for how ludicrous and dangerous it can be.
Catching Fire also speaks to the power of media to subliminally influence our perception of reality. In one fascinating scene, President Snow and the Gameskeeper discuss their strategy for extinguishing Katniss and the rebellion. Their plan is to control what is displayed on the television screens, manipulating the image of Kaniss as “belonging to the Capitol” and surrounding the paparazzi overload of her wedding with live floggings and shootings. Such censorship and media control immediately heralds back to Nazi Germany; however, we need only look to the (apparent) gay propaganda of Disney’s Frozen (link to review), televisions portrayal of Christians as either stiffs or fanatic doomsday preachers, or the news coverage of the Chick-fil-A and Duck Dynasty controversies to recognize the relevance the Capitol’s method in our own time.
C) Human Nature
Viewing Kattniss as a role model is a double-edged sword. On on hand she has become a representation of many feminist ideals as a strong heroine. She has set the tone that strong woman can carry a film (Catching Fire is actually highest grossing film in history with a female lead ). On the other hand, she is not necessarily the girl you’d want your only daughter to grow up to become. She is a flawed, selfish character. How you approach this depends on your own expectations. Some have scorned her as being a poor role model character, pleading for more virtuous and nobel heroes and heroines. There is definitely a place for such criticism. That said, I veer toward the opposite interpretation. The Box Office testifies that our culture no longer has interest in “perfect heroes.” We live in an age when selfish Iron Man and tormented Batman rule the day. The one superhero that continually struggles to gain traction is Superman, the ideal hero (so much so, that Hollywood opted to just add Batman into the next Superman sequel to add more grounded, relatable character). Perhaps never before has our society been so willing to recognize our human nature as being flawed. As Christians we have the person of Jesus as our perfect, sinless standard. What we need more of is stories of imperfect heroes who nevertheless strive to overcome evil. In this way, the lessons Katniss learns about trusting people and overcoming her selfish instincts are all the more praise-worthy. After all, Imperfection is the prerequisite of the Christian faith, so we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss imperfect characters. In fact, if we refuse to accept imperfect heroes we’d have to reject the Bible! Are there more flawed characters in the history of literature then Peter, David, Samuel, Moses, etc.?
The film is gritty and violent. However, most of the violence is implied off-screen with very little blood actually shown. A woman disrobes in one scene (shown from the shoulders up). The act is played up for humor and not sensual. People have different standards of what is appropriate in this area. I tend to be extremely conservative, having never viewed a movie in theaters that contained any level of nudity, and I had no problem (nor did my wife) with this particular scene. However, if you wish to be sure, the scene is available in its entirety on YouTube (just search: Catching fire elevator scene). If you are a hesitant mother/wife/girlfriend, consider previewing the clip to decide if you are comfortable with your man viewing it. Lastly, several cuss words are bleeped-out during a character’s tirade, but you can probably decipher what is being bleeped. I found the rant perfectly appropriate within its context. All in all, there is surprisingly little offensive content.
Freedom. Injustice. Human Nature. Oppression. Power of Media. Desensitization.
WHO IS IT FOR?
The film is fairly dark and heavy-handed. Children younger than 14-15 should probably wait until they are older. With less degrading scenes than the average Sunday Night Football game, Catching Fire is an appropriate choice for couples to enjoy together. While classified as ‘Young Adult,’ many “Not-As-Young-Adults” will enjoy the movie as well. A strong female lead and the romance will appeal to girls, while there is enough action to draw in the boys (and the girls who love action flicks!).
THE BOTTOM LINE
Catching Fire is a powerful film about the value of freedom and the atrocities of oppression and injustice. By no means is it a Gospel tract, nor should a “secular” film be expected to be (although the book’s author is a professed catholic). Nevertheless, Catching Fire offers much relevant social and ethical commentary for Christians to ponder and discuss. When held up alongside other trash polluting the box-office like The Wolf of Wall Street, Catching Fire proves to be a harmless and enjoyable film that will leave you counting the days until the sequel hits theaters this November.
Have you seen the movie? Do you Agree or Disagree with my review? Sound off below!
**Disagreement is welcome…hateful comments toward others is not. Be curtious or your comments will go the way of the Cassette tape**