In the aftermath of the 74th Annual Hunger Games, winners Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark struggle with the trauma of the terrible things they have been forced to see and do to survive. Becoming a symbol of hope and humanity for the 12 districts that suffer hardship at the hands of the Capitol, Katniss is warned to keep her personal feelings to herself or her loved ones will face the consequences. When this doesn’t work and the districts start to rebel, Katniss and Peeta are forced to take part in the Hunger Games once again but this time the competition will be previous winners and the other tributes are much more dangerous.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) – Director: Francis Lawrence

movie poster

Rating: 12A

Running Length: 146 mins

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland

Genre: Science Fiction, Thriller

REVIEW

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ is the sequel to the 2012 movie and adaptation of the novel of the same name by Suzanne Collins. The first story had dark undertones of hardships inflicted on the weak and needy by the decadent and indifferent wealthy inhabitants of the Capitol (the capital city of the fictional land of Panem). ‘Catching Fire’ brings these undertones to the fore and shows exactly how cruel and calculating those in control are to the districts and how easy it is for them to wield their power and destroy any uprising that threatens the status quo. The reluctant heroine, Katniss, despises the Capitol more than ever but is threatened with violence against her family if she broadcasts her true feelings so she tries to continue her life in District 12. Wanting to remove her as a symbol of hope to the Districts, Panem’s President puts Katniss back in the games, hoping that she will be killed by her deadly opponents.

Jennifer Lawrence reprises her role as Katniss and while her character was pragmatic and came across as quite cold in the first movie, this time around her emotions are allowed to flourish. Like before, Katniss has to feign happiness and love with Peeta in order to garner favour from the citizens of Panem but this time, the motives and genuine feelings behind the false emotions are made much clearer. The character of Haymitch (played by Woody Harrelson) becomes more than just a drunk and is believable as a former Hunger Games victor; becoming a better ally to them in the process. Like the last movie, ‘Catching Fire’ is split into three parts; the Districts, The Capitol and finally the Hunger Games arena. While the pacing is good, the majority of the action is held back until the final third. This arena is much more dangerous; the Gamemakers manipulate the environment almost constantly so the excitement levels are ramped up as the tributes fight and kill each other while trying to survive the terrible terrain that is being inflicted on them.

While ‘The Hunger Games’ franchise is seen as appealing mostly to teen audiences, and is sometimes likened to movies such as ‘Twilight’, the depth of the characters and intelligence of the writing make these comparisons unfair. ‘Catching Fire’, being the second (and middle) instalment of the story could easily have become dull, stretching out the plot in anticipation for the presumably action packed (and due to be split into two parts) finale, but this isn’t the case due to ‘Catching Fire’ following on from the successful formula of ‘The Hunger Games’, but developing the characters more. The result is a well-rounded movie that engages both the brain and the eyes. Enjoyment should be had by all then!

IS ‘THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE’ SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN?

At the beginning of the movie, Katniss is hunting in the woods outside of her district with her friend, Gale. She sees a flock of wild turkeys and aims her bow in order to kill one of them. When she lets the arrow go, she sees the boy that she killed during the previous Hunger Games. The arrow pierces his chest and he falls to the floor, dead. She becomes hysterical and Gale has to calm her down.

The President of Panem, Snow, is a very threatening villain. He tells Katniss that if the districts revolt, then he will have no issue in killing thousands of innocent people. He also tells her that unless she does as she’s told, her family and friends will be in danger. Katniss knows that he will have no hesitation in killing her loved ones, even her young sister who is around 12-13 years old. Snow is never openly aggressive, he is very controlled and menacing; it is made clear that his threats of violence are very real and he has no care about the lives of anyone in the Districts. This type of villain could be quite confusing and frightening for younger kids.

Katniss and Peeta have to tour the other Districts in order to pay their respects to the tributes who were killed during the last Games. They are given a script which Peeta dutifully reads from. Katniss, however, wishes to be more personal as the first district they go to is where Rue is from (the girl who she tried to save in the previous movie). Her emotional speech causes an old man to show his solidarity with her but he is quickly taken by ‘Peacekeepers’ to the stage. Katniss is dragged away, begging for the man to be spared but, as the doors close in front of her, she sees the man being forced to his knees while a peacekeeper lowers a gun to the man’s head. The doors close shut and a shot is heard, indicating that the man has been executed. From then on, Katniss reads her script but the districts still show defiance; each time this happens, the Peacekeepers force their way into the crowds and drag away any dissidents (presumably to be executed although nothing is shown on camera).

Back in District 12, a new set of Peacekeepers are brought in to ensure that the laws are enforced and any signs of rebellion are quickly and violently suppressed. The current leader of the Peacekeepers tries to greet the newcomers but has a hood placed over his head and is dragged away. It is unclear what happens to this character but the tone of the movie suggests that he is likely to be killed. One major character steps in to stop a woman being hurt but is then seen being whipped in the square. He is taken to receive rudimentary medical care and bloody wounds are seen all over his back; he is also given an injection to sedate him which is shown on camera.

When Katniss and Peeta go to the Capitol and see the tributes of the other Districts who they will be fighting against, some are particularly scary. The most extreme is perhaps a girl who has had all her teeth filed into sharp fangsl; the dialogue of another character explains that this is so she ‘can rip people’s throats out’. Some of the others are described as ‘self-medicating’ and, when shown on-screen, it is clear that they are heavy drug users, presumably to cope with the traumas of surviving previous Hunger Games.

When Katniss, Peeta and Haymitch are in a elevator, Johanna (a fellow tribute in the Games) enters and tells Peeta that ‘the whole world wants to sleep with you’. She then undresses in front of them and although nothing explicit is shown, she is completely naked and does this to flirt with Peeta.

One character is beaten hard whilst another is forced to look on, helpless. The character is then dragged away with a bloody face and we do not see their fate, although it is presumed that they are later killed.

Once the action moves to the arena and the Games begin there is a large amount of violence and fear involved. The Games have a series of challenges and traps ingrained into the system. One of these is a poisonous smoke that burns skin on contact, like acid. We see close-ups of blistering and pocked skin and the characters are clearly in agony. Although the damage is not permanent, during this period there is an intense fleeing scene which lasts a few minutes as the characters as desperate to escape. There is also an emotional moment in which one character cries out in anguish. However, the desperation of the fleeing mutes this and it is not especially lingered upon, aside from some quietly spoken dialogue later.

Shortly after this they are attacked by genetically modified baboons (referred to as ‘Mutts’) who screech and attack with teeth. These ‘mutts’ are fought off during a frantic fight which involves killing them with arrows and slicing at them with sharp weapons. Both the mutt and poison smoke sections feature character sacrifice that is upsetting to the audience and the remaining characters.The above two scenes happen in quick succession but after this there is more of a spacing between action and dialogue, which allows for some come down time.

As with the first film, the concept of the games at heart is ‘kill or be killed’ and many slicing and stabbing weapons are used. Whilst the blood isn’t especially gory or lingered upon, there are several moments of characters being stabbed, shot with arrows, or cut with knives. Each time there some visible blood, and the characters involved are clearly in pain and distress.

At one point we hear ‘Jabberjays’ – birds modified to repeat exactly what they hear. These birds sound like Katniss’ sister being tortured and screaming for help. It is initially stated they could only make this noise if Katniss’ sister (who is only around 12 – 13 years old) had indeed been tortured in the presence of Jabberjays.

CAN I SEE A CLIP?

VERDICT

In many respects, ‘Catching Fire’ features a stronger amount of more sustained violence and fear than its predecessor. However, this never seems particularly gratuitous, nor is it played for shock value. The plot of the movie is strong enough to give good context to any actions, and there is no concentration or glorification on the side characters who do the killing – the focus is more on survival and cheating the system rather than promoting violence. With an excellent cast and a skilled director at the helm, ‘Catching Fire’ is a very enjoyable and well-made film. However, due to the high levels of tension and violence throughout (although, as stated before, the latter is not overly graphic), we would not recommend this film for children aged under 12.

Violence:  5/5 (not excessively gory or bloody, but blood is present throughout. Violence is constant  for the final third of the film)

Emotional Distress: 4/5 (several characters die throughout and the surviving characters mourn them. Katniss is often in a very emotional state due to being desperate to save Peter from the Games. The Jabberjays severely upset her for a scene lasting a few minutes)

Fear Factor: 4/5 (the desperate situations the characters find themselves in are often intense. The poison fog, the ‘mutts’ and the Jabberyjays are all very centre of camera and frightening)

Sexual Content: 2/5 (Johanna is naked in the elevator scene described above – although nothing specific is seen on-camera and this is done specifically to make characters uncomfortable as opposed to being particularly sexual. Katniss has nightmares due to her experiences in the previous Games and Peeta begins sleeping in the same bed as her in order to comfort her during the night. However, it is clear that this is for emotional support only – both characters remain fully clothed at all times) 

Bad Language: 2/5 (some infrequent mild cursing. Johanna shouts a strong expletive but this is ‘bleeped’ out as she is on a TV broadcast at the time. It is fairly clear from the context that the f-word was used)

Dialogue: 3/5 (several characters are threatening in their speech. President Snow threatens Katniss’ family, albeit in a calm and calculated manner. There are several talks with the main characters about the need to rebel versus the helplessness of their situation against a superior force) 

Other notes: Deals with themes of rebellion, a totalitarian state, entertainment as distraction, sacrifice, fighting the system by working together, and survival. Has one non-graphic scene of the characters eating raw fish they have caught straight from the water

 

Words by Laura Record and Mike Record