“Hunger Games: Catching Fire”
The first criticism is that this is the second in a trilogy, and it really does not stand alone. Without having seen the first one, it would take a while to understand the context of this one. And, of course, it ends rather abruptly, because, we all know there’s going to be a Part Three.
That said, for the fans of the books and the first movie, this one does not disappoint. The casting decisions were superb, and Jennifer Lawrence is just perfect in the Katniss Everdeen role; just the right mix of spunky and vulnerable; bewildered young woman and savvy competitor.
In the not-too-distant future, Earth is ruled by a powerful plutocracy that keeps most of the “peasant population” in desperate poverty and perpetual servitude. Having won the latest brutal Hunger Games, but suffering from undiagnosed PTSD, Katniss has returned home to a hero’s welcome, and is trying to learn to enjoy her new-found status as retired celebrity. She doesn’t have to struggle to survive any more like everyone else, but she’s having a difficult time becoming accustomed to the “trained poodle” aspect of her victory. The oppressive fascist government trots her out for publicity events when they feel like it. Oh, and they can change the rules any time they want, too, like when they decide that on the big 75th anniversary of their rule, they will now require the former victors to compete again, as well. And that includes our reluctant heroine, Katniss.
But something is in the air now, that wasn’t there even last year, when Katniss first competed, and won the hearts of her countrymen with her determination and resourcefulness. The populace is getting really tired of being continually oppressed, and Katniss herself has begun to represent the spirit of rebellion among them. She, of course, never bargained for this, and doesn’t really want to be any revolutionary symbol, but of course her fierce independence and genuine modesty just makes her that much more appealing to a populace starved for hope.
In the annual “Hunger Games,” contestants from each of the 12 Districts are thrown into a hostile environment and told to go after each other until only one survives. A jaded gentry enjoys watching it all on the big screen, like the ancient Roman citizens used to enjoy going to the Coliseum and watching gladiators kill each other until only one was left standing. But, as in the Roman Empire , the vast majority of the population residing in despair and destitution, if not outright slavery, provided a fertile seedbed for rebellion; if only they had a leader---and a cause---they could believe in and trust.
As in the “Twilight” series, part of the plot’s tension is the romantic triangle between Katniss, her fellow “tribute” or surviving competitor Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), and the boy she left back home, Gale (Liam Hemsworth). But over-the-top secondary roles by Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks threaten to steal the show from the bland unconsummated romances. That, and the pulse-pounding drama of the death-dealing competition itself.
Yes, today we look back on the American Revolution as a kind of romance of high ideals overcoming despotic tyranny, but in reality, rebellion is rarely pretty; because, as Thomas Jefferson put it, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”
By any other name, would it smell as sweet?
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving , Texas