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|By AARON SKETCHLEY (aaronsketch@HOTdelete_thisMAIL.com)||Ver 1.3 2020.09.09|
Another thing the movie gets right is the vogue fashions among the people in the Capitol. While some of the choices are obnoxiously bold, they are all consistent with each other, and further serve to highlight the differences between the people in the outlying districts and the Capital.
The part where the film comes up short is the lack of social criticism. There are only a handful of spots where the filmmakers make a good point, as the film generally seems comfortable focusing on Katniss's story. While rather subtle, the contrast between the lack of food in the districts and the overabundance in the Capitol—to the extent that much of it is wasted—is intriguing. Alas, nothing is made of the disparity, and the protagonists are not even given a chance to comment on it.
The film is intriguing and very memorable. It masterfully depicts the nightmarish tragedy of children being selected at random to fight and die—with the mania of the audience evoking the Roman gladiator games—contrasted not so much with the haves vs have nots, but current modern mass media consumption trends where people endure endless abuse for our entertainment, and we give nary a second thought on the suffering and hell we put the willing and unwilling performers through.
Katniss and Peeta are taken on a victory tour around the districts, which also depicts the scale and extent of the government's repression of the district citizens, in addition to how widespread dissent has become. All the while Katniss and Peeta have to try to maintain the false image of two people in love, and sticking to the prepared script—as deviating from it tends to result in the death of innocents.
That growing dissent and unrest forces the president to crack down on the districts, in the process Gale—Katniss's real love—is captured and publicly flogged. Katniss, Peeta and Haymitch use their influence to save him, however that prompts the president to make the participants in the 75th games be selected from the victors of the preceding games. Katniss and Peeta are soon swept back into the horrific spectacle of the next games, with the added edge that the majority of the competitors are angry that they have to go through that terror again.
Being the middle film of the series, Hunger Games: Catching Fire is mostly about setting up for the payoff in the concluding films. While we revisit some familiar scenes, the film wisely keeps them short and focused on the characters' actions now that they are older and wiser. What I enjoyed most about this film is that it actually started to dig into the issues that the film series presents. While a bit thin, it does give the characters a lot more opportunities to fully digest and react—in their own unique ways—to the tragedies unfolding around them.
The highlight of the film is Jennifer Lawrence. Perhaps her best sequence is right at the end, when we see her character struggling to grasp the terrible news she just heard about the bombing of District 12, gradually change to a steady resolve as she comes to terms with the situation and decides to join the struggle against the cruel and oppressive government. Wow!
Nevertheless, Katniss is roped into becoming the symbol for the resistance against the Capital, and is used by the up-until-now hidden District 13 to become the mouthpiece of the movement to topple the oppressive regime and free the people of Panem. There are a few interesting scenes that have other characters strategizing and talking about Katnis while she sits in a corner of the room—these scenes are the closest we get to the film making a comment on modern media. However, the film doesn't really get around to making any social criticism other than unscripted TV is better than scripted TV.
I was joyed to see the further development of the various districts in Panem—sometime that I felt wasn't done enough in Catching Fire—however, this film lacks the dichotomy of the haves (in the Capital) with the have-nots (in the districts), as well as what arguably makes this series unique: the spectacle and unpredictability of the Hunger Games themselves. Instead, those things are traded in for some rather common sci-fi tropes of a spartan military-like society fighting a war in post-apocalyptic ruins.
The film itself isn't bad, it's just uneven, doesn't have the same unyielding pace, and doesn't have the same thrill as its predecessors. On the other hand, it does have a number of pivotal scenes that highlight just how terrible, amoral, and ruthless the Panem regime is. With luck, this film has laid the groundwork for a final film that will bring back the elements that have made the Hunger Games series so entrancing.
Highlights are the performances by pretty much all of the actors and actresses that you know by name from other films. The addition of Hunger Games-style lethal traps adds a new element to urban warfare. However, as urban warfare has been handled better in other films, all of those scenes without a games-style trap are a bit lacklustre. The film is gorgeously shot and produced, but the lack of tension leaves a lot to be desired.
The let downs are basically too many characters on the heroes' side, and not enough on the villains' side. In other words, some time is spent checking up on what the extended cast is doing but not with the finesse of say "Ocean's 12". On the other hand, aside from President Snow, there aren't any henchmen to focus on and act as a foil for the heroes to confront and defeat as the film builds up to the final encounter.
Also, unlike Harry Potter (for example), the original novel didn't have enough material to stretch over two films. Parts of this film feel padded out, and other parts feel like a lot of the action is happening off screen. While doing that keeps the film focused on Katniss and the pace more or less consistent, it ultimately reduces the film's overall tension and kind of prevents the film from effectively building up to its climax.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed this film for its unpredictable twists and turns. It's just too bad that it's mostly action and spectacle, and doesn't have much—if any—social criticism.