"Remember who the enemy is"
Having read the entire trilogy, I went into the Hunger Games with much anticipation and was greatly disappointed. That said, I really didn't expect much form Catching Fire. When we last left Katniss Everdeen, she was reeling from surviving the 74th Hunger Games with her district partner Peeta Mellark. To survive the games, Katniss had to kill people she didn't want to in self defense, watch as those she cared about were murdered, pretend to love Peta and finally, threaten suicide.
It is now time for the victory tour and Katniss is about to learn that her actions of self defense have consequences when she is visited by President Snow. It seems that the people have come to see her as a leader of resistance and to forestall an uprising, Snow makes it clear that Katniss must make people believe that she was not acting in defiance of the Capitol but desperately in love. If Katniss is not able to pull this off, Snow warns that her entire family will be killed.
Katniss along with Peta and Haymitch Abernathy head off on a victory tour and though Katniss tries to play the role of love struck teen, District 11 honors her with by making the symbol of resistance after she eloquently eulogizes Rue and Thresh. Everywhere Katniss looks, she now sees opens signs of rebellion in graffiti. Her world spins out of control when it announced that for the 75th Hunger Games, the district wants the victorious previous tributes to once again enter the arena and fight to the death.
Unlike its predecessor, Catching Fire spends more time giving us background on the characters. We get a greater sense of the excess of the Capitol through things like forcing oneself to be sick to sample more food, even as residents of the districts are forced to hunt for extra food. It is worth mentioning that having Gale beaten for poaching as he was in the books, instead of standing up for an old woman would have better underscored this point. I further missed the more detailed discussion of the black market and barter culture which provides subsistence for District 12. Class and authoritarian government are two of the central plots in this series and Catching Fire portrays this well. One of the primary themes is how difficult it is for the government to use spin i.e. propaganda to control a populace in an authoritarian regime and just how easy it is for one small act of rebellion to inspire hope. Once hope has been created, it cannot be extinguished.
Generally speaking, I don't like the chosen one meme. Because The Hunger Games had an extremely shallow in plot we were really given no reason to invest in Katniss as a protagonist. Now that we know that her actions have resulted in change and exactly how much is at stake for her, it is easy to root for her. There is so much to like about Catching Fire. Not only does it have a female protagonist, who is active and logical, Peeta, one of her male love interest, plays the softer emotional support role normally given to women. Katniss knows who she is and though she is encouraged by Peeta and Haymitch to trust, she is slow to do so and does not blindly follow orders.
Catching Fire did err on racial inclusion in much the same way that The Hunger Games did. Jeffery Wright was cast as Beetee, which was a change from the novel as Wright is a man of colour. This did not go down well with many racist fans of the series. By eliminating scenes from the book, Lenny Kravitz, as Cinna, got a much reduced role. My least favorite representation had to be Enobaria played by Meta Golding. Enobaria is the female tribute from district 2 and she quickly becomes part of Career Alliance. Enorbaria is so savage that she filed her teeth into sharp points so that she could rip out the throats of the other other contestants. We don't learn much about her motivations and she is simply the savage woman of colour juxtaposed to Katiniss' pure intentioned White heroine. The characters of colour which were portrayed were Black and in fact, the first person to die in Catching Fire was a Black man. Just watching the background scenes in Catching Fire, one could reasonably believe that North America has two races - Black and White. As a Black woman, I always want to see more people who like me on the screen but I am still frustrated that race has historically been reduced to a Black/White Binary. If the district is supposed to represent North America, where did the Asian people go? What about Indigenous or Latino people? Did the capitol secretly nuke them all because they only want to deal with Black and White people? Further to the point, if race was not an issue because of being reduced to a simplistic Black/White binary, why were people segregated by race in the district? Oh I know they tried to suggest that it was by region specialty but it seems to me that district 11 is predominately Black, whereas; district 12 is White.
The book did not contain a GLBT character and neither did the movie. This is a change I would really liked to have seen. It's rare to see GLBT characters in this genre (dystopian/Sci-fi), let alone good representation. It is a change that could have been made and given the story much more inclusion but instead viewers were treated to the typical erasure, leading me to believe that people of colour who are not Black and GLBT people must have all been killed off by the Capitol in some special competition because there is no reasonable explanation for their absence.
Catching Fire has an all star staff and with the exception of the one note Donald Sutherland (President Snow), they were a pleasure to watch. A particular mention should go to Stanley Tucci (Caesar Flickerman) and Elizabeth Banks (Effie Trinket). Banks in particular made Effie feel real and well rounded, rather than the card board cut out that she reads as in the novels. Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair was also excellent casting but I was a little disappointed that the movie did not have him wearing the sexy little net that the book did. It's interesting that Catching Fire had no problem heavily implying female nudity, complete with ogling from two male characters but refused even a hint at male nudity. I suppose having a female protagonist was taboo enough in our patriarchal world.
Though The Hunger Games is a trilogy, the last book has apparently been broken into two movies. I am very much looking forward to the division because it will really allow the directors and writers to explore the different themes Collins' brought up in Mockingjay. Today's movie audience has become much to invested in big dramatic special effects and I believe the split will allow for more investment in the world, characters and relationships. We need more information about Gale and how he joined the resistance. We need to know what District 13 is and why Katniss was surprised to discover that this is where they were heading. We need a more in-depth look at the authoritarianism of the Capitol and why some of its citizens who seem to have it all would resist. Viewers were treated to a little insight to that with Cinna being killed - showing that one is only safe as long as one conforms. Readers of the books know all of this already but the movies have been unable to convey this information well. As an audience, we need to see the corruption more clearly to comprehend the complex themes running through this series. Catching Fire tried to balance the narrative with the action scenes and was far more successful that its predecessor but that does not mean more cannot be done to support the nuanced narrative and set the scene.