Failing to Light
Chapter 2 of the young adult behemoth yields little in the way of new material. As we rejoin the story, still weary after the sluggish first instalment, we find Katniss Everdeen, the heroine with the moniker that sounds like a real name misheard, hauled up in Victor’s Village, being primed for her tour of dystopian America with her on screen love interest Peeta in tow: a lunk so lifeless that it’s little wonder she’d rather roll around with a miner from the district.
Enter Big Brother incarnate, Donald Sutherland, who’s anxious to quell the flame of sedition lit in the wake of Katniss’ unorthodox victory. In his only substantial scene, the wizened father of an auspicious acting dynasty tells our bowstress that she better maintain her state sanctioned media persona for the benefit of the feckless proles. Any notion of inciting revolution will lead to the inhumane destruction of her family and real world fuckmate. Thus we’re primed for a rather different story about fanning dissent in a totalitarian society. Unfortunately Catching Fire is never destined to catch fire, because as soon as new director Francis Lawrence has got this intriguing setup out of the way, he gets his namesake star to the capital and what follows looks, sounds and feels a lot like the film we’ve already seen, albeit with a series of well-judged substitutions.
Version 2 has Katniss battling previous winners instead of dull first timers: experienced killers, says Woody Harrelson, though one wonders why they’d be any more experienced than Katniss, but we’ll take that on trust. Instead of fire, the heroine runs from a poison mist, instead of faking it with Peeta, she‘s drawn to him, instead of dogs she fights angry baboons, and so on. It has a little more pace than before, a little more character, thanks to a colourful assortment of old champions including a narcissist and a sassy nutjob with a penchant for taking her clothes off, but ultimately this is the same movie; a fact director Lawrence fails to disguise with a tacked-on setup for the next film.
The staggering box office success of The Hunger Games, presumed to continue with this sequel, entitles us to wonder what Hollywood imagine the so-called young adult audience want and whether, in light of the movie’s cash haul, they’ve intuited correctly. On the evidence of this pair of movies the kids like it long and vanilla. They care not a jot for pace or characterisation, content that the charismatic lead be surrounded by two lead weight love interests, and they’re cock-a-hoop at the satirical content being watered down to trace levels.
If Catching Fire had the courage to run with its ideas – exploitative entertainment as a mechanism for keeping the masses docile and distracting them from state action, the suppression of the poor by actors working on behalf of rich interests – then we’d have a movie instead of a throw away entertainment aimed at undemanding teens. This boring and inconsequential flick makes one nostalgic for a time when those struggling with skin problems and twatling strings turned to films aimed at an adult audience – the likes of Robocop, The Running Man and Brazil – to enjoy provocative fantasies that had an idea or two about the way we live now.