Film Review: The Hunger Games – Catching Fire

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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.

Directed by: Francis Lawrence

Country: US

Year: 2013

Running Time: 146 mins

Certificate: 12A for Stanley Tucci's teeth, Lenny Kravitz's music critics and a sleepwalking Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

41 Responses

  1. ORION77 says:

    Please … this movie was easily on par with all of the other movies the reviewer mentioned above and will be remembered as long as they will be.

  2. Julie says:

    you’re a moron.

    • Ed Whitfield says:

      Thank you for that considered response, Jules.

      • Teelar says:

        Real pro stuff there Eddie- Bash a movie and then antogonize the responders. You ARE a moron. You. Just. Don’t. Do. That. You should have enough confidence in your review to not have to do that.

        • Ed Whitfield says:

          Oh, did that read as insecurity? Suits you to think that I suppose. No my dear Tee, the issue is not me having confidence in my views, it’s about readers having enough in theirs to substantiate them. Julie, bless ‘er, had nothing to say about the movie or my critique of it. Neither do you. Don’t misunderstand, I love personal abuse – gets me hard – but I think it’s more interesting both for me and other readers if we stay on topic. Reader’s tip: that’s the movie.

          Stay curious.

          • Teelar says:

            Yes, Mr. Whitfield, I do read that as insecurity. That’s just how your response to Julie reads. If it was off topic- why respond?
            I agree with just about all of your review of the movie, though I think I liked it more than you did. It is unfortunate that something like this movie, so unchallenging and obvious, threatens to become the standard intellectual fare from tent pole films.
            Anyway, I don’t usually respond, it just seems that the fine art of balancing editorial and review/critique is suffering. It is most certainly crumbling when it has become reactionary and negative.
            There is no response that will NOT read as continued insecurity.

          • Ed Whitfield says:

            P.S: trying to shut me up by labelling me insecure won’t work – you’re going to have to come up with a good argument for Julie. I’m looking forward to reading it. I expect Julie is too.

          • Teelar says:

            P.S. Look objectively- five other people have left responses (some pretty well informed and well argued) that have to do with the topic, the film. To whom in the comments section did the reviewer of the film respond? That’s how insecurity is spelled.

          • Ed Whitfield says:

            Well at the risk of pointing out the bleeding obvious, I responded to Julie’s comments precisely because it was off topic – to draw attention to the same. That and she opted for lazy insults over comment on the movie. When I get stupid comments I like to have a bit of fun with it. Not all critics bother responding to user comments; I always have. The reason is simple. I believe in the conservation. I think a small minority of readers believe, and you’re apparently in their camp, that commenting on a piece should be strictly a one way process and that they can be as crude and as simplistic in their reply as they please because they won’t be challenged. Well on this site you get challenged. In other words, if you’re minded to be reductive, willfully misread a piece, or, shock horror, psychoanalyse the writer because they’ve criticised a film you enjoyed or wish to enjoy (readers: please don’t, it’s a dreadful waste of your time and mine), then be ready to back it up.

            The only thing worse than a wounded and spiteful Julie is an apologist for Julie. I’m not obliged as moderator to let anything like that through; I did so to respond because my favourite readers are the ones that think about their remarks as I’m obliged to think about mine. Think of it as the reader/reviewer contract. So yes, I. Do. That. And I encourage my fellow reviewers to do the same. Any questions?

          • Teelar says:

            To point attention again to the bleeding obvious, look at how much time and energy you continue to spend on this thread. There are other people here offering comments and still this is the only discussion you comment on. You didn’t even acknowledge that I commented on the movie.
            Presumumably you get paid to do this, this is your job, at least part time. This is like the gas station employee or busser bickering with one guest over nothing while everyone else sits around, ignored, getting uncomfortable.
            I thought you might get that after the last post, but you just keep going. Now it’s just weird. Every time you retaliate it just gets worse. Don’t you get it? You are the man, you don’t have bicker with guys like me.
            My original was in response to what was tantamount to guy who wispers ‘bitch to everyone else when a co-worker has left earshot.
            C’mon man, you clearly like movies, read the script of the comments section and tell me that what Ed says to Julie doesn’t sing with petty cowardice.
            The point is, if you are going to be the man, the man who tells us that his viewpoint on films is worth listening to because his name is in the byline, try to have a little respect, even when they don’t. Sticks and stones, bub. Breathe for five more seconds next time before you hit submit.
            Think of Katniss, she didn’t ask to be the instrumental figure in the rebellion of a futuristic society. Yet, she handles herself with grace. Think of all of us as your Peeta, if you can come to respect us, drop your defenses, forgive our flaws as readers with humility and grace, we all have a shot at being friends.

          • Ed Whitfield says:

            If only you’d just commented on the movie in the first place. *sigh* One comment too late.

            It’s odd that you think I shouldn’t deign to talk to my readers. In just about every way imaginable I find your thinking backward.

            My response to Julie was nothing like the example you’ve given – it’s like responding to her while she’s in earshot because she’s free to read it and respond at any time. I don’t think Julie needs you to speak for her. Your characterisation of calling people on abuse as “cowardice” is frankly absurd.

            If you were my Peeta I’d want to know why you never say anything of interest and consequently, can you really blame me for sleeping with the miner from the district?

            Anyway, as Julie’s spokesperson I await your justification for her abuse with interest.

          • Teelar says:

            Aahhh! This is ridiculous. That last bit from me was absurd.
            Mr. Whitfield, I apologize to you for letting this getting as far as it has. I actually respect your review a lot. These films, with this subject matter could be a lot more relevant and rich in context and challenging, etc. I consciously turned off that viewpoint before seeing the movie and found it enjoyable and yes relevant in other ways. It seems to be almost a warning sign to the young about the desire for being a celebrity and all that goes with it. It must be so important to not only young girls but those that surround young women today that they see a curvacious, imperfect, immature at times young women who is not reveling in her stardom, but anguishing in the loneliness that comes with it. And the only person in the world who can understand that is Peeta, a genuinely good guy, a baker’s son, who is not charming, not funny, not buff, just THERE. I ddn’t like
            Hutchersen at first, now he makes complete sense. After all, what it seems like most of the reviewers are ignoring is that despite that we get scenes without Katniss, these are the stories of a young girl going through all of this, it’s her lens through which we see this unfold, not the Meta God everyone seems clamoring for since some time around Scream and more recently Inception. It’s through this very accessible perspective that I found what I love about movie’s in this one- at it’s most basic, it’s a story about how we treat eachother. You see it in Effie’s face when she pulls Katniss’s card, that ridiculous mask finally cracking and here is humanity coming through the last two eyes you’d expect. Even Effie effing cares. For that I look past the heavy handed beating of Cinna, or the granddaughter saying ‘someday, I want to love somebody that much, or the storm trooper who hits his head on the door, wait, that’s a different flawed movie that’s also awesome.
            From the above review, I’m sure you have many insightful and interesting opinions in response.
            So, again, I’m sorry I’ve wasted your time with bickering,
            Mr. Whitfield.

          • Teelar says:

            By the way, I apologized to you there. Please, accept – one last time
            Mr. Whitfield, in this open public forum in which I had the gall to try to lecture you on decency, I now offer my apology to you, sir.

          • Teelar says:

            Mr. Whitfield, shall you really now allow your silence to speak for the depth of your character?
            Now, when faced with the opportunity to demonstrate your ultimate humility and devinity by typing the words, ‘you are forgiven’?
            You absolutely offend me, sir. As a human.
            But, I forgive you.

          • Ed Whitfield says:

            I thank you both for your apology and forgiveness.

        • Will says:

          Apparently, some people have a problem with opinions. I disagree with the review but I love the comments. Stay classy Mr. Whitfield.

  3. Lorne says:

    I have yet to see the movie, and looking forward to going. As a fan of the book I am biased, and therefore have to disagree with your characterization of Peeta. I also will say that the apparent sameness of the two films comes from the way the story is told. The games are essentially the same thing every year and it shows how audiences enjoy watching the same thing over and over again. Mildly ironic actually, but this is a complaint on the film I see being rather dime a dozen and frankly its by design.

    However, that is where my disagreements end. There are some weighty issues here and from what I have read and seen of the film so far, you are quite right. The plight of the working man to the wills of the rich is an issue that should have been front and center here. The fact that it is not is indeed cowardly (or worse, ignorant) of the opportunity for real social commentary.

    That being said however, the interest in making this film, and really any francizable property, is to make money. Sure there are fringe benefits, like lip service to the fans, but ultimately its not a film that businessmen will use for anything else. There again is a (if not the) commentary of the Hunger Games spelled out. Audiences going back to the same entertainment do to familiarity rather than quality. And I unfortunately because it is HG will do the same.

  4. E says:

    Thanks this is like the ONLY review I could find that reflected my own feelings about this horrid movie.

  5. Jane says:

    Peeta as lifeless? Read the book. He’s depressed as a result of his PTSD from the 74th Games! Do you expect him to jump for joy and laugh like Caesar Flickerman?

    • Ed Whitfield says:

      This is a review of the film not the novel, Jane. I have to say I don’t remember him having much personality in the first movie. Perhaps, as adapted, he’s just not a particularly interesting character.

      • Jane says:

        I get it. You’re not into diplomatic, non-violent type of characters like Peeta. Well, I do. Thanks for the reply Mr. Whitfield.

        • Ed Whitfield says:

          I love diplomatic, non-violent characters: I’m not a Star Trek fan for nothing. All I ask is that they have a little personality.

          • Teelar says:

            Interesting point you touch on there Ed. Is it therefore impossible for a character to be interesting if that character has no ‘personality or charm? Isn’t that Spock by definition? He is literally a character designed to be devoid of personality. Peeta is boring, that’s who he is, in the movie and the book. He is a Baker’s son from District 12. Even Luke Skywalker isn’t charming or funny, he’s even whiny, yet that gets a pass because… why. Most reviewers were four when they first saw him? Now, there must be more!

          • Ed Whitfield says:

            Spock’s devoid of emotion, not personality, surely?

          • Teelar says:

            Very true, and I respect your take on Peeta and agree. For some reason it just makes more sense to me. He’s supposed to be a character who has not grown up with all the ads and images of ‘men’ that we see on t.v. in magazines, in movies, etc. He’s a character who has not been taught how to be ‘cool’ in the world he knows. No James Dean, no 80’s action stars to emulate, no heroes. It just feels more like real person.

  6. Jim says:

    I agree with your review. I was surprised that Rotten Tomatoes did not have any others similar to yours. My opinion – it is very much a young adult’s movie, but when I was a young adult, those films aimed at us were either more entertaining or had larger scale ideas in play, or both. Were I a 13-17 year old hoping to see an action movie speaking to my sense of powerlessness regarding the suffering of others, especially in the context of a social system that doesn’t seem to care, I would be greatly disappointed. And it is certainly not a film for adults, which I went to because, knowing nothing about the storyline, I thought it would have social commentary about poverty in America. There was nothing of substance in that regard.

    • Ed Whitfield says:

      I agree it’s a shame, Jim. It’s also very short sighted on the filmmakers part. They obviously think the existence of the novels gets them off the hook but I’d argue that adding that kind of depth futureproofs your film. Today’s teens are tomorrow’s adults and if they’re to return to these movies and get something new from them – thereby sustaining the brand, then they’ll need more than the one note treatment given here. The movies I mentioned still have some value because they reward repeat viewings.

      • Jim says:

        And if they do think the novels get them off the hook on exploring the deeper social issues, then for people can’t/won’t find time to read the books, we come away completely unaware that those topics are explored anywhere meaningfully related to this storyline. If I am a filmmaker making artistic choices between extended combat and presenting layered commentary on the current avoidance of political discussion of poverty and hunger in America through strategies of issue-distraction, and knowing that millions of young adults are going to be watching, it seems almost a moral responsibility to do more than use the topic as mere plot backdrop. And it also makes for a more complex and interesting story. Thank you for the reply.

  7. Armando says:

    This sentence below is EXACTLY my problem with this movie. The sense of adventure is gone. It could have been a great set-up but instead, as soon they selected to be back in the games, I’m like… “great, this isn’t a sequel but a remake of the first”.

    “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…”

  8. Nobody Special says:

    Your cogent abstract is eclipsed by your pompous timbre. Stop trying to distance yourself from the proles on verbage; it doesn’t align with your strengths.

  9. Gabby says:

    This article lacks substance, you basically just typed in a bunch of big words to try to sound smart. I wonder how many synonyms you looked up to try to make your article sound as “intelligent” as possible.

    • Ed Whitfield says:

      Hold on to your hat: no looking up was necessary. It’s the benefit of having a vocabulary. I’m with you though, Gabby. Language is bunk. We should always strive to be as reductive as possible in the words we use; get ’em down to single syllables if possible. Yes, even if there’s a longer word that better conveys the meaning, acting as an efficient substitute for several short words that don’t quite do the job. In fact I’m looking forward to writing my first review in Newspeak next week. I’ll dedicate it to you. If I can find the words that is.

  10. Chai says:

    Hey Ed! I agree with your review. The movie was tedious; same old same old; failing to light is right!

  11. Tabula Rasa says:

    Hoffman could’ve used some of those footlong adrenaline needles from mi3 in this flick. All he needed was a snot bubble and some eye crust. Jennifer Lawrence is great at turning her head slowly in proximity to wheat or tall grass; and seeing how far she can stare while appearing introspective. Good thing she can always find time to be emotional, she would never be focused enough to arch.

  12. mark says:

    Your right the movie sucks, now a days people want movies with action, it doesnt have to have good acting or a good plot, it can be predictable, as long as it has some meaningless boring action the average dumb movie goer will like it.

  13. Kosmin says:

    I can say i’m not into this type of movies, I saw the first one accidentally at TV and it was well over my expectations.

    But watching this sequel I had the exact feeling you describe here:

    “…what follows looks, sounds and feels a lot like the film we’ve already seen, albeit with a series of well-judged substitutions.”

    That’s why this movie was a very big disappointment for me, same structure…, same bad practice as in The Hangover sequels, it’s boring as shit.

    I can’t belive it recieved so many positive reviews on rottentomatoes (thanks to that site i found you… one of the few guys that made a true review for the movie)

  14. Dave says:

    Thanks for the review. I don’t get the 83% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The first movie was not even watchable and I expected the second one to have something in the 40s on RT but reviewers are falling over themselves at the “revolutionary” film. What a bad joke. I don’t look to Hollywood for revolution, but the way they set up the story so it’s about actually rooting for which child we want to kill the others has zero radical content and leaves us all as ghoulish spectators.

  15. Catherine says:

    Regardless of its shortcomings I couldn’t imagine justifying a negative review, Ed. Visually, it IS striking. Story-wise, it’s a pretty refreshing take on your typical hero’s narrative. For blockbuster Hollywood films, this is a big deal; Katniss is a new kind of protagonist. The quieter, character-driven first half of the film is certainly better, but I see the necessity of including the second games (and my suspension of disbelief did stretch to the point where I found its ending totally badass). Director Lawrence’s only misstep was failing to structure the second half around a more comfortable source of tension, which is entirely different from the first. By now, most of the audience is watching the spectacle from the outside in; our twisted sense of fascination a la Battle Royale is gone. The film lets us know we should be better than that, and we are; director Lawrence doesn’t see this. It’s an unfortunate oversight that wounds what could have been an excellent installment. Still, I think it’s a smart film. I do enjoy the dystopian setting and I’m not as critical of the way its themes are handled as you are. However, you’re right in saying the film would fare better in taking some real risks. I haven’t read any of the books but I’m betting the last one gives us stronger parallels in social context…I have faith in a decent payoff, but I guess only time will tell how much I end up liking the whole series.

  16. Vinyl. says:


    Every negative review I read seems to describe a character in weird ways. That gives me a strong impression that the review is out of proportion regarding to the movie, which I have no problem with of course. I mostly visit sites like these to see comments that give out silly insults and interesting disagreements.

    I’d say this one was the most amusing out of all, especially the review. I’m no movie critic, but catching fire was pretty great, but sets me back with the whole act between peeta and kat, and a repetitive feel that lasted a little too short and didn’t bring a much better difference.

    Everyone has their tastes.

  17. Scott says:

    I agree with your review. I haven’s seen a movie this stale, this preadolescent, in a long, long time. I kept thinking what Michael Palin would have done with the visuals. It felt like something aimed and invented by a preschooler. The first one was passable. This one was awful.