RECAP: Catching Fire

Catching Fire (2013): Francis Lawrence

She thought she was out, but they pulled her back in.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: Katniss Everdeen, reigning champion of the Hunger Games, re-enters the arena, but this time the stakes are higher. 

Hero (5/10)

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), champion of the 74th Hunger Games, lives in the Victors’ Village in District Twelve, where the survivors of the games can pretend they don’t live in fear, manipulation, and near-slavery.

Katniss enjoys the privilege of hunting turkeys in the woods, but she’s haunted–terrified, really–of the children she killed in the previous year’s Games.

Katniss and her sister, Prim.

Katniss also deals with her ongoing love triangle. She hunts the turkeys with Gale (Liam Hemsworth). Gale loves Katniss, but he’s concerned about her feelings for Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). “It was an act,” Katniss says. “I did what I had to do to survive.”

Survive Katniss will have to do again. The third Quarter Quell is coming up. Special rules govern these quells, and this time President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has big plans. Katniss and 23 other former victors will fight again. This unprecedented event will unite the victors, though it’s meant to divide the districts, which are doing some rioting.

This news comes after Katniss and Peeta tour the 12 districts and Capitol on their victory tour. Katniss ain’t excited about it. Ain’t excited about anything. Snow wants Katniss to be a symbol of the Capitol, while the people want her to be the Mockingjay.

Adolescence is a time of confusion. Most teens aren’t held hostage by a tyrannical dictator while simultaneously being the symbol of revolution for millions of citizens. Katniss is.

That Katniss can tolerate anything in her new life is a testament to her survival skill. Speaking to District Eleven, an image of Rue overwhelms her. The Girl on Fire addresses Rue’s family directly, saying she was “too young, too gentle. I see her in the flowers that grow by my house.”

That speech prompts an old man to flash the Mockingjay salute, the middle three fingers extended and arm extended. The others in the crowd follow, until the Peacekeepers wade through and murder the old initiator.

That moment in Eleven shows Katniss what her mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) says, “You never get off this train.” Once a victor, always a victor, and always under the thumb of President Snow (or any other president).

Katniss and Peeta don’t go off script again, reading boring speeches boringly and pretending they are in love. That doesn’t stop the people from throwing up the Mockingjay sign anyway. One girl tells Katniss that she, like Katniss, wants to volunteer for the Games. That doesn’t make Katniss feel better.

Katniss and her makeup artist, Cinna.

The victory tour ends and soon the Quarter Quell is announced and Katniss must return to the arena to fight to the death. Plans are afoot that Katniss knows nothing about. A revolution is running through the districts, of which Katniss catches glimpses. The districts are catching fire, often literally.

Pity Katniss. Since the moment she emerged from the arena in The Hunger Games, she has not authored her life. Snow wants her in the arena to kill her friends and end the rebellion brewing behind her. The rebels have their own plans, and Katniss doesn’t learn of them until the Quell ends.

Throughout this Katniss struggles with love. Gale asks her straight up if she loves Peeta. Katniss won’t answer except to say that she has “no room for anything,” except surviving. Peeta’s mad at her because she won’t stop looking at him as if he’s wounded. “Then I can quit acting like it,” he says.

Katniss demands Haymitch promise to let Peeta survive the Quell, not her. Peeta is the better person of the two, Katniss and Haymitch agree. He’s an ally, and Katniss makes more before the Quell starts, not so much through friendliness as her perfect archery skills. She never misses.

It’s Katniss’s need to save others that makes her the symbol of the revolution. She weeps for Peeta as he’s unconscious in the arena, shouts for Prim when her voice envelops her, and sleeps by Gale after he’s whipped for tackling a Peacekeeper. Her tears make Panem hate the Capitol. Her friends weep for her.

Jennifer Lawrence brings urgent emotion to Katniss in Catching Fire. She screams often, as her world makes little sense, but Lawrence’s voice doesn’t sound like the full-throated shriek of a terrified woman. Youth and rage inflect, and that’s good, because Katniss is supposed to be a teenager.

Villain (5/10)

President Snow makes few and brief appearances in Catching Fire. He first shows up in Katniss’s house, watching footage from the end of the previous games, not believing the love story that saved both their lives. Many saw the ending as a love story, but Snow knows better. Katniss and Peeta avoided eating poison berries, and theirs was an act of “defiance.”

Snow believes Katniss is the budding symbol of a revolution. He’s right. Katniss asks Snow, “Why don’t you just kill me now?” Snow answers, “I want us to be friends.” He then shows Katniss a video of her kissing Gale. Katniss knows that video would finish her Peeta love fable and likely her life.

President Snow and the new game maker, Plutarch Heavensbee.

Snow turns about face quickly. As soon as he returns to The Capitol he wants Katniss dead. His granddaughter wears her hair in a braid like Katniss’s, as do most girls at her school. He’s rightly afraid of Katniss, especially after her victory tour and the evidence of her power as a revolutionary symbol, so he uses the Quarter Quell to cull the herd of victors. “Her entire species has to be eliminated,” he says, the victors being the “species.” They believe they are invincible because of Katniss.

Snow’s bombshell Quarter Quell announcement comes with a message. “The strongest cannot overcome the power of The Capitol.” Snow’s decimation of the districts following the destruction of the arena seeks to prove that statement.

Donald Sutherland exudes ferocity behind a rictus smile. Eyebrows point upward like lone mountain peaks. Everything about Snow appears fake; the sinister remains just below the surface. Yet, Snow cannot help but obsess over Katniss. He promises that he won’t lie to her, and he never does. He only tries to kill her. Sutherland plays Snow like a snake wearing human skin and a white rose.

Action/Effects (3/10)

You won’t find long action scenes in Catching Fire. Katniss and 23 other tributes are once again thrown into a death arena from which one survivor should emerge. We saw this in The Hunger Games, and the filmmakers understood that we don’t need to see it again. Watching kids kill kids once was enough.

The insanity and brutality of the arena becomes a character itself. Beneath a domed forcefield, a jungled hillside surrounds a small saltwater pool. Divided into twelve sections, each slice of the arena features a different murderous method each hour. Flooding, angry baboons, poison gas, blood rain: not all the traps will kill you, but they will mess with your mind.

Rude baboons

Two sequences show the horrors of the arena. In one, a poison fog creeps in and follows Katniss, Peeta, Finnick (Sam Claflin), and Mags (Lynn Cohen) through the night jungle. Nasty boils burn them, and Mags gives her life so the youths might live. Isn’t that sweet? The now-trio survives the gas cloud when it reaches another sector, and they cure their burns in a pool.

That pool is the spiritual home of baboon ancestors. That’s the best explanation I can think of to explain why the baboon troop tries to eat the humans. There’s some fighting, and another victor dies to save Peeta and Katniss, but that’s it.

The anticipated battle royale never happens. Katniss and her crew avoid the careers determined to kill them. The traps laid in Quarter Quell are timed to attack each hour in a certain sector, and she spends more time dodging them. Lame. I wanted some fighting.

Catching Fire‘s budget increased more than $50 million from The Hunger Games. The difference shows. Sets and effects are much improved; just look at the baboons.

Sidekicks (6/8)

Catching Fire brings a strong cast to help Katniss and Jennifer Lawrence.

Peeta: Peeta’s a sensitive type, and the is-it-real love story he’s peddling across Panem with Katniss isn’t helping. In an early scene Katniss suggests that she and he marry. She does not propose to Peeta, but suggests it to Haymitch as she sits beside Peeta. Yeesh. Someone’s sleeping on the plush half couch in the drinking car tonight.

Peeta is justifiably upset at Katniss for faking it and not explaining, or even having, clear feelings about him. He almost believes that she kisses him for real on the Caesar Flickerman show. He offers an olive branch–they can be friends. But when he asks her favorite color, she doesn’t want to give that up. Katniss is a tough nut to crack, but that’s what makes her Katniss.

Peeta and Katniss training.

Once he enters the arena, Peeta is a drag. He’s nearly drowned in the first seconds of the Quell. The poison gas hurts him badly enough that Finnick and Katniss have to escort him from it. Finnick cannot carry his adoptive mother Mags, and the old mute kills herself to save them. Peeta’s electrocuted, and he disappears during the climactic moments, captured by The Capitol.

Gale: Peeta’s cute and all, but Liam Hemsworth dayum! This guy’s got chiseled jaws for days. I bet his abs are way better.

Sorry, I got busy objectifying. Gale’s stuck working the mines in District Twelve while his beloved Katniss tours Panem with a boy she might love, or might not. Gale asks Katniss straight up if she loves him. She can’t say yes or no, only that there’s too much going on now for her to fit love in her life. Makes sense, but that sounds like what you say when you’re trying to juggle two partners.

Gale’s big moment comes when he tackles the leader of the Peacekeepers attacking his village. He takes a whipping for that, but he wins our hearts, too.

O’Finnick O’Dair O’Irish O’Shirtless

Beetee, Johanna, Finnick: The warriors that help Katniss in the arena have wildly different traits. Johanna (Jena Malone) undresses in front of Katniss in her first appearance, and on TV she screams to the audience, “Fuck this.” I liked her. Finnick wields a long spear, and also uses a long spear in the arena. A little dick humor for you. Beetee (Jeffrey Wright) is the brains of the group after his crazy partner dies. His plan inspired Katniss to destroy the arena dome. “Thers’s always a flaw in the system,” Beetee says, and he helped Katniss find it.

Johanna

Haymitch Abernathy and Effie Trinket: I can’t tell if these two have boned before. Effie worships victors, and Haymitch is a drunk, so I bet they have. This pair barely keeps Katniss from ruining the rebellion by making her the most beloved of history’s victors.

Henchmen (2/8)

Snow’s chief muscle in District Twelve is a hardnosed goon named Thread. This guy’s so tough that he needs no black-visored helmet to complete his Peacekeeper uniform. Thread shows up long enough to whip Gale, pull a gun on Katniss and the other victors, and threaten to kill them if they try anything again. Little screentime, lots of hate for this guy.

Inside the arena Katniss meets other people who want to kill her. These enemies are called careers, and except for a list of their names and their relationships delivered by Haymitch, they are present to kill Katniss’s allies and die by them.

One of the careers, whoever this person is, she never bites anyone with her fangs.

Plutarch Heavensbee runs this year’s Quarter Quell. He’s obviously on Katniss’s side, but for all of the last five minutes he’s a bad guy, so he goes here. Hoffman acts like he’s phoning in a phoned-in performance, which somehow works for this character because Hoffman is an ace actor.

Heavensbee meets Katniss at Snow’s big party, where he cuts into a dance to chat her up. Not a creepy move at all.

Stunts (2/6)

One fight sequence boosts the panic factor during the Quarter Quell. Katniss and her five allies have reached the cornucopia, the Gehry-like metal structure that houses the weapons. Thanks to a strange tribute called Nuts they’ve discovered the clock-like pattern of the traps.

Nuts sits by the water and recites Hickory Dickory Dock when from the water pops one of the careers, a shirtless and bald man slowly becoming a merman. He kills Nuts, but is not slippery enough to avoid a Katniss arrow, which finds his heart.

Two more careers appear and attack. Katniss misses one. Finnick fights a guy with his trident, using it as a staff to block. Johanna throws her ax into a woman.

Gladiators, ready!

The fight proceeds too well for Heavensbee’s liking. In the control room, he orders the cornucopia spun. All the competitors stumble and grab the rocky foundation as the center spins faster and faster. Katniss nearly flies off. Johanna saves her, digging her ax into the stone. Peeta nearly has his face sliced off.

Heavensbee watches the live hologram projection, with numbers representing the tributes instead of names. Some were red and some were blue, though I couldn’t discern if those colors signified gender. There must be some way, because District Twelve had two tributes remaining.

When one of those icons marked “12” falls into the water, Heavensbee calls a halt. We know it’s Katniss, but does he? “Let’s see them tell time now,” he remarks.

And that’s it. That’s the big fight scene. Catching Fire neither wants nor needs to show barbaric butchering. We are spared the soul-crushing brutality and I, for one, was pleased. This movie sets up the war coming to Panem, and the arena isn’t about surviving the arena. As several characters state to Katniss, “Remember who the real enemy is.” It’s Snow, and he’s in The Capitol, not the arena.

Climax (4/6)

President Snow, sensing an end to the Quarter Quell, visits Heavensbee in the game control room. The gamemaker urges the President to kick his feet up and enjoy Katniss’s unraveling when she kills her allies and ends the rebellion.

Beetee has a plan for killing the careers lurking in the arena. He’s found a coil of wire that he wants to stretch from the water to the strange, lightning-attracted tree up a hill. They reach the tree and Beetee admires it. “Minimal charring,” he says, “impressive conductor.” He’s an engineer; these things excite him.

A lightning bolt, Beetee informs everyone, carries about six billion joules of energy. That sounds like plenty of joules for any task, including electrocuting three water-adjacent adults bent on murder.

There’s some argument about who will stretch the coil from the tree to the water. Katniss wants to go with Peeta, but the others refuse. Johanna and Katniss uncoil the wire while Peeta and Finnick guard Beetee from the two careers remaining.

The ladies do as they say until something catches the wire. That something then cuts the wire. That something turns out to be a career and his partner.

We expect a fight that we don’t get. Johanna appears to betray Katniss, knocking her down and cutting an unseen part of her body, commanding her to hide, as she draws the enemy pair away. The camera stays with a scared Katniss as Finnick runs into frame shouting for Johanna. We expect the betrayal is in.

Worried for Peeta, Katniss runs back to the lightning tree. She doesn’t find her boy but sees Beetee shock himself with a metal-tipped stick. A cannon fires. Who died?

Finnick runs back to the tree, shouting for Katniss now. Our hero kneels, nocks an arrow, draws her bow. Snow salivates as he watches, begging her to “let it fly.”

Finnick finally sees Katniss a few yards in front of him. “Remember who the real enemy is,” he says. Katniss slackens her bowstring as the hourly lightning warms up. She coils wire around an arrow tip. The lightning strikes the tree and Katniss looses the arrow as the electric force blasts her backward in a blue fireball. The arrow strikes the dome. Blue energy travels up the wire and shorts the dome’s forcefield. Girl’s got skills.

Snow claims the feat to be impossible. He finds Heavensbee has fled the gamemaker control room. In the arena the real sky shines on Katniss as the dome structure crashes burning around her. A hoverjet floats above her, dropping its body-fetching basket to snatch Katniss. The image nearly matches Frodo being carried in a eagle claw after the destruction of the Ring of Power.

Maybe Katniss thought she was dead. But she’s not. She awakens in a cargo hold beside Beetee. Yanking out her IV drip, Katniss enters another chamber to find Finnick, Heavensbee, and Haymitch talking about her behind her back. She tries to stab her mentor with a syringe. “This is why no one lets you make the plans,” he says.

Heavensbee has more useful information. Johanna, when she cut Katniss, removed her tracker. The Capitol couldn’t grab her, but they did get Peeta. Katniss finds this information enraging, but Gale’s there to soothe her pains. “After the Games, they started dropping firebombs. There is no District Twelve.” You’re not helping, Gale.

In the film’s final image, Katniss’s face turns from despair to rage. Viva la revolucion!

Jokes (1/4)

Haymitch delivers the laughs, as you want you drunks to do. He’s more serious this time around. His finest hour comes when Johanna undresses in front of him, Katniss, and Peeta. The smile on his face is priceless.

Setting (1/4)

We see The Capitol in better detail and in its splendor in Catching Fire. Clean concrete avenues and a presidential mansion to make the Count of Monte Cristo blush greet Katniss and Peeta as they enter the city on their victory tour.

The victors attend a suave party at Snow’s house, where colors abound and the partygoers drink juice to make them puke so they can try more foods. Overeating, who does that?

The clock-styled arena

As soon as we join The Capitol we leave it. The last third of the film occurs in the arena, a donut-shaped jungled hill with a saltwater pond in its center. It’s a pretty jungle when it’s not trying to murder the 24 fighters inside it. The characters don’t explore the forest as much as they did in The Hunger Games, instead resolving to stay on the beach for its relative safety. One twelfth of the arena floods every 12 hours, so it’s hard to blame them.

Commentary (0/2)

Dictatorships are bad. That’s the grand message of Catching Fire.

Offensiveness (0/-2)

The Hunger Games series does a fair job representing the North American populace. Lots pretty young white folks  populate the screen (this is a young adult series), an issue that is never addressed in the films, though it should be.

Others

  • Props for using the correct possessive in Victors’ Village.
  • Peeta is right to refuse a macaroon. Them things are nasty.

Summary (29/68): 43%

Catching Fire forces Katniss the cultivate her political skills. Several of the tributes are on her side without her knowing it, but she feels the need to woo them anyway. Katniss gravitates toward the weird and downtrodden, especially noticeable in the training sequences. She will never be Miss Popular, and that’s exactly why she becomes the face of the revolution. Fly on, Mockingjay!

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