Catching Fire is a long fizzle of a film that ends with a CGI bird and a Coldplay song. It’s freaking awful.
I reviewed The Hunger Games last year and thought it was also awful:
The Hunger Games is a mess of a film. It is a baffling, confusing, and — worst of all — boring waste of what felt like five hours. The story (if that’s not a complete misuse of that word) follows Katniss (which I variously understood to be ‘Candice’ ‘Cadness’ and ‘Clarice’ before somebody sent me an SMS explaining what was going on) as she engages in some sort of television show where she has to kill other people on the television show… because of politics… or something… [Source]
So I went into this film with extremely low expectations. Extremely low. And I was still disappointed.
The basic criticism of The Hunger Games is that it felt more like a first act than a film. Vast amounts of exposition and background, then a bright and shiny action scene where the 24 kids all try to kill each other. Fans of the film and the book assured me that it would all get much better in the second installment. We would see what all of the first act meant and how that would affect everybody and blah, blah, blah, blah.
Well freak me sideways if Catching Fire isn’t just a blow-for-blow repeat of the first film. Lengthy, lengthy exposition. Donald Sutherland mooing at the camera incomprehensibly, then bleeding into his drink (?). Lots of talk, lots of babble. Then a bunch of kids try to kill each other and it comes to an abrupt end.
Since the end of the first film, the evil dictator (played by Sutherland) has been struggling to maintain his inexplicable reign over the twelve districts beyond the Capitol. Katniss (played by the expressionless plank of wood, Jennifer Lawrence) has somehow given all the proles hope, for reason in revolt now thunders, and at last ends the age of cant! Or something. I don’t quite get this plot point.
El Presidente Sutherland has a brilliant scheme: if people believe that Katniss is really in love with some guy, the people will be less likely to start an uprising against him. Thus, Katniss is sent on a tour of the other districts to say how in love she is with a midget. Meanwhile, Katniss has a real boyfriend back at home who doesn’t like the fact that she has to act like she’s in love with a short person. It’s all very angsty. It’s all very dramatic. I don’t care.
Lo and behold — you’ll never have guessed! — the people also don’t seem to care much for Katniss’ love life and they still want to rise up against the dictator. This makes the dictator wonder what else he could do to restore order, so he consults his new strategic adviser who suggests that they start whipping the people. This goes as well as you’d expect, so the dictator consults with the same dimwit who gave him the last idea. Together, they come up with the grand scheme to send people who’d previously won the Hunger Games back into the Hunger Games…
[SPOILERS] It turns out that the adviser is trying to start a revolution. Now his rubbish advice makes some sense.
Don’t get me wrong, I was barracking the whole time for the President. Dude seemed to know his onions. But in a world with mutant dog monsters, toxic gasses that are curable with water, and remote-controlled monkeys, the part that stretched my suspension of disbelief to breaking point was the idea that the President would whimsically agree to any idea that was thrown at him. This isn’t the modus operandi of an evil genius. This is the behaviour of somebody who won’t reign for long.
What the film fails to make up in plot the film also fails to make up in thematic exploration. The President has decided that he can use Katniss to help him secure control over his empire. He insists that she perform in a certain way. He insists that she dress in a certain way. He insists that she go into the Hunger Games arena. Katniss loses control over her body for the sake of the totalitarian state.
But it’s later revealed that a group of guys are manipulating affairs to inspire an uprising. One of these people is manipulating the President into coercing Katniss. Katniss is denied all agency when she discovers that the revolutionaries are using her for their ends.
For a protagonist, she’s far too regularly acted upon. The lengths the film goes to in order to deny Katniss the ability to control her situation is disturbing, and because she never rises above the forces that are manipulating her, it’s difficult to understand what the point of the film is. It feels like yet another first act.
The same problems from the first film are repeated. Too many characters with too many stupid names. You care about none of them and you care even less when they die. There are way too many Chekhov Guns that never get fired. And there are far too many times where the film completely abandons the audience (Katniss’ presentation, for example, made absolutely no sense).
The acting is, without exception, woeful. All of the characters were extremely bland and samey until Jena Malone appears as Johanna the-girl-from-another-district. She appears, says something bright and interesting… then takes her clothes off thirty seconds later. In a film that’s already struggling with the portrayal of its female lead, this scene makes you feel dirty more than anything else.
The characters rely heavily on costume in order to convey character. Sam Claflin (I thought it was Jake Abel) as Finnick makes an appearance dressed as Tarzan or something. The moment he changed clothes, it took me a while to work out who he was. That goes for pretty much everybody else involved in the Hunger Games.
But the worst offender for this was Elizabeth Banks who — let’s face it — can’t act. She’s excruciatingly bad in everything that she’s in. In both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, the makeup and costuming department does an amazing job of concealing the fact that she’s terrible. Merely looking at her conveys everything you need to know about her character, which is fortunate because Banks brings nothing to the role.
I think what annoyed me most about the film was that it returned to this cookie-cutter totalitarian state for some sophomoric posturing about what it means to be free. In 1984, a lot of effort went into making the reader understand the State. There’s a world in which the characters inhabit that makes a sort of internal sense. Importantly, all of the characters in the novel have internalised to whatever extent the dominant ideology that is keeping them servile. But the State is clever and has set up ways of catching people who are questioning the ideological foundation of that society. It is a society that has a past and, horrifically, has a clear future.
The Hunger Games franchise is a mess. Katniss isn’t questioning the ideological foundation of her society; if anything, she wants to be left alone so she can go back to enjoying her space in the social framework. Worse, the State seems to spend all of its resources reminding its population that it’s oppressed. ‘Everybody must watch the Hunger Games so we can remind you how oppressed you are!’
Catching Fire shows precisely how flimsy the premiss is. Why would the State create proletariat heroes? Why would the State lose control of those heroes? Why would the State have a super expensive and elaborate method of oppression, while maintaining the usual symbols of oppression (such as the physical violence from the police force)? How has this State managed to function for so long? Who is controlling its CCTV? Magic angel babies? How did they get that footage?
In short, the story is bad, the story-telling is bad, and the film is bad. It’s just bad.
And it ends with Coldplay.
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