I just got home from watching The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. What took me so long to go see it? Well, I had to wait for my friend to finish reading the book. What kind of friend would I be otherwise?
Now to business.

The Hunger Games sequel begins back in District 12, where we catch up with our heroine, Katniss Everdeen. She is clearly suffering from PTSD, having hallucinations and flashbacks to the Games that she and her fellow District 12 tribute, Peeta Mellark, have survived. It is winter and snow crusts the North Carolina mountains where they filmed, giving everything a bleak feel to match Katniss’s mental state.

She is quickly confronted by President Snow, the evil head of the Capitol with a Santa Claus beard, and her entire family is threatened if she does not play the game President Snow requires: namely, convincing him (and the other Districts) that she saved Peeta only out of love and not to bring about a revolution.

hunger games catching fire, tour 2She and Peeta set off on their victory tour and begin to catch glimpses that things are changing. The Districts of  Panem are growing restless; a resistance is forming, and Katniss finds herself at the center of it all, as the symbol of defiance. She remains reluctant, seeking to protect her family above all, and Gale, her best friend (and possible other love interest).

The love interests in this story are not a typical Hollywood love triangle, and that is important as well. The story is larger than “Which will she choose?” and keeps that in perspective. Most importantly, it allows Katniss to be the heroic figure (though whether she actually is a hero we’ll return to in a moment) without needing to be rescued. She does the rescuing, thankyouverymuch, particularly where it involves Peeta. In fact, one NPR blogger has even said that Peeta fills the roll of the traditional Hollywood girlfriend, and this is why their relationship works. But the tension is really between different types of love, and Katniss feeling that she doesn’t have room inside her to truly love (which is probably related to her PTSD, but also the whole living-in-hopeless-dystopia thing).

Despite her (not very good due to the traumatic circumstances) efforts to appear hopelessly in love with Peeta, Katniss doens’t quell the uprising and President Snow takes drastic actions. Killing her would create a martyr, so instead he is convinced by the new Gamemaker, Plutarch Heavensbee, to send her back into the Games to face past victors. What he doesn’t count on is the anger those victors feel, betrayed and seeing their Districts punished as they rally against the Capitol. Revolution is coming and President Snow cannot control the people for much longer.

hunger games catching fire, beachThe Games play their course, with Katniss falling back into her Protect-Peeta-at-all-costs routine, this time aided by other past victors including Finnick Odair and Johanna Mason. The challenges are deadly and they face many obstacles, as is expected, but overall the Games take less time than in the previous movie, because this story is much more about what’s happening on the outside.

That is really the interesting thing about this movie: the crux of the action isn’t always what we are seeing, but in the glimpses of uprisings and the violence unleashed against ordinary citizens by their government, for standing against oppression. At one point, Katniss and Peeta are on a train and they drive past graffiti that reads “The Odds Are Never in Our Favor.”

That brings us to much larger implications. Katniss is in a situation where she is unwillingly thrust into action to help even the odds, to bring hope. It’s interesting that despite her own meager upbringing, she thinks primarily of her own survival and that of her loved ones. Even being in one of the poorest Districts, she has grown up under the rule of the Capitol that teaches them nothing but self-focus, self-preservation. Is she a hero because she is heroic, or because the people see her as something more, no matter her personal intentions?Or is the simple fact that she exists and fights on, and that she will do anything to save Peeta for his goodness, whether she has any romantic feelings or no, that gives them such a strong affinity to her, and makes her into a symbol? Even people in the Capitol, Effie and Cinna and others, come to see her as something more.

hunger games catching fire, saluteEffieTrinket is a very interesting case study of the Capitol upbringing and character development. She is clearly upset by the whole situation, and having once formed a personal relationship with Katniss and Peeta, doesn’t want to see them die. She isn’t so corrupt that she is heartless, and yet she holds onto her clothes and makeup and shiny golden hair without a thought. What does this say about people who live in such settings? Can they see beyond the superficial trappings, or is it all to easy to simply enjoy the marketing campaigns and hype? Are the victors all turned into “Capitol dwellers” of a sort to keep this very thing, this knowledge of outside life, from infiltrating the Capitol? And would she care about anyone with whom she didn’t have a personal relationship? What does this say about our relationship with people from other cultures and other socioeconomic groups?

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire raises many questions for us to ponder, but it is also a wonderfully exciting movie told very well. It will, I think, please anyone who loves the books, and entertain anyone who has only seen the movies. It will certainly keep you on the edge of your seat, all the way to the cliffhanger ending. I will say no more. ^_^