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'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' fans the flames brighter

Photo: Courtesy Photo, License: N/A

Courtesy Photo

The Dating Games: Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) try to keep up appearances

Now, Katniss must keep up that pretense of passion for Peeta, to prevent people from figuring out her gesture was one of rebellion, not love. President Snow himself (a scarily smarmy Donald Sutherland) threatens Katniss in this regard: she must keep up the “love-crazed, besotted schoolgirl routine.” Or else.

But it’s too late. Whatever she intended, those watching in the districts saw defiance: Katniss changed the rules, and that’s not supposed to be possible. They’ve caught a glimmer of hope, and now actual riots are in the offing.

Katniss is awesome as a character, and remarkable as a hero, because her battle is with herself. She wants to protect her family, but also the boy she’s really in love with, Gale (Liam Hemsworth), and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), the other surviving Games winner from District 12 who continues to mentor Katniss and Peeta, but she cannot help but be the girl for whom disregarding the rules is as normal as breathing.

Katniss is special, and so is the story around her. It’s a devastating indictment of pop culture as propaganda—about its power and the limits of its powers—within its own context, as with the disgusting spectacle that is TV host Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) and his supernaturally white teeth and unctuous manner. It’s a strike at the willful ignorance of the well-off in the face of poverty and desperation all around them. How do the people of the Capitol cope with their lives of comfort and luxury next to the deaths of children? At an obscenely lavish Capitol party in Katniss and Peeta’s honor, new Gamesmaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) tells her, “If you abandon your moral judgment, it can be fun.”

I can’t exactly say that Catching Fire is “fun,” then, but with its excellent sociological sci-fi speculation and solid adventure, it’s an enormously rewarding and provocative drama in the guise of popcorn entertainment.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Dir. Francis Lawrence; writ. Simon Beaufoy, Michael Arndt, Suzanne Collins; feat. Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Jeffrey Wright (PG-13)
Opens Nov 21

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