Movie Review: Hunger Games: Catching Fire

My wife and I recently watched The Hunger Games and enjoyed it, and decided to make the premier of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire our first date night in a long time.  It was a good choice.  The movies are the first two of at least four that are based on a wildly successful (at least in America) book series.  We haven’t read the books, or heard of them until the first movie came out and made a big splash.  If you aren’t familiar with either, there’s a good chance someone else in your life is.

Without giving too much away, the movies/books are set in a post-apocalyptic dystopian future.  Probably America, but I don’t know that this is ever explicitly stated.  Seventy-four years prior a massive conflict of some sort was finally won, and the peace established a totalitarian regime.  Currently headed by President Snow (Donald Sutherland in the movie), the elite of this regime live in lavish idleness in the technologically advanced Capital City.  The rest of the population, divided up into twelve different districts, each one apparently focused on producing a particular kind of natural resource, lives in serf-like, subsistence-level poverty, eking out a meager living through illegal hunting and black market production.  
Every year The Hunger Games are held to commemorate the victory.  Each District selects two Tributes, a boy and a girl, by lottery.  This pair is sent to Capital City to prepare to compete in The Hunger Games for that year.  Twenty-four Tributes enter a vast, natural & technological landscape, but only one is to emerge alive.  They must battle one another to the death.  The winner is exempt from all further Hunger Games, is paid lavishly, becomes a mentor to future Tributes from their District, and functions as a perpetual public relations face for the regime.
The representatives of District 12 are Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) & Peeta (Josh Hutcherson).  Since they are the main characters of the new movie, hopefully I’m not spoiling anything by revealing that, contrary to tradition, both of them survive the first movie and the Seventy-Fourth Hunger Games.  
Their survival poses a bit of a problem for the ruling regime, though.  Katniss in particular has become  the inspiration for a growing rebelliousness in the oppressed populations of the Districts.  As such, she (and Peeta) pose a danger to the regime, who must deal carefully with them to avoid creating martyrs out of them while still thoroughly killing them.  The solution is to make them both return to the Seventy-Fifth Hunger Games, and die there under ‘natural’ circumstances.  
There are two more films in production, so you either have to read the books or wait another two years to see how everything wraps up.
These are great popcorn movies – nothing terribly deep going on here, just good entertainment.  Characters and situations are all rather one-dimensional.  Katniss is really the only character that we see much into.  She is a strong, determined yet frail young woman.  She’s trying to sort out who she is as a person, but now also has to figure out how to comport herself between the affections of two young men, and the affections of a nation that looks to her for inspiration as well as the wariness of a regime that threatens not just her but everyone she loves.  
What should you consider if you’re debating whether to let your kids watch it, or watch it yourselves, or want to try and converse with kids/grandkids about it?  
Outside the disturbing premise of kids battling kids to the death (and some of the kids are pretty young), the movies are pretty squeaky clean.  Opposed to the heavy emphasis on relationships in other series such as the Twilight series, Katniss isn’t sure how she feels about herself, let alone anyone else.  She likes both guys in different ways, but frankly is too overwhelmed and freaked out to dwell on those emotions.  Outside of a couple of a kiss or two in each movie, there isn’t any of the sexual material so common in movies.  In this latest installment, there is a scene of implied nudity.  It is done about as tastefully as you can handle such a situation – meaning the emphasis is on humor rather than eroticism.  Unfortunately, it’s completely unnecessary and irrelevant.  Either a major subplot in the book is being trimmed back to a few seconds of snickering, or it’s just a completely out of place moment.  
I don’t remember much in the way of profanity or vulgarity otherwise.  The violence is mostly implied, and certainly not the blood and guts close-ups and slow-motion shots that a hard-core action movie contains in abundance.  
My main complaint is the dynamic of the men in this story.  Katniss is a strong female lead character and so the series is undoubtedly very appealing to young women.  That’s all well and good.  Unfortunately, the men contribute very little at all to the story.  Katniss is forever saving them, and none of them really contribute much of anything substantial to her or her survival.  She is alone at best, and at the worst of times is having to compensate for the compromised health or safety of her male counterparts.
This is just a reversal of the sexism decried in previous generations of movies.  It isn’t an improvement, just a reversal.  It would be really refreshing to see a better balance, where both sexes were contributing meaningfully to mutual survival.  
There is no mention of God in the movies.  While Katniss and her companions are clearly behaving in a way contrary to the desired values (or anti-values) of the ruling regime, no explanation is given for how and why they can act as they do.  If it’s a natural, inborn thing, one wonders why others don’t act similarly.  It’s not really surprising to see a popular film or book where God could easily be an interesting character but isn’t, but it’s noticeable all the same.  
The movies are pretty good.  I would hope the books are even better.  I don’t see particular harm in letting your kids or grandkids see this movie or read the books.  Then again, we let our kids watch The Lord of the Rings movies, so you may not want to make us your benchmark on this sort of thing.  

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