[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAzGXqJSDJ8

Friday night, my friend and I went to see the second instalment of Suzanne Collins’s massive smash hit trilogy, adapted for the screens. I wasn’t going to see it, honestly. I’d seen the first one, and there was something about seeing the physical and psychosocial trauma that hit me viscerally in a way that the books couldn’t translate. Yes, I knew it was fiction, and yes, I knew what happened anyway. But I found the experience quite frightening, to be honest.

But then the reviews for Catching Fire came out (mainly glowing, in a nutshell), and my curiosity got the better of me. I also had a free movie voucher, and I thought, well, I could save it for The Devastation of Smaug’s Cumberbatched Voice (aka The Hobbit part 2), or I could suck it up, be my age, and see Lenny Kravitz, Jena Malone and Stanley Tucci do their thing. And you know what? I’m glad I did.

The Good

One thing the first movie missed (as well as the book, to a certain extent) were the socio-political underpinnings to the world of Panem. But Good Second Instalment Syndrome hits the Hunger Games trilogy – right, we’ve seen the action, we’ve established the characters, now we can do some exploring of characters and world. And I honestly think this accounts for some of the better middle instalments in movie trilogies – witness Dark Knight, The Two Towers, Empire Strikes Back. (I know it doesn’t account for the crappy middle instalments, but work with me here.) In any case, Catching Fire doesn’t even enter the arena until midway through, and that’s some quality time spent exploring weighty issues like revolution, PTSD, and moral priorities. It’s also some quality time spent with the characters – Jena Malone cracks me up (I adore her – if you haven’t seen Saved!, you should), as does Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman. I just love Lenny Kravitz period, who brings an understated gravity to Cinna. Josh Hutcherson is blooming as Peeta, despite having almost nothing to do except get carted around by people and keeping Katniss on a leash. And Jennifer Lawrence is – luminous. Growly. Kickass. Fan-bloody-tastic.

Oh, and one last shoutout to the costume designer, who rocks. This movie must be a designer’s dream.

The Bad and Ugly

Hmmm. Not much actually. I’ll save my criticism for ancillary stuff, like the soundtrack (doesn’t sound as good as the Hunger Games soundtrack, which had several stand-out songs) and the merchandising. Do you think the word irony flashed in the marketing team’s minds as they prepared to market, sell, and inundate the masses with a movie and book that is partially about the evils of the manipulatory characteristics of the media and marketing? (I’m aware of my role in it, by the way, but that’s where you draw the line between “simple” communication and merchandising. But that’s a philosophical discussion for later.) Oh, and 90 billion retrospective thumbs down to the parents who allowed their 7-year-olds to go to Hunger Games premieres with bloody arrows sticking through their heads.*

Verdict

Graphic violence is down from the last film, but psychologically this does as much of a bender as the last one. Take the parental guidance seriously.** But even if you haven’t seen the first film, or read the books (though it helps), you should see this one. It’s good. Very, very good.

What did you think of Catching Fire, if you’ve seen it? Or the books?

– Jean AAR

*I’ve tried my hardest to find this photo on the web, but my googling skills have proved fruitless so far. I don’t think my memory is deceiving me. But even if my memory is wrong, I’m sure some crazy parent somewhere allowed their child to participate in the fantasy of having been butchered as part of a sociopolitical suppression. Yes, that’s a great fantasy.

**Sometimes I wonder at the MPAA – for starters on crazy MPAA ratings, see Bully, King’s Speech, and the recent Philomena. However, here they’re bang on. I really think the MPAA needs another rating between PG-13 and R – the Australian and New Zealand M (for Mature, kind of like a PG-15) would do nicely.