The Hunger Games: Catching Fire      
Directed by Francis Lawrence      
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Willow Shields, Sam Claflin, Lynn Cohen, Jena Malone       
146 minutes, USA, 2013         

Katniss and Peeta have survived the Hunger Games, but their nightmare continues: their memories keep tormenting them, Capitol City is getting more and more violent, and last but not least, President Snow doesn’t buy their fake love story and is threatening them. Besides, Katniss’  example has galvanized the resistance in the twelve districts and the President has no intention of allowing hope to spread…

On the 75th anniversary of the Games, the President decides that the tributes of the next game will be chosen among former victors. Katniss and Peeta are determined to protect each other, but this time they will have to deal with even more skilled and merciless opponents. However, allies can be found  where they are least expected…

The first Hunger Games movie drew the attention of the audience for two reasons: first, it relates important current social issues, even through it’s a story that takes place in a fictional world. And second, its main character Katniss Everdine (wonderfully interpreted, or maybe it would be better to say, embodied by Jennifer Lawrence) offers an alternative to the feeble and sentimental main character of Twilight who needs two boyfriends to be protected. 

Pixar produced a similar character that same year: Princess Merida, a bow-handling rebel. The difference is the political tones characterizing both the Hunger Games movie trilogy and the book (written by Suzanne Collins). The resentment of the oppressed towards the rich and powerful, a dictator using the media as a weapon, obsession with celebrity, and violence as mainstream entertainment, are something more than mere background in this story.

Katniss has survived, but like a war vet or an inmate returning from a concentration camp, she is haunted by her past. So she has come back, but in a way, she never really has, because the world she knew doesn’t exist anymore. She has to accept being a star and going around to districts showing off her victory and her fake love for Peeta; she has to reconsider every relationship (like the one with her best friend Gale); she has to mind every step; and she has to recognize the enormous responsibility of becoming a symbol of rebellion and hope.

Jennifer Lawrence is very good at conveying the thousand nuances of uncertainty, confusion, fear, strength and courage of an adolescent. Her Katniss is an unwilling but exceptional heroine supported by a sensational cast, especially for an entertainment movie created for young adults, a very sought-after  audience, often easily satisfied with less than memorable products. The presence of excellent actors in the supporting roles makes each character memorable even if they have just a few lines (or none at all — like the old Mags).

Katniss’ enemies are many: the cunning and smart President determined to keep his power no matter what, the oppressive and ubiquitous system, and her opponents in the arena — all professional killers willing to survive.

Some unforeseen alliances, however, shuffle the cards, and will bring extraordinary developments both in and out of the arena.

Catching Fire, unlike many other sagas’ second episodes, doesn’t take anything for granted, but strives to overcome the first. We can see it by the adrenaline and precise directing style (Lawrence also directed I Am Legend) and  by the screenplay (written by two Academy Awards: Simone Beaufoy and Michael Arndt, who signs with an alias), which becomes even more faithful to the book and is filled with quotations and hints that the most attentive viewers will surely enjoy. 

The war-like attitude is of course capable of drawing the audience’s attention and love, but it can’t make us forget the main message of Katniss’ adventure – her success and her survival always ends up depending on the mercy and altruism she continually and almost unwittingly demonstrates.

Even the love triangle, in this case, doesn’t look like a formula from a box-office success, but something real and fascinating, involving three genuine, fragile and wounded people who can’t give up on those they love.

The ending leaves us eager to see what is going to happen next and doesn’t disappoint us at all. Who knows how many girls have already put their dancing shoes in the corner and forced their mothers to sign them up for some archery lessons…

Elements problematic to the vision: many scenes of violence and tension, within in the limits of the genre. 

Laura Cotta Ramosino works for Cattleya, an Italian production company, as a creative producer and story editor for several television shows. She is also a regular contributor to the website Sentieri...