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The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Year: 2013
Studio: Lionsgate
Director: Francis Lawrence
Writer: Simon Beaufoy/Michael deBruyn/Suzanne Collins
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Jena Malone, Donald Sutherland, Geoffrey Wright, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Lenny Kravitz

It bothered me while watching The Hunger Games and I couldn't put my finger on it. This time around, it struck me. There's an inherent hypocrisy in Katniss Everdeen's (Lawrence) story and adventures from her impoverished home district and the lavish capital, and it's this.

The capital is like Hollywood – full of rich, vacuous people enjoying the high life to a level of obscene excess, power and privilege on the backs of the working class, who toil at thankless work in primary industries and scrape a meagre living out of the hard ground.

Knowing how fragile the whole arrangement is, the government not only has networks of brutal paramilitary police whose word is law, but distracts the poor from their lot with glitzy baubles of entertainment – the Hunger Games themselves, in this instance.

None of that is anything new on screens or in literature – from Huxley's soma to1984's Big Brother. In fact if you want the rich creative class to lecture you about how unfair the system is for the rest of us from their gated communities, just watch Elysium, the special effects are better.

But it's what the whole franchise is saying to the audience about that privilege and glamour. Katniss was forced into the games (lest she condemn her sister – the original choice – to death) in the first film and she is this time as well. She wants no part in the moral degradation and inequality the capital represents.

And when she's thrown into it, both films are careful to show us she doesn't really enjoy all the food, clothes, pampering, ritzy accommodation and top-notch training. She just wants to get back to her honest living with her family and keep her head down.

The audience for the films, however, are the poor districts surrounding the capital. Katniss might not want all that and that's what keeps her heroic and pure, but the rest of us sure as hell want an easy life, buffets on superfast trains and dresses that look cool because they catch on fire when we spin around in a circle. We want to be loved, famous and rich. Both movies take great pains to show us what being in the inner coterie of the elite can get us and how nice it is (food, fashion, etc).

So the film is sending a clear message; all this is wrong, it's evil, it all exists because of your blood, sweat and tears and it was never intended for you. But don't you want it anyway, look how lovely it all looks?

That's my problem with the entire structure on which The Hunger Games is built. It thinks it's about revolution against the elite, but it's about showing you how great it would be to be one of them.

Anyway, it's not just the second Hunger Games, you're literally watching another Hunger Games – although I haven't seen any critics griping at this like they did The Hangover Part II when it turned out to be a complete retread of the original.

Living in a village for Hunger Games winners, Katniss still can't decide if she loves her boyfriend back in her home district or the guy she won the last games with. The eeeeevil president (Sutherland) shows up and explains how the people want to see and believe her story of being in love with Peeta (Hutcherson), and if she doesn't put on a winning performance at it he'll kill her mother and sister.

No sooner is she paraded around the Capital, put on TV and dressed like an Oscar winner all over again than they announce a special Hunger Games pitting all the past winners against each other, and we're back in familiar territory.

One of the big problems I had with the premise was that I thought the essential story was about groups of kids put in futuristic arenas and told to fight to the death. The first film was barely about that thanks to clever plotting and editing, and this time around, it seems even less so. Katniss and Peeta team up with a bunch of other entrants and join forces against arbitrary threats the game itself throws at them (everything from poisonous fog to angry baboons). There is a group opposing them made up of the rest of the fighters, but they hardly ever appear.

I can also appreciate world-building as much as the next sci-fi fan, but for some reason the slightly parallel universe-ness of it all just feels off kilter. One example is in the names of the characters, which sound like a cross between Lord of the Rings and the Mr Men.

You can see how much money Lionsgate have spent after the box office cleanup of the first film, and Lawrence wrangles the star quality the world already loves her for very well. It's just that the themes I've seen a million times, the premise that seems disinterested in itself and the inherent duplicity of the approach behind the whole series so far is just leaving me cold.

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