Catching Fire Review: The Future is a Reality Show

She’s Not Here to Make Friends… Or Is She?

For a movie that rips off a million older movies about to-the-death game shows set in totalitarian futures, the surprise of Catching Fire is that it’s so perfectly tailored to this particular time and place. Aimed at a generation of kids who are generally perceived as being entitled celebrity wannabes aspiring to their own reality shows, the hero of The Hunger Games is, essentially, a chick who’s really good at being famous. Like a modern celebrity, it hardly matters how or why she’s famous, only what she does with it.

While she has a sweet side braid and bow skills, and does spend significant portions of the film hopping around like Legolas and doing the usual sassy killer Joss Whedon chop-socky routine, what makes Katniss unique is that her main skill is being able to manipulate the media. She knows how to captivate the public by creating Bachelorette-style, is-it-real-or-is-it-for-the-cameras relationship drama, and effortlessly manufactures is-she-or-isn’t-she-pregnant tabloid headlines that grow her brand. Her most important sidekicks? Her sham TV boyfriend and her genius stylist. She’s a publicist’s dream.

Has there ever been another hero’s journey story where one of the pivotal scenes involved creating a red carpet look? In the world of The Hunger Games, staged paparazzi events are a matter of life and death! She’s not here to make friends, she’s here to change the world! The whole thing is so perfectly Post-Empire that it probably gives Bret Easton Ellis a big boner. Katniss offers the promise of being able to triumph over evil just by making great reality TV. I can’t decide whether it’s evil, brilliant, or both.

First things first, the only reason we’re even able to discuss the world of Catching Fire in terms of what it all means is director Francis Lawrence, who actually made Catching Fire unblurry enough to see it, unlike Gary Ross’s work on the last one. Amazing the things you notice about a story when you’re not watching it unfold from the inside of a washing machine

The whole Hunger Games gang is back in Catching Fire – Cat Nips, Pita Bread, Heymitch Jablome, Lenny Kravitz’ Eyeliner, the Fop Lady – along with a few new faces, like Philip Seymour Hoffman, playing The Guy Who Forgot His Silly Costume, who replaces Futurebeard as Hunger Games’ lead game designer. Pour one out for Futurebeard, you guys. He may be gone, but I’ll never forget his sweet beard.

We catch up with Katniss back in District 12, after her star-making turn in last year’s Hunger Games. She’s a big star now, but she’s mostly gotten back to her old tricks, shooting turkeys in the forbidden zone and hanging with her boyfriend Gail. Somewhere, Pita Bread bakes a cake with her picture on it and cries.