I’ll admit to being more than a little disturbed reading the first of the “Hunger Games” novels. I was appalled by my tendency to “cheer” for the characters, as children were cruelly set into a gladiator-like arena to kill other children. There’s just something inherently wrong with that.

The film based on that first book allayed some of my concerns, as it clearly illustrated the wrongness of the arena and became instead a harsh criticism of centralized government and tyranny.

Now, the second book in the series has come to theaters in the form of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” and it seriously ups the ante.

Not only is “Catching Fire” a much better made, more gripping and powerful film – a rare example of when a sequel far outshines the original – but it also tears the mask off its fantastical future world to reveal the ugliness of tyranny and the fury of a people oppressed by an unjust government.

The colorful characters of the first film undergo significant growth in this movie, and watching them evolve from indifferent toward or intimidated by injustice to traumatized or enraged by it, ready to rise up and fight back, is positively contagious.

If our elected officials scented in the popularity of the first “Hunger Games” a wave of outrage against the tyranny of centralized government, wait until they get a whiff of this one.

As “Catching Fire” breaks box office records left and right this weekend, the insulated, bubble-world politicos in our nation’s capital should take heed: America’s most talked about story Monday morning won’t be Obamacare or Iran – it will be the tale of people from the outlying districts rising up to overthrow the tyranny of the Capitol. In other words, watch out, White House; Katniss is coming.

For those unfamiliar with Katniss’ tale, here’s a quick primer: In the dystopian future of Suzanne Collins’ “Hunger Games” novels, the people of the once-United States had risen up in rebellion, only to be crushed by the central government. Now the Capitol district retains an authoritarian rule over 12, impoverished, outlying districts, and reminds the districts of its power by forcing their children to compete to the death on reality TV.

In the first film, the 16-year-old girl named Katniss Everdeen (played by Oscar-winning Jennifer Lawrence) who emerged alive – and thus victorious – from the deathmatch, provoked the wrath of the Capitol by defying it on live TV.

Now in “Catching Fire,” Katniss has become an inspiration to the oppressed masses, so much so, the Capitol sends her back into the arena to see her killed in the ensuing bloodbath.

For the characters audiences met in the first film, however, this is a step too far – a betrayal and violation of the accepted law that victors would be safe from the arena for life.

Here, then, is the point that’s suddenly so timely for today. The movie is well made – really well made. Audiences feel the rage and betrayal the characters feel, the stirring of revolution … when the overreaching central government breaks its promises.

And here we are in modern-day America, where a smug, isolated capital is filled with power-hungry politicos, the chief of which said he could be trusted with control of our health care because he promised, “If you like your health coverage, you can keep it.”


Content advisory:

  • “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” rated PG-13, contains about a dozen profanities and obscenities, including two obvious “f-words” that are bleeped out (because they’re on a TV broadcast).
  • The film contains several romantic storylines, kisses, shirtless guys and few “adult” comments. The most significant sexuality, however, comes in a scene where a female character strips off all her clothing in the full and flirtatious presence of a pair of guys. Only her naked back/shoulder area, however, can be seen.
  • The movie contains dozens of instances of violence, killings and bloodshed. There are also a few scenes with some ugly skin wounds.
  • The film has little to no religious or occult content.

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