When I saw The Hunger Games: Catching Fire on Friday afternoon at 4:00, the theater was packed with teenage girls who’d apparently rushed right over after they got out of school. The girls weren’t there on dates or with their boyfriends; they were there with other teenage girls, in packs and in pairs. Some of them were even by themselves. Part of me expected to see a Team Gale vs. Team Peeta fight break out — because I am familiar with shipping on the Internet only, I guess, and also because I witnessed that exact thing once when I went to see Twlight — but every single one of the teenagers in my theater were firmly Team Katniss. They cheered for her, hissed when she was in pain, booed her nemeses, and cried when she cried over Prim. And so did the group of retired women sitting in front of me. And so did I. And why shouldn’t we? Catching Fire, the second installment of the wildly successful Hunger Games movie trilogy, raked in $161 million domestically and $307 million worldwide over the weekend, making it the fourth-highest grossing domestic (and 12th highest-grossing international) opening of all time. But here’s an even more impressive stat: It is the biggest female-fronted movie opening ever.
That’s especially rad when you consider all the feminist awesomeness Catching Fire has to offer. The Hunger Games is rife with political allegory, and right in the middle of the uprising is an unruly female protagonist who cares way more about the fate of her family (and the 99 percent, really) than she does about the moony-eyed fellas following her around, begging her to love them. Katniss is all about the revolution, not about the romance. Consider her wedding dress, that white multi-tiered symbol of innocence and acquiescence to society’s expectations. It’s a cage! A literal cage! Three full twirls in that thing, and she is engulfed in flames, her charred purity giving way to the sleek, dark symbol of insurgency: the Mockingjay. Caesar Flickerman tries to play it off with a choked laugh. “The girl on fire is so cheeky,” he says. But me and President Snow see that moment for what it really is: The knowledge that girls on fire can burn the patriarchy to the ground.
And what about the way the damsels in distress are dudes? There’s lovelorn Gale, left at home to take care of her family* while Katniss goes off to be the warrior and save the world. At one point, he even pleads with her to tell him she loves him. And then there’s Peeta, whose combat skills max out at face-painting. They gave him a weapon this time around because the director of this film really did call him a “damsel.” Of course, he’s not a world-class archer like Katniss and he doesn’t have a specialized titanium trident like Finnick. He does get a little machete, though. The fiercest of all the Tributes is a woman: the unapologetic punk-fly Johanna, who would happily tear down the Capitol with her bare hands. And the mother-figure? The nurturing one? It’s Cinna. A dude. Inverting even more gender stereotypes. (*Prim Everdeen doesn’t need to be taken care of, though, which she straight-up tells Katniss after she takes charge of the rogue hospital she and her mom run out of their house. “We’re with you,” she says. She’s a part of the revolution, along with the elderly Mags, the brainy Wiress, and the destitute family Rue left behind. Women of all ages and shapes and sizes and colors.)
But how does Catching Fire fare as as the second film in a trilogy? It’s solid. Like all place-holder films, it struggles to find a satisfying climax and ending, but the two-and-a-half hours leading up to the bookmark are well-worth the price of admission. Actually, watching the faces Jennifer Lawrence pulls when Jena Malone gets naked in Johanna’s iconic elevator strip-down scene: that’s worth the price of admission. Sure, it’s a feminist’s delight, but it’s also just a really fun mainstream popcorn movie. Did you see Catching Fire this weekend? What did you think?