13 Things 'Catching Fire' Got Right That 'Hunger Games' Got Wrong
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13 Things 'Catching Fire' Got Right That 'Hunger Games' Got Wrong

By Joanna Robinson | Seriously Random Lists | November 25, 2013 | Comments ()

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There are many advantages to the second installment in a successful franchise. In theory, the first film has already done a lot of the leg work for you. The world building and initial character establishment? Well that’s up to the first film. Once all that tedious business is out of the way, the second film can just let her rip. That’s certainly what Catching Fire did and, in doing so, left the somewhat patchy Hunger Games in the dust. So some of that we can chalk up to the advantage of being a second film and some of it we can chalk up to better source material (a second and therefore more confident book in a successful franchise). But beyond that, the tone and variegated elements of this film click together in a way that the first one never managed. That I’m chalking up to a better fit in the director’s chair. Gary Ross’s direction of Hunger Games was fine if a bit stodgy. Which makes sense if you look at his filmography (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit). The new director, Francis Lawrence, brings all the flash bang wallop this franchise needs. Which, once again, makes sense if you look at his filmography (Constantine, I Am Legend). Lawrence is a much better fit for the world Suzanne Collins created and I couldn’t be happier that he’ll be at the helm for the next two films. (The unnecessarily split Mockingjays.) Here are 13 things Catching Fire got right that Hunger Games got wrong. Spoilers abound.

The Comedy: This elevator scene is the one most people are talking about. Why? Because we need some damn comedic relief in a bleak film about political oppression, socio-economic divides, terrifying violence and our culture’s rabid appetite for it. The first film didn’t hit many comedic notes outside of Woody Harrelson’s excellent Haymitch but here we have a more palatable blend. Between Jena Malone’s sassy, confident delivery and Jennifer Lawrence’s amazing reaction face this scene was a delight.

The Tragedy: As I said in the intro, this film has the advantage of the established relationship between Katniss and Cinna. The death of Rue in the first film was very disturbing but we really didn’t get much more than a handful of moments between the impossibly adorable Amandla Stenberg and Jennifer Lawrence. We felt the pang of Rue’s loss on an intellectual level. We understood that these games put cherubic youngsters in danger. But we feel the attack on Cinna on a visceral level. We’re trapped in that tube with Katniss experiencing all the fear and agony with her. That has to do with not only the established relationship but Lawrence’s go-for-broke performance and the framing of the scene. Absolutely terrifying.

But even the smaller deaths, Mags or The Morphling, were just handled better and ached a little deeper.

Archery: We know Katniss is good with a bow and we saw her hit plenty of birds and apples and targets in the first film, but this is exactly the kind of flash I’m talking about. This simulation put both Katniss’s skill and Jennifer Lawrence’s training on display.

The Fire: Remember the fire from the first film? It was alright.
But isn’t this the first version turned up to 11?

The Violence: The way the violence was handled in the first film was one of my biggest problems with Gary Ross’s direction. When the brutal attacks were in full swing, the shaky cam he seemed so fond of went into over-drive. That shake combined with some lens flare obscured the brutality of the games. Now, granted, Ross had a much harder job of depicting an arena populated with children rather than the older veterans Francis Lawrence had to work with. But the unforgivable violence against children is part of the point. Ross whiffed it. This arena, on the other hand, is a much bloodier place. Literally. The howler monkey scene was terrifying, let alone the skirmishes at the cornucopia. I’m not a fan of violence for violence sake, but given that it’s an integral part of the larger story in play, I’m glad it was done right.
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Tapping Into That Hutcherson Charm: My viewing schedule on Sunday went like this 1) Hunger Games rewatch 2) Josh Hutcherson’s episode of Saturday Night Live 3) Catching Fire. One of these things is not like the other and it’s the one where the very charming Hutcherson appeared to be made entirely of wood. That’s you, Hunger Games. You blew it. Peeta is much more likable in this second film. So open and endearing. That’s who Peeta should be. That’s why we care so deeply that this installment of the story ends the way it does and why…well…spoilers for the third book, I guess.

At Least Two Legs Of This Love Triangle Are Working: Unfortunately, Liam Hemsworth didn’t fare any better in this film. You can’t build a relationship based on one term of endearment, film. Keep trying.

But, like I said, at least part of this thing is finally working.

The Other Tributes: I take it back. I take back everything I said about the miscasting of Johanna Mason and Finnick Odair. Yes I was initially disappointed that Kristen Bell didn’t win her campaign to play Johanna. But Jena Malone brought a ferocity, resentment, rage and violence to Johanna that I’m not quite sure Bell is capable of. Her Johanna would have been more Mean Girl. But this is the Johanna we deserve.

And it’s a completely mystery where all of Sam Claflin’s charisma was in Snow White And The Huntsman. Sucked into the gaping void of anti-charm that is Kristen Stewart? He’s a one-man smirk machine here. Absolute perfection.

It’s not quite fair to compare these two (and the lovely Wiress and Beetee) to the tributes of the first film who were mainly enemy ciphers and had the disadvantage of being played by children. But it’s much more fun to watch an entire group of fully-fleshed characters go to battle in the arena rather than watch another round of Katniss vs. The World.

The Horrors Of The Arena: Once again, Francis Lawrence has the advantage here in that he’s working with a much cooler arena. One with a high concept and a defined perimeter. (I did miss Plutarch’s pocket watch, though. They couldn’t have slipped that into the dance scene?) But you have to admire what Francis Lawrence and his effects team did with the fog alone. Just the way it crept, before it sizzled and raised pustules, was terrifying. Compare that to the laughable failure that was the Muttations of the first film and you have to thank your lucky stars we’re in better hands.

Effie: Book 2 Effie is leaps and bounds more mature than Book 1 Effie so we can chalk this up to character maturation but it was lovely to watch Elizabeth Banks play more than just the wig.

Prim: I also saw Ender’s Game this weekend and really admired the invaluable work Abigail Breslin did as Val Wiggins, the emotional center of the film. It made me wish they had cast a stronger young actress as Primrose Everdeen. But between the first and second films both the character and the actress have grown up nicely and I found her scenes here much more believable.

Let Philip Seymour Hoffman Be Philip Seymour Hoffman: No topiary beards here. Nothing to get in the way of a fine performance from an actor hitting well below his weight class. Plutarch hardly looked like he belonged in The Capitol, but I didn’t mind one bit.

Let Jennifer Lawrence Be Jennifer Lawrence: A far more interesting piece could be written about the parallels between Katniss Everdeen the character and Jennifer Lawrence the actress. Watching Katniss on her endless publicity tour was so reminiscent of what we’ve seen in the past few weeks (years) from Jennifer Lawrence. And in this movie more than the last, Katniss seemed to be bringing the patented brand of Lawrence Snark we’ve come to love. But what, then, separates us from the painted Capitol hordes?

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • stephanie

    the Hunger Games wasn't patchy it was an introduction it was known in the first book that Katniss could shoot haymitch told her not to, in catching fire cinna said he and portia evolved the fire costumes. how Do You wrong the book that came before the second with out the hunger games there wouldn't be a catching fire

  • a_dude_yes

    Colour? My nig, this is an american film by an american author. It's COLOR!

  • Jordan73

    Hutcherson was a much better this time around. Someone must have told him to quit breathing through his mouth so much.

  • Maddy

    I am so happy to hear this - can't wait to see this. The first one was just fine I guess, but Catching Fire was my favourite book so I'm glad they've stepped it up.

  • Peter Richter

    The big difference is budget and director styles. People also have to realize you can't fit a whole book into a 2 hr movie. Having never read the books and saw Hunger Games, made me go and download the set and found it was a page-turner! I can why why and where you need sometimes to edit the book. A good in Catching Fire is the banquet about eating so much then drinking the "drink" to throw up was summed up in a few lines of dialogue and still gets the point across. I actually thought movie #2 would be a bust because of the director's history, from MTV stars to Water for Elephants.. I was impressed at the result, so he has promise!

  • RilesSD

    I dug both the first movie and this one. I like the direction it takes towards the end: political revolution rather than more Running Man.

    Yes on Hoffman, too. It was like they said throw on whatever suit you have and show up. Be you, man. And it was perfect.

  • manting

    I am confused why there is so much importance placed on fashion in these movies. I thought Katniss was supposed to be a gender convention defying heroine and half of the movie is about dresses. I did like it better than the first one which felt like a bad Battle Royal knockoff.

  • grr arrgh

    The Capitol (Basically the ruling class/1 percenters) in the film and books are very beauty/fashion oriented. Katniss is forced to put on a spectacle for those people because they are the ones that watch the Games and enjoy them. Katniss wants no part of it. She doesn't enjoy it. She's forced to dress up and perform like a dancing monkey for the Capitol and President Snow. You do see Cinna subverting the Capitol and Snow's ideals with every outfit he has Katniss wear.

  • manting

    I understand the importance of spectacle to the people but the author created that importance and the director and writer included it. I repeat, I thought Katniss was supposed to be a gender convention defying heroine and half of the movie is about dresses.

  • grr arrgh

    How do you define "gender convention defying heroine"? I think this is where you're confusing me. Half the movie is not about dresses. It's not *about* the dresses. It's about all the bullshit Katniss is forced to participate in. She has to wear the wedding dress and convince the audience and Snow that she is truly in love with Peeta so that she fails to be a threat to the Capitol. Instead, Cinna uses that dress to literally make her the mockingjay, the symbol of revolution that the Capitol is fighting so hard against. Does her dress-wearing, no matter how involuntary, negate her as a gender convention defying heroine? I don't believe so.

  • manting

    "She has to wear the wedding dress and convince the audience and Snow
    that she is truly in love with Peeta so that she fails to be a threat to
    the Capitol" - thats my problem right there. How is what a girl wears a threat to the government? It must be the most fragile government ever. Like made of glass with a case of brittle bones fragile. I didnt read the books but she has a mocking jay pin and the "rebels" have that as their symbol. Is that a coincidence? Did they adopt it because of her? Why do the crowds hold up 3 fingers?

  • Kate at June

    You should read the books. These questions are answered there. You can't fit all the elements of novel storytelling into the movie. There are things, like what you're questioning here, that they cant afford to sacrifice screen time to explain.

  • Jiffylush

    Read the books if you really want to know what is going on beyond the small amount shown in the movie.

    When books are turned into movies they leave stuff out, it's just how it is. So if you want a richer experience, more depth, or just a more cohesive story then you need to read the books.

  • grr arrgh

    Reading the books would certainly help, but it's not essential. It isn't about what she wears, it's about the idea she represents. She is representing the previous revolution against the capitol. The resistance fighters used jabberjays, birds that could replicate human speech, to pass false messages that the Capitol/people fighting for the Capitol would hear. Things like places the resistance wouldn't actually attack. Mockingjays are a new species that resulted from the mating of jabberjays and mockingbirds. Mockingjays symbolize the resistance and the fight against the Capitol. So to answer your question, no, they didn't' adopt it because of her. She's inadvertently using it against the Capitol. Katniss, by wearing the pin, the dress and fighting against the Capitol, symbolizes that fight. That resistance. As they show in both films, more so in Catching Fire, the people are getting mighty pissed at the Games and the government that forces it upon them. The Capitol has used the Games to keep the population submissive but now that they have hope that the Games and the Capitol can be overthrown they're getting restless. That is why Snow wants Katniss to wear the pretty dresses and enjoy the extravagant food, so that the people of the districts will see her as one of the 1 percent and not one of them.

    Also, as for the three finger salute, I don't recall that from the books but it basically means "I stand with you". So each time people hold that up it's meant as a gesture of solidarity, as when the people of District 11 use it when (SPOILER for the first film/book) Rue dies and when Katniss goes back to 11 in Catching Fire and talks about how Rue's death affected her.

  • manting

    so where did she get the pin? Was it from her dad? Was he a resistance fighter? I dont see how that could be since the resistance was crushed 75 years ago right?

  • grr arrgh

    In the books, the pin was given to her by the daughter of District 12's mayor. Her father wasn't one of the resistance fighters, to my knowledge. I also doubt it based on the number of years the Games have been going on. Seriously, if you have this many questions, you should read the books. They are not "preteen lit ripped off of the book and movie Battle Royale". It's a ripoff the way The Mentalist is a ripoff of Psych: Same basic premise, different everything else. They're excellent reads.

  • manting

    I will give them a chance but after watching the first two movies there are ALOT of similarities between Battle Royal and Hunger Games. ALOT. Like if I was Koushun Takami I would sue. Also one came way before the other. I will read then this week though, your well answered posts have swayed me.

  • grr arrgh

    I've not read or seen Battle Royale so I can't speak about the similarities beyond "kids killing kids". I'm beyond glad that I've swayed you! Thank you very much. I will tell you that they are NOT Twilight. The Gale part of the love triangle isn't very present in the books (again, to my memory. It's been two and a half years since I've read the series) and Peeta as I've said elsewhere in this thread is the means to an end. He means her survival and the survival of her sister and mother. She only develops feelings for him later on, once she realizes that he is the only one who can understand her experience in the Games since he has been through them with her. The focus of the books aren't on the romantic aspects. It really is just about Katniss trying to survive and dealing with suddenly being the inspiration of a new revolution. So if you're anticipating some half baked, poorly written romantic drivel, I assure you. You will not get it in this series. They really are excellent books, though I will say give the first book about 30/40 pages. I found them to be full of boring exposition initially and then it got fantastic.

  • Jiffylush

    You should see Battle Royale but imho not Battle Royale 2.

    The general similarities would be that it's set in a dystopian near future and the government is sending groups of kids off to kill each other for sport. There are more specific similarities but you get the idea.

  • grr arrgh

    I've meant to but just haven't gotten around to it.

  • JoannaRobinson

    "I didnt read the books"

    Do. Doooo.

  • manting

    they are early teen lit ripped off of the book and movie Battle Royal. I find the focus on dresses and fashion odd, thats all. I realize the author/filmmakers have created a reason for this but I just cant believe that a dress can be a threat to a government. Also does Pres Snow ever actually perform any political functions? Treaties, trade, creating laws, you know governance. It seems like his one job is the hunger games. Also if the Quarter Quell happens every 25 years and has happened twice in the past then why is anyone surprised by the announcement? Since the Hunger Games are so important I would think everyone would know the Quarter Quell was coming.

  • Jiffylush

    The previous Quarter Quells didn't involve previous winners.

    The dress is symbolic, it was an open declaration of support for the revolution on national television. You saw people being put to death for raising three fingers (symbol of the rebellion). There is no communication between the individual districts so the people wouldn't even know that others are rebelling unless they see some sort of sign. Maybe a sign like the Mocking Jay on national television.

    I watched Battle Royale and enjoyed it and I can of course see many things from that in the hunger games, but I am able to enjoy both things as separate entities. While we are at it we should also compare it to The Running Man, The Lottery, Lord of the Flies, Series 7, Village of the Damned, and even Ender's Game. All but one of these came out before Battle Royale for what it's worth.

  • CaribbeanLaura

    The Quarter Quell is like a wildcard year. It's not the same switch-up every time. I believe that one Quarter Quell they put in twice the number of tributes for example. So they know that the Quarter Quell will be a special edition of the games, they just don't know what will be the twist. I echo the sentiments above, read the book! They're really pretty good.

  • NateMan

    Seeing it this weekend after Thanksgiving with the in-laws, and I can't wait.

  • Patrick Garcia

    Come to think of it, the film did have a lot of "Whedonesque" moments.

  • CaribbeanLaura

    I concur with everything here. I can't wait to rewatch this. I too have a serious Hutcherson problem, Even tho I'm 7 years older that he is, also about 4 inches taller, but I can"t help it. He's too charismatic.

  • Art3mis

    Am I the only one around here who liked the first movie? I mean, yes, this was the better movie -- certainly the effects were much, much better, I thought the script was an improvement (though I strongly disagree that the second book is better than the first), and the action sequences were much improved as well. But I thought the first film was pretty great, notwithstanding the shaky cam. I still think Rue's death is the most affecting moment in either movie, and I cried more over her family in this one--as a result of my memories of that earlier scene--than I did over anything else. And I was a huge skeptic of Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, but he won me over during the first movie; he was just fine here, but for me nothing matched the charm of his first pre-Games interview.

  • Jiffylush

    The seen with Rue's family was the most moving seen of both movies for me. I knew what to expect with the death so I wasn't caught of guard, but with the family it had more resonance for me and I teared up again just now thinking about it.

  • grr arrgh

    I also enjoyed the first movie. I've read the books and I was satisfied from both the book reading and movie watching perspectives. Though I will say that they will hint at things in both films for the people who have read the books but don't seem to fully explain them. Catching Fire was much better (and also my favorite book in the series), but the first movie isn't bad.

  • ceebee_eebee

    I loved the first movie. I love the second movie. They were different and 2 was better than 1 in a lot of ways, but I am not sure why I am seeing so many articles tearing down 1 in order to build up 2. It's not necessary.

  • CQueued

    Well as someone who walked out of the first movie expecting bad reviews similar to the one happening in my own head and seeing nothing but glowing reviews, this second movie kind of helped prove my point that the first movie could have just been...more.
    The second movie really pointed out the weaknesses of the first that people didn't seem to notice before, a lot of them included here. These were problems that people were willing to accept until a different director came in and showed that we didn't have to settle.

  • bonnie

    I really liked the first movie. I wasn't expecting this one to be phenomenal. But I will agree with you on the Peeta bit--I think he was given a lot less to work with here. I think the Hutch is going to kill it in Movies 3/4.

  • Yup, I happily eat all the crow regarding Finnick and Johanna. This was a fantastic, faithful adaptation.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    Alright, I'm ready for the downvotes, but Peeta still isn't working for me. Lawrence tries as hard as she can, but damn if her two love interests aren't as wooden as a log cabin. Hutcherson has charm in interviews, but it doesn't translate. He's better than Hemsworth, sure, but is that ever really an accomplishment?

    Basically, if both Peeta and Gale were killed in the first 10 minutes of the movie, this film would have been 1,000 times better for me.

  • grr arrgh

    I think the main problem is with Katniss as a character. (Not JLaw. JLaw can do no wrong in my eyes) Gale has been like a brother to Katniss for most of her life, while Peeta has just been the "Boy With the Bread". So the whole love triangle is constructed of a "But he's like my brother" and a "He kept me from starving/he's helping to keep my sister alive" It's not really built on romantic feelings coming from Katniss, only romantic feelings coming from both guys.

  • NateMan

    That to me is actually a strength. It's less a Great Love than it is a pragmatic decision. And that's Katniss all the way through.

  • chanohack

    Interesting, because most (perhaps all) of Katniss' decisions that make her worthy of our esteem are spur-of-the-moment, passionate ones: volunteering for her sister, the thing with the berries, the assassination-- even shooting the force field with the arrow (at least in the book) is as much because she doesn't know what else to do than because she's figured out Beetee's plan. (The movie made it seem like more of a rational decision; Movie Katniss rules.)

  • NateMan

    I don't think there was anything really spur of the moment about volunteering in Prim's place; she just spent the last several years keeping the girl and her mother alive, and isn't likely to let that end now. I also don't think of the assassination as anything impulsive. She just overthrew one corrupt government and has no interest in installing another. It makes sense.

    I don't know. Her strength, to me, is that she's self-reliant, and choosing who she's going to spend the rest of her life with is less about burning with passion an more about being logical about her own needs. Of course, maybe Collins just sucked at writing romance. (Not much of a flaw, because she's great at writing everything else.)

  • grr arrgh

    I agree. I love that Katniss is motivated by her sister rather than her starry eyed love for some two dimensional piece of mancake. *Gives Twilight side eye*. I was just saying that in terms of being a *Love* triangle, it kind of misses the mark.

  • Agreed. Especially when she's surrounded by these attractive and charismatic men: Finnick (HELLO!), Haymitch (if you can overlook the terrible alcoholism, which somehow I can?), and of course Cinna. This deep bench of talent just highlight how dreary both Peeta and Gale are in comparison to...almost all of the other men in the film.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    I'm with you. Lawrence has too much charisma for those two dolts. I wish she threw the games and ran off with Cinna or Finnick. I'm saving Haymitch for myself...

  • SottoVoce

    I felt the same way about Peeta and Gale in the books, although I agree with the choice Katniss makes in the final novel.

  • chanohack

    Also, is it me, or is Jennifer Lawrence just 100 times more beautiful in the second movie? I mean, of course she's gorgeous and an angel, but it's a big difference from the first movie, right? And, oddly, Josh Hutcherson is lovelier as well-- is it just a better haircut? Has he been working out his jaw? Seriously, is he taller? Did they just shoot these people with a beautifying camera? SO MUCH PRETTY.

  • Kim Stephens

    I think it is because they're both just a little bit older. They've lost their baby faces a bit. I can't wait to see Lawrence at 30. She's gonna be stunning.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Hutcherson is following the Daniel Radcliffe wee-cute-actors-with-really-strong-chins career evolution.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    The switched brands of apple crates that Hutcherson stands on. ;)

    But you're right, Lawrence is absolutely gorgeous in this film.

  • AvaLehra

    Yes! She is breathtaking in the Capitol soirée.

  • Amy Love

    I just want to say thanks for this article. I saw the midnight release of the movie and this list is everything I've been thinking since then. And I really can't wait to see it again.

  • bonnie

    One detail that Gary Ross and co. whiffed was [SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS] Peeta's leg. He nearly dies of blood loss in the Arena in Book 1 and Katniss goes crazy being separated from him. It's one reason people buy the love story in the first place, and it's another reason he's so clumsy in the Arena the second time around. Missing the detail about his artificial leg is huge, because it changes him from being weak to being disadvantaged, and I thought that was a character disservice that showed in this film.

    That said, Sam Claflin as Finnick was perfection. Even better than the Finnick I painted in my mind.

  • Mariazinha

    Yes!! I only read the book after the film (it premiered in Brazil a week earlier), and all I could think was: did I miss the loss of a leg in the movie?! Was I asleep? And no... they were.

  • AvaLehra

    YES! The leg!

  • AvaLehra

    I take it back, too. Sam Clafin was terrific as Finnick. Although I wanted it to be Armie Hammer, I can't picture him as Finnick anymore after seeing Sam's performance.

    And I love Lynn Cohen as Mags, but I keep picturing her finding Miranda's vibrator on SAtC.

  • grr arrgh

    Oh, Armie Hammer would've been good, a bit old but good. After my mom said that she had pictured Captain Awesome from Chuck while reading the books I couldn't unsee that.

  • AvaLehra

    I was picturing him as one of the Winklevoss twins when I was reading the book.

  • grr arrgh

    Ha, nice. Finnick just needed to be bizarrely good looking and Armie fits the bill pretty nicely.

  • chanohack

    We had so little faith!

  • AvaLehra

    I know, right? We stand corrected.

  • AvaLehra

    Also, I feel like a dirty old lady saying this but Josh Hutcherson... WOOF!

  • PDamian

    He just needed to age a bit. Once he hits 30, he's going to be unspeakably gorgeous.

  • AvaLehra

    By that time, I'll be 50. Boo.

  • emmalita

    He won't care. You'll be more gorgeous too.

  • AvaLehra

    Aw, shucks!

  • bonnie

    It's not just you...

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