WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE. I try my hardest to not talk about the plot, but in order to compare this film to other movies I unfortunately need to discuss about the events of Catching Fire. I do try to be as vague as possible, but some plot will be spoiled in this post.
I would also like to preface this post by saying I wanted nothing more than to despise the Hunger Games as tween drivel, something for young girls to go ga-ga over like Twilight. I caught the first movie on Netflix not too long ago, and I was pleasantly surprised that for a movie/book geared towards young adults it actually had some really adult themes in it. More so than that, it was fairly well written. Definitely worth watching.
Now, in order to discuss Catching Fire as a sequel we need to discuss other blockbuster sequels, and so we will be referencing the following throughout this post: “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest“, “Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones”, “The Matrix Revolutions”, “The Dark Knight”, and weirdly enough “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” & “Austin Powers in Goldmember”. ALL OF THAT OUT OF THE WAY, let’s have some discussion on the finer points of sequels.
LOSS OF INNOCENCE
I really hate her character arc.
A problem with many series is that the main characters(s) achieve a full character arc in the first outing, and oftentimes when they walk into the sequel they have lost the innocence that was most likely a plot point in the first film. This theme lost, coupled oftentimes with the loss of the mystery and wonder of first stepping into the world of the original film, can make a story fall flat. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” takes this to ridiculous levels by having characters like Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner completely shed any level of innocence and/or trust the audience may have associated with them. It gets to such dizzying levels that looking back on those films the only character you could truly trust to do what he said he would do was Captain Barbosa, and when Barbosa is the most trustworthy person in your movie perhaps you’ve made an error in developing your characters.
This is where Catching Fire shines. We come back to Katniss in her home district, and she is apparently suffering from post traumatic stress disorder after having participated in the previous Hunger Games. Yes, she has grown from when we last left her, but she is not a cold hearted killer. She regrets what she had to do, and she hates having to do the bidding of the President. We get to see a new arc throughout Catching Fire of how she turns into the revolutionary she no doubt will be in the third movie, and it is done masterfully by the process of…
SHOW IT, DON’T SAY IT
“Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones” fails on a lot of levels, and the principle of “Show It, Don’t Say It” is one of the big ones. We are constantly bombarded in this movie by people telling us what good friends Anakin and Obi-Wan are, and we are constantly told by Anakin and Padme how much they love each other. We are not shown this. There are very few scenes demonstrating the friendship between the two Jedi, or the love shared by Anakin and Padme. These types of scenes would have better served the plot, rather than pointless action sequences that go on waaay longer than they should.
Catching Fire again hits this principle on the proverbial nose. We are not told that Katniss is torn between Gale and Peeta, we are shown why she is torn. We empathize and understand how she could love a man from her home district, while at the same point developing feelings for the boy who helped save her in the last Hunger Games, the boy who she has to share the burden of being a victor with for the rest of her days.
Futhermore, we get to see Katniss develop into a revolutionary. It’s not by choice, and we are not told that she is a revolutionary. Never in the movie does she even say anything like “Snow is going to pay!” or “We’re going to get these bastards!”. That actually give these types of lines to another character, to show the conflict within Katniss. She constantly is fighting to survive, she is constantly fighting to keep what she loves, and when we finally see her pushed to the brink we watch as she changes, she undergoes a metamorphosis into what we’ve wanted her to become.
GIVE THE AUDIENCE WHAT THEY WANT
This is what we want in a Matrix movie.
This actually applies more to the third films in the Matrix and Batman series more than their sequels, but it still bears discussion. Fans of the Matrix came to those movies to see the main characters kick ass in the Matrix. They didn’t come to see a band of stragglers trying to barley survive in a dystopian world. The Matrix is empowering, giving us the ability to dodge bullets, fly, essentially do whatever it is we wish we had the power to do. The real world sucks. I didn’t come to see ordinary people get their asses kicked in some sort of hopeless last stand scenario. It’s depressing, it’s boring, I didn’t come to see this.
The same is true of “Dark Knight Rises”. I came to see a Batman movie. I want the detective, I want gadgets, I want Batman kicking ass. Alternatively I don’t mind him getting his ass kicked. I do not want to come to a movie and watch 45 minutes of Bruce Wayne and company giving every excuse in the book as to why he is not in the Batman suit taking down crime. It’s depressing, it’s boring, and again I didn’t come to see this.
This is actually a place where Hunger Games may fall short as well. Coming into a Hunger Games movie/book we sort of expect and want the Hunger Games. We want a giant dome filled with dangerous obstacles and traps, with a dozen or so other people trying to kill the protagonist. This revolution build up has been awesome, but if they can’t deliver on what the audience has come to expect from their movies in some way than this will be a problem for the third movie. They’re fine as of the second film, but I can foresee trouble on the horizon with this one.
SPECTACLE CREEP/RAISING THE STAKES/THE HOOK
We’re going to cover a lot of ground on this one, but they all tie together in one way or another. All sequels by nature have to A) get all the characters back together, B) raise the stakes from the previous story, and as a result C) the spectacle will have to be much greater this time out. How these three pieces are handled is what can really make or break a sequel. In the first film in a series we have the luxury of the world building to add to the storyline. In the second and third films we’ve made the world, now we get to play in it.
The Austin Powers films are a good example to reference because they make fun of this whole process by hanging a lampshade on it. In each of the sequels they give the weakest of reasons why Austin needs a new female sidekick, and why he has to stop Dr. Evil again. In addition, they ensure that in each sequel the stakes are raised to a new level and that the spectacle is bigger and better than the preceding movie. This clip from Goldmember sort of gives good definition to what I’m talking about.
The Dark Knight straddles the line of good and bad in this respect. The higher stakes, the hook, and the spectacle creep that the Joker brought to this film seem reasonable if you check all your logic at the door, and put your mind in neutral. That said, the Joker’s plot is impossibly convoluted, with any number of stages in it that could have gone horribly wrong if not executed perfectly by his henchmen. They resort to a number of macguffins and extraordinarily complicated plot devices to execute the story, all of which were unnecessary. The plot seems ridiculous when you re-hash it out loud. The Dark Knight Rises could be another article unto itself in this respect, but suffice to say it only got worse in the third Batman film.
Considering most people with a plan couldn’t get all that crap to work, I almost believe you.
Again, Catching Fire got this exactly right. The hook, the raising of the stakes, and the spectacle creep were just about perfect in this film. We got to see everything we came back to a Hunger Games movie for, and they gave us just enough of each portion where I felt pretty happy with the balance. The hook, wherein they get Katniss and Peeta back into the Hunger Games, made perfect sense as the President was attempting to kill them while at the same point squashing any hope of a rebellion. They didn’t go overboard trying to add a ton of over the top action sequences, but they raised the stakes by having all the Tributes be winners of previous Hunger Games.
I actually believe this man can do anything.
The convoluted portion of the plot that is explained at the end by Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s character actually makes perfect sense, and in retrospect looking back at the movie you can see all the puzzle pieces fitting together. You cannot say that about the Dark Knight, no matter how much you like Heath Ledger’s acting.
In addition, Hoffman’s character is a former Games Master for the Hunger Games. It makes 100% sense that he would know how to manipulate people like pieces on a chess board, and that he would have the intelligence and the cunning to pull off a plan as complex as what he laid out. It actually makes me a little giddy looking back and thinking about the moves he laid out.
All that said, I could gush on a bit more about other things they did right, but I just wanted to touch on a handful of points regarding sequels I thought they did amazingly well. It’s become rare nowadays that a sequel doesn’t absolutely suck, and I was very happy to see that they didn’t fall into the traps that many other series did.