Well, I finally went to see Catching Fire. It’s…well, pretty much like Hunger Games was, most of the objectionable bits cut out either intentionally or because they were dross getting in the way of a streamlined tale.
Before we begin, let’s talk about the trailers at the start.
1) About guys and hustling. There were at least two female characters in it, but only in relation to men.
2) 47 samurai thing. Shouldn’t even need to explain.
3) What seemed to be a guy romcom. I think this may fail reverse bechdel depending on how liberally you interpret “about a women”, actually.
4) The thing about the guy who has no life and gets one and also the girl.
5) A female voiceover! It’s Maleficent, and involved the princess and Maleficent as the only speakers.
6) Hobbit. It’s good they added a female character, but it doesn’t change much.
7) Frankenstein (wtf) which has female characters who don’t talk to each other and are defined in relation to men and I think one of them was doing the pretty but secretly ugly monster thing.
8) More female characters talking! Lots of them, in fact! It’s Divergence, reminding us that YA may be terrible but it’s that or movies about guys having their guy problems and nothing else.
So with that in mind, I was feeling particularly favorable toward Catching Fire, and indeed, it opens with Katniss, in the woods, being herself! Then she tries to shoot a turkey only for her to think she’s shooting a person and freak out. PSTD about harming others and not just being afraid for herself! Katniss goes on to exhibit more self-loathing that’s about her and how upset she is about what she did, not about how much better than her Peeta is and how she should just die for not being good enough for him already.
(Haymitch’s line about not deserving Peeta is still there, but I felt it worked in context – in the movie, when she finds out they’re going back to the arena, she runs away to the woods in a panic, then comes back to Haymitch’s to say she wants Peeta to live. He says that Peeta showed up to say he wanted Katniss to live as soon as it aired, and for that particular reason he was so much better, so I felt it came off more as saying Peeta is exceptionally good rather than that Katniss was horrible, which is also more palatable here because Peeta actually is good and not a manipulative dick. Also just everything works better with the actors there to filter the horrible out of the lines.)
Gale is still kind of a dick about the whole Peeta kissing thing early on. It seemed like he was referencing the fact they actually were sort of in a relationship, but then it ends with him kissing her and the whole bit about wanting to do that once. But that was the only dickery preserved. Otherwise, he’s pretty reasonable. What the scene convinced me was that absolutely everything about the love triangle is improved if you assume she and Gale were in a not that serious relationship originally.
And the scene where she says she should run away does not have Gale appearing to refuse because he wants Peeta and Peeta’s family to die! He does want to know if she actually loves him but seems pretty accepting of Katniss’ explanation that she’ll be able to feel emotions like love once they leave and she isn’t spending every second monopolized by the fear everyone will die and it’ll be all her fault so he’ll have to get back to her on that one later, and after that makes it clear his real problem with leaving is that they can’t take everyone, so he wants to stay for them.
(This movie also sees her kissing both boys without condemnation, so fingers crossed they’ll fix that part in Mockingjay where everyone bitches at her for this. Katniss is perfectly consistent, kissing Gale except when she has to kiss Peeta so he won’t die.)
Peeta, similarly, has the dickery dialed so, so much back, with him saying that yes, he knows she did it all to save him and it’s not fair to blame her for any of it. He also seems much more sympathetic because we don’t have Katniss’ internal narration explaining he knows they have to keep playing at being madly in love, and he wants to be friends with her.
And her mom’s much improved. Katniss comes in and she’s all “Oh good back from your perfectly legal walk which it a thing you were doing, walking, in town, legally, oh god Katniss why won’t you take a hint!” and not just fawning over President Murdersalot Childkiller.
Speaking of, he works much better in this, although unfortunately they did keep him saying that rebellion will bring the whole system down and why oh why would you say that. You want Katniss to behave, tell her that the capital can indeed crush all opposition effortlessly, so if she wants any of the nice people she’ll be seeing in the crowds at each district to survive the month, she’d better stop riling them up and all the bullets they shoot into the crowds are on her head. But everything else is good. In this, we have time to develop his actions more, so it’s explained that when Katniss runs over to save Gale and then Haymitch steps in to get the guy to back off, it was on live broadcast and the moral is that the capital’s enforcers won’t hurt the capital’s darlings, ie, the victors are safe and can oppose the capital, and so that’s why he has to murder them all. In the books, it seems like a really risky move to drag in everyone else just to kill one person, but here killing them all is part of the plan.
Also, why is it being broadcast in the first place? Well, there’s this lovely line from the new gamemaster about how they’ll increase the whippings and executions and sandwich it between constant coverage of every stupid detail about Katniss’ wedding. Just like our news!
But that was about it for recognition that we are the capital, the capital is us. There was even an ad for that godawful makeup line before the movie. Everyone was way too pretty – except Finnick, who was really underwhelming and not nearly as naked as he was in the book either – and Johanna was exactly as naked, so it wasn’t that they didn’t want naked. Katniss was a particular problem, the prep team descends on her to pretty her up and do…basically nothing at all. And not even violence can mar that. The makeup artists certainly know how to do horrible looking injuries, since we see an old woman with a nasty cut on her eye and Gale’s back is torn up, but when Katniss gets hit, it’s just a tiny red line. The capital continues to be full of weird freak people who definitely aren’t us (Americans don’t throw up food and then eat more. We eat half a bite of chicken wing then throw the rest in the trash and get a new plate to fill with new things.) and somehow Katniss still gets to have restrained outfits instead of looking like them and somehow they still think those are the height of fashion and somehow Effie’s outfits continue to bear no resemblance to anything Katniss is wearing. We also continue the whole business with the only good people being the ones who don’t wear too much makeup, with the new gamemaker who’s secretly on her side being the most plain and boring guy to ever bland up a room.
Although they did manage to show Caesar is an asshole who’s 110% on the childmurder side. Thank you so much for that, movie.
Plotwise, I think they set stuff in motion well. Like I said, the whole Quarter Quell business made a lot more sense this time. Last movie didn’t have Rue explaining that life sucks way more in 11, but last movie had 11 rioting, so instead it seems like the place is in lockdown because of that, with Effie even noting that things are different. It’s amazing how much better things work streamlined. We also get flashes of mockingjay graffiti during the trip in, foreshadowing nicely. (It’s particularly necessary because in this, she doesn’t meet the Eight refugees – and while I liked them, they weren’t the best scene, with the exposition and the fawning over Katniss and the dying with her never much thinking about it next book.) Since this Katniss has real emotions and not a monologue about how she’s a void that occasionally feels like shooting people in the throat, the speech in 11, which is always going to make no sense rationally after being told to calm people down, feels so much more believable as you see her standing there getting more and more upset by the giant picture of Rue, with a guilt cherry about the fact Thresh’s aid may well have been why she made it back and he didn’t!
And this time we actually see the rest of the districts after this. We see her reading the sickening cue cards to desperate crowds and her expression that’s flipping madly between forced vapidity and horror, and how she doesn’t have any idea what to do – the only thing she can do is to betray them and their faith in her by pretending she doesn’t care, because if she’s terrible and self-absorbed enough, they’ll stop believing in her, and then maybe they’ll stop getting shot in front of her.
Rue’s picture similarly motivates her other big moment of irrationality, as unlike in the books where she comes in to see that huh, something messy on the floor maybe Peeta painted a thing or whatever, then later we waste another scene explaining, the picture of Rue is there – and when she acts, it’s less a weird attempt at communication with the gamemakers and more angry, especially on the heels of everything else she’s been through. What’s the skill she’s here to demonstrate for you? Her skill is getting gamemakers killed, fuck you all I hope you die.
And speaking of that! Johanna lost her whole pretend-weakness elements, which was nice because there really isn’t time for her to seem one way and then for it to turn out to all be an act with so many characters, and is just stuck on fuck you all right from the start. Better yet, they gave that whole bit to the career pair with them going on about how they’ve always felt the capital citizens were their family. Beautifully played, career pair.
Admittedly, the career pair is still faceless evil when the games start, which is a shame – I mean, look, there is no way in a district full of victors you would send a sibling pair to a there can be only one no seriously we mean it this time murdergame intending to actually play the game. Haymitch says the victors are just trying to get the games called off, but I don’t buy it, since the harder they push the people of the capital, the more Snow is going to see them as potential threats and also, just, you don’t agree to go with your sibling because you think it’ll probably get called off. The only thing that makes sense is they decided to sacrifice themselves to make this as painful as they could for Snow. Maybe they’re only doing it for their district – they want to make sure this doesn’t happen again to others, the future victors of their district, that the capital keeps the promise Johanna says about how winning the games means you won them, not that you get sent back in again.
And generally, this is less impressive during the games although how much I can’t say – certainly a lot was lost for me personally just in the fact this is the suspense section and I already knew everything that happened. But the world before the games is just so well done and alive – Katniss knows there’s rebellion coming, she hates the bastards in charge too, but the face of the rebellion to her is people getting their heads shot off because she gave them false hope and she hasn’t even worked through the guilt over the fact winning the games last time meant everyone else died instead. And this is contrasted with the vapid malice of the capital and its citizens, of having to please people who fawn over her but would carve her sister open and eat her raw liver if that happened to be fashionable, people who view suffering as something you’re doing to inconvenience them. And between the two, the scarily effective jackboots enacting the will of the government. Watching Panem’s fucked up attempt at civilization lurch about clawing at its putrefying flesh off is just a thousand times more interesting than people running around in a jungle hoping nothing kills them and occasionally kissing.
Also it goes to absurd lengths to avoid showing Finnick giving Peeta mouth to mouth, which combined with the not-nakedness and not prettiness of Finnick make me think they’re going out of their way to pander to the no homo crowd. (Katniss also looks outright nauseous at Johanna stripping, because as a girl boobs horrify her? We also don’t get Johanna in an outfit where it makes half as much sense she wants out of it, either.)
It does fix many problems, such as making it all take place quickly, cutting that stupid, stupid daily bread code thing, and, by continuing to avoid voiceovers, we don’t listen to Katniss talking about how much she’s going to murder her allies first chance she gets. Oh! And instead of the wire being magic instaburn wire, the movie explicitly says it’s special for the fact it will not burn up with Katniss questioning that he’s sure it won’t burn because if it burned that would wreck this plan. Thank you whoever got that line in there.
Then the ending is rather disappointing. There’s some weirdness where apparently the force field was over a metal dome of complex machinery that only looked like sky and that starts to fall in after she electrocutes it – at least, it seems like it’s not just her hallucinating it all. Then she has her whole hysterical thing in the airplane and blah blah dumb plot and they knock her out again. But the final scene with Gale is good – although I feel like it’d have been stronger to have him tell her there’s no more Twelve first, and then that they’re headed to Thirteen. The opposite feels like it undercuts the momentum.
…So in conclusion, another huge improvement over the book and most of my objections are because the bits it modified more, the fleshing out of Panem, were so interesting they made me resent having to leave that for the actual games bit.
But I’m still waiting for the scene of the capital citizens all sitting together watching kids get murdered on a giant screen as they mechanically shovel popcorn into their mouths.