Retrospective Review – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Retrospective Review – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

“Since the last games something is different. I can see it… Hope” – Primrose Everdeen

Francis Lawrence’s The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Catching Fire) is a brilliant film adaptation of the source material. I really liked the first film in the series: The Hunger Games. After watching that film, I became a fan of the franchise and read all the books. I expected Catching Fire to be good but I never thought I would be blown away by it. After I saw it, I became a fanatic of the film series. It is the first movie I paid to watch in IMAX three times. It is within my personal list of top 5 favorite movies. Without a doubt, Francis Lawrence had the best source material to work with as the second book is widely considered the best in the trilogy. Nevertheless, he did an amazing job squeezing a lot of material within 2 ½ hours. The writers made difficult decisions when they cut out some important events from the book. Of course, a book can always expand on the story more and is usually better than its cinematic version. On the other hand, the writers made some critical changes from the book that I really loved. The iconic scenes from the book are adapted flawlessly. Furthermore, the books are completely from the point of view of Katniss Everdeen. The first film did an excellent job adding the points of view of other characters, particularly President Snow, to add to the story. Similarly, Catching Fire utilizes the points of view of Snow and his new head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee to explain the purposes of the 75th Hunger Games, a Quarter Quell, and how it is part of their schemes to discredit the idea of the Mockingjay and prevent a civil war. In general, the character and plot development that builds up to the new Games is the strength of this film. It thoroughly explains how Katniss and her symbol as the Mockingjay inspires revolution in Panem.

Opening scene

The opening scene of the movie shows the majestic mountains of District 12 and Katniss staring across a lake in the brisk cold of winter. The look on her face perfectly reflects how she feels after her traumatic experience during the 74th Hunger Games: sadness and fear. Understandably, she has gone through a horrific ordeal that will affect her for the rest of her life. Naturally, she is struggling with post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). Shortly after the start of the film, Gale (Liam Hemsworth) greets her at the lake and they go hunt turkeys like they have always done. When she shoots an arrow at a turkey, she suffers a flashback of when she shot and killed another tribute, Marvel, during the Games. She screams in horror until Gale reassures her that she is with him and no longer in the arena. It is a good example of the terror she faces every day. Jennifer Lawrence is one of the best and most talented actresses in Hollywood. She has demonstrated incredible versatility playing a wide range of characters which include more mature and dark types, such as her portrayals of Tiffany Maxwell in Silver Linings Playbook that won her an Academy Award and Rosalyn Rosenfeld in American Hustle that garnered her an Academy Award nomination, to another high profile comic book/ action star role as Mystique in the X-Men prequel trilogy. Perhaps no role contradicts her real goofy, charming, and fun loving personality than Katniss Everdeen. While I cannot say her performance as Katniss is perfect (e.g. her PTSD screams are not entirely believable), she has done an excellent job as the heroine and taken complete ownership of the role. She is Katniss Everdeen and it would be very difficult to picture any other actress in the role so it is pointless for me to be overly critical of any parts of her performance. In addition to PTSD, the Games has created a strain on her relationship with her love interest at home, Gale. While they were never exclusive at the beginning of the first film, it seemed like an inevitability that they would be together if it were not for the Games. Naturally, Gale is still jealous and resentful of the “act” Katniss put on in regards her romance with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). Despite Katniss reiterating that “I did what I had to do to survive. If I didn’t, I’d be dead”, Gale is not thrilled about her spending more time with Peeta during the upcoming two week Victory Tour where they will be playing up their fake romance again. After the heated exchange, Gale moves in to kiss Katniss for the first time. Afterwards, he notes “I had to do that. At least once.” You can feel his pain in the kiss and his words. At the end of the first film, Katniss tells Peeta that she would like to forget about the Games and move on with their lives. Clearly, she has been unsuccessful and they still haunt her in a lot of different ways.

Snow and Katniss

Instead of Katniss’s situation improving, it only gets worse. When she returns home, none other than President Snow (Donald Sutherland) awaits her. The conversation between her and Snow is one of the most iconic and memorable moments from the book. The movie portrays it exactly how I imagined it when I read it. Jennifer Lawrence and Donald Sutherland are amazing as Katniss and Snow in the scene. Sutherland’s portrayal of Snow is perfect. He mixes the appearance of a sweet grandfather who looks like Santa Claus with an elegant yet commanding presence of a statesman that strongly rules his country. Underneath his rosy exterior, he is a ruthless and benevolent dictator who is not to be trifled with. When Katniss enters the room, she greets him warmly and mentions it as an “honor”. However, Snow sees right through her facetiousness and says “My dear, I think we can make this so much simpler if we agree not to lie to each other. What do you think?” She agrees to “save time”. This exchange sets up the passive aggressive tone of their conversation. More importantly, their agreement to tell each other the truth is a critical element in their relationship. It serves a significant purpose at the end of the third book, The Mockingjay. I assume it will be the same in the conclusion of the films in The Hunger Games: The Mockingjay Part 2. It is an important tidbit to keep in mind. When she enters the room, Snow is also watching a hologram of the end of the last Hunger Games when she pulled out he poisonous Nightlock and threatened that Peeta and she would commit suicide to force the hand of the Capitol to declare two Victors. The Gamemaker Seneca Crane falsely assumed that there needed to be a victor. As Snow explains to her, he would have blown them up on the platform when they pulled out those berries and had Crane executed because he failed to do so. Snow immediately understood Katniss’s actions for what they truly were: an “act of defiance”. Although she did a very good job in pretending to be in love and making most of the Capitol believe it, not everyone fell for the act. Furthermore, he does a great job explaining how her actions have inspired rebellion. District 12 is an outlying and highly impoverished district. For this reason, it encourages other districts to revolt against the Capitol since a girl from District 12 defied it without consequence. Her humble background is one of the many reasons she and the image of the Mockingjay is such a powerful symbol. She has given the districts hope. Consequently, Snow needs the districts to believe that it really was an act of love instead of an act of defiance. For this purpose, he gives her instructions that “When you and Peeta go on tour, you need to smile, you need to be grateful. But above all, you need to be madly prepared to end it all in love”. Most importantly, he notes that she will need to “convince” him which will be extremely difficult and a much higher standard than convincing the districts.

When these two characters meet, it truly feels like a clash of the titans. On the other hand, another interesting aspect of their conversation is the David vs. Goliath dynamic. Snow is an all-powerful dictator who can normally do whatever or steamroll whoever he wants. It is a wonder that a young girl from District 12 can basically stand face to face to him as an equal. When he explains how her act of defiance has destabilized Panem, she sarcastically remarks that “It must be a fragile system if it can be brought down by just a few berries.” Katniss has a combative and sometimes abrasive personality. Despite her best attempts to be cordial, those traits even surface in the presence of Snow. In most instances, he would just have her executed. She even asks him why he does not just kill her. However, he knows it would not solve his current problem. He needs to be delicate with the situation. Since she is now a symbol, murdering her would only make her a martyr for a revolution to rally behind. He needs her to be a “friend” or at least an “ally” to show the districts that she is not the symbol of hope that they believe her to be. More importantly, he is still able to present crude logic and flaunt his power as a President to keep her in line and persuade her to comply. He notes that a revolution will lead to a destructive war. While she experienced the Games, he assures her that they were just games and war is much more horrible than what she has even endured. His description of war also includes a direct threat to Katniss: “You should imagine thousands upon thousands of your people dead. This town of yours reduced to ashes. Imagine it gone. A radioactive buried under dirt as if it had never existed like District 13.” He also threatens the lives of her loved ones while he shows her a hologram of Gale and her kissing. The hologram demonstrates that he is always watching and there is nothing she can hide from him. Naturally, she is totally petrified by Snow and the monumental task she knows she has in front of her. This scene is my favorite in the book and the movie.

During their conversation, Snow also makes a snide remark about the relationship between Katniss and Peeta when he asks the rhetorical question regarding “at what point did he realize the depth of your indifference towards him”. Peeta and Katniss’s relationship is very complicated. Peeta had a crush on her for the longest time and finally revealed his feelings during the pre-game interview with Caesar Flickerman. She has been the center of his affection for most of his life. In regards to Katniss, she remembered him for an act of kindness when he purposely burnt a loaf of bread and threw it on the ground for Katniss to pick up when her family and she was starving. Nonetheless, she never paid attention to him outside of that moment. They are two very different people. Peeta is very sweet, charming, and sensitive. Katniss is very stern and direct. She is solely worried about her responsibilities and taking care of her loved ones instead of her own wants. While she can also be very sweet especially when it comes to her sister Prim, she has difficulty exploring and expressing her feelings. For Peeta, their love story in the Games is very real for him. For Katniss, she is able to separate emotions and necessity. She feigned love to survive and is able to leave it in the arena after the Games. While she tells him that they should forget, he never wants to forget because he thought they fell in love. For him, it is more painful that she felt nothing in that experience than if she never acknowledged him. Their first interaction in Catching Fire is very awkward and cold. They act like acquaintances rather than old friends who shared a very personal, traumatic experience. Haymitch describes the tension perfectly when he tells them “Brrrr. You two have a lot of warning up to do before show time.” Later, the cameras show up at their new homes in the Victor’s Village so they can be remotely interviewed by Caesar Flickerman in the Capitol. Katniss is able to turn on the switch to play up the romance for television and turn off the switch immediately afterwards. While Peeta plays along with the act, he cannot turn off his feelings and shows his pain when he tells her “That was nice acting… Almost thought that kiss was real.”

The Victory Tour proceeds in reverse numerical order of the districts and ends with a trip to the Capitol. It normally begins with District 12. Since Peeta and Katniss are the victors, it begins with District 11 this year. During the train ride to District 11, their relationship begins to thaw. Of course, Peeta has the superior people skills so he initiates the conversation: “You don’t have to apologize to anybody, including me. And I know it’s not fair for me to hold you to things you said in the games. You saved us, I know that. But I can’t go on acting for the cameras and then…just ignoring each other in real life. So if you can stop looking at me like I’m wounded, then I can quit acting like it. And then maybe…we have a shot at being friends.” I really like those lines from Peeta. It is understandable that he is heartbroken about Katniss’s indifference towards him in private while pretending to be madly in love with him for show. After all, she is his first crush. However, his acceptance and appreciation for the actions Katniss had to take to keep them alive is an important step in his progression from a naïve teenager to a mature, young adult. While his relationship with Katniss is not what he had dreamed it to be, there is plenty of value in connecting with someone on a non-romantic level and just being friends. Of course, most relationships a person will make will not result in a romance. I actually found Peeta a little bit annoying with his clingy, mushy lover boy routine before this moment. It is definitely the turning point in the books and films when I start to like him as a character. In addition, he has an uncanny ability to charm people. He tries to break the ice with Katniss by saying “I hardly know anything about you except that you’re stubborn and good with the bow.” In response, she keeps up her gaurd and answers “That about sums me up.” He persists by explaining that being friends involves asking about the “deep stuff”. When he asks her favorite color, she replies “Well, now you’ve stepped over the line.” She eventually relaxes, lets down her guard, and answers “green”. It is a funny, sweet scene that showcases Peeta’s ability to charm Katniss despite her reluctance. It displays the differences in their personalities but also how they complement each other. It also demonstrates how a relationship between them could work. I usually do not care for love triangles. However, the triangle between Katniss, Gale, and Peeta is well written, developed, and acted out.

Katniss’s prep team also comes with her on the Victory Tour. They are part of a strong supporting cast. The casting for the characters is excellent. Elizabeth Banks returns as the always eccentric Effie Trinket and delivers another fabulous performance. She has colorful hair, fashion, and personality. Effie loves everything about the pomp and circumstance of the tour. She is right in her element and guides Peeta and Katniss through the glamour of the events they do not care for. Lenny Kravitz also returns as Katniss’s stylist. Since the last Games, he has become a fashion star because of Katniss. More importantly, he is one of her most trusted and closest advisors. He continues to help her feel comfortable with and appeal to the crowd. His faith in and loyalty to her is unwavering. Of course, Woody Harrelson reprises his role as their mentor, Haymitch Abernathy. He is an alcoholic but provides great advice when is sober since he is the only other victor from District 12 besides Peeta and Katniss. As a result, he is the only living tribute from District 12 who has experienced the Games and the aftermath. He has a love/ hate relationship with Katniss. A good example of it is when she shows up at his home, finds him passed out from drinking, and douses a pitcher of water on him to wake him up. In response, he tells her “You are strangely a dislikeable person”. When she also brings him his alcohol, he notes “But you do have your virtues.” In the second book, it details his Games. He is a tribute and victor of the 50th Hunger Games. Every twenty five years there is a “special” Hunger Games which is called a Quarter Quell. Accordingly, he is a part of the second Quarter Quell. During the Quell, he also committed an act of defiance. His loved ones were punished for it which explains his alcoholism. The story also explains why he has grown to love Katniss despite the fact that she will never “baby” him the way Peeta does when he is drunk. It is an omission from the book that I was really looking forward to see in the film. The final film might referencing it but I do not think it would fit in with the story at that point. The second Quarter Quell would have the potential to be a solid prequel film.

District 11

The first stop on the tour is District 11, the home of fallen tributes Thresh and Rue. Before they arrive, Peeta offers to do all the talking since he is great at it and knows Katniss is uncomfortable with it. Although they are given cards from Effie to read in front of District 11’s Justice Building, Peeta decides to put them down and speak from the heart. He delivers a beautiful speech in which he says “But our lives aren’t just measured in years, they’re measured in the lives of the people we touch around us.” and promises that he and Katniss will donate one month of their winnings to all the families of the tributes for the rest of their lives. Although Katniss originally did not plan to speak, the sight of Rue’s grieving family changes her mind. In a tear jerking and touching speech, she says of Rue “She wasn’t just my ally, she was my friend. I see her in the flowers that grow in the meadow by my house. I hear her in the mockingjay song. I see her in my sister Prim. She was too young. Too gentle. And I couldn’t save her. I’m sorry.” As we know, Katniss volunteered for the Games to save her sister Prim. Rue is very similar to Prim and symbolizes her in the arena. It is the reason Katniss and she were close allies and friends. Rue’s death and Katniss’s inability to save her is a cruel reminder of the brutality and ruthless nature of the Games and the Capitol. Katniss’s tribute to Rue is Jennifer Lawrence’s best moment in the film. She fully captures the emotion and power of the words. My gut still wrenches when I see that part of the movie. I also admit that I was close to tears the first time I heard her deliver those lines. Afterwards, an old man in the crowd does the same District 12 three finger salute for goodbye that she gives after Rue’s death and the rest of the crowd also salute. He also whistles the mockingjay song that Katniss and Rue used to signal they were fine during the Games. It is a gesture of support for Katniss and the rebellion that she has sparked. Of course, she is touched by it. Unfortunately, the Peacekeepers have been commanded to extinguish any thoughts of revolution. Accordingly, they pull the man from the crowd and execute him on stage to make an example out of him. Katniss is both shocked and outraged by it. If Snow’s warnings before did not make her realize the gravity of situation, the execution makes it clear. It is another iconic scene from the book that the film gets perfect.

Afterwards, Haymitch pulls Peeta and Katniss to the top of the Justice Building to have a private conversation. Katniss finally tells them about the conversation she had with Snow and that he cannot think that she purposely made the speech to incite an uprising. Naturally, Peeta is upset because he would have never offered to give away their winnings if he knew about Snow’s threats. Obviously, both of their loved ones are in danger if Snow is not satisfied with their Victory Tour. Moreover, Katniss pleads with Haymitch to guide her through the rest of the tour until things can return to normal when they get home. Unfortunately, he explains to her the morbid fact that “This trip doesn’t end when you get back home. You never get off this train. You two are mentors now. That means that every year they’re gonna drag you out and broadcast the details of your romance. Every year, your private life becomes theirs. From now on, your job is to be a distraction so that people forget what the real problems are.” It is similar to the movie Gladiator when the evil Emperor Commodus reopens the Colosseum and restores Gladiator battles as entertainment to distract his people from the actual problems of the country that he cannot solve. It is also a terrible realization for Katniss that she will never be able to forget about the Games and move on with her life since she will always be part of the annual festivities going forward. While Peeta and Katniss try to just read the cards in their remaining stops to the other districts, they come off as robotic and not believable because it is obvious they are simply just saying whatever the Capitol wants them to say. Things are not getting better as the uprisings continue in the districts. As a result, Snow is clearly not happy nor convinced by their performances.

Deducing the only logical conclusion of Haymitch’s statement about their romance, Katniss suggests that Peeta and she should get married in order to convince the country and Snow. Peeta is annoyed by the idea but quickly, albeit begrudgingly, agrees to it. In the book, the conversation between her and Haymitch is longer. She tells him that she expected Peeta would be thrilled to marry her. However, Haymitch explains that he wanted her to fall in love with her and choose him instead of Katniss reluctantly doing it only because she has no other choice. Again, it is an example of the difference in the personalities of Peeta and Katniss. While she will always do what is necessary regardless of her feelings, she still has emotions. In the book, there is also a moment when she is saddened by her decision. The right to choose the person you love and marry is one of the few freedoms the Capitol allows the people in District 12. It is tragic that the Games has taken that right away from her too. Later in the film, Haymitch makes a solemn comment that explains life after winning the games: “Nobody ever wins the games, period. There are survivors. There’s no winners.”

The finale of the tour is at the Presidential Palace. The celebration highlights the wealth disparity between the gluttonous Capitol and the deprived districts. When a couple of guests offer Peeta a drink that will cause him to throw up so he can eat more, he tells Katniss “People are starving in 12. Here they are just throwing it up and stuffing more in.” Of course, Katniss and Peeta are nervous to find out whether Snow is convinced by their ploy. At the end of the night, Snow makes a speech congratulating them on their engagement. When the rest of the crowd turns to watch fireworks, Katniss maintains her eye contact with Snow. As they lock eyes, he only shakes his head in disapproval. Obviously, she is absolutely terrified at the consequences of failing to appease Snow. When she arrives home, she meets with Gale and tells him about Snow’s threat against their lives and their families. As such, she frantically begs him to run away with her and also bring their families like he once suggested. Of course, he is upset about her engagement. Before he commits to running away, he asks her if she loves him. Not surprisingly, she deflects the question by saying she has only felt fear since the last Games and cannot think about anything else. While it is mainly true, I also believe she prefers to avoid her emotions and feelings so she just does not want deal with them to answer that question. At this point in the story, Katniss is definitely broken by the Games, the tour, and trying to keep her loved ones safe. She is in no condition to be the symbol or leader for a rebellion. She does not want the responsibility or burden. On the other hand, one of the reasons she is such a great heroine is that she is a reluctant one. Everything she does is genuine. None of it is an act. She does nothing for the attention or fame. Katniss is a great role model because she naturally does the right thing. While her fear may be misinterpreted as weakness, it is actually a strength. Every person feels fear. It is the courage to overcome it and still act that makes someone a hero. It is another quality that makes Katniss the Mockingjay.

Gale also serves a very critical role at this point of the story. Katniss and he are very similar people and have a lot in common. One of those similarities is they are both fiery and fighters. While she is running on empty due to her trauma, Gale still has plenty of fuel to light her fire. Liam Hemsworth does a solid job with his limited screen time in the first two movies and does very well when he gets an expanded role in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (Mockingjay Part 1). Eventually in their conversation, she mentions the uprisings she oversaw on video feeds while on tour. Although Katniss wants no part of embracing the revolution, Gale wants to fight and end the oppression of the Capitol: “You’ve given them an opportunity. They just have to be brave enough to take it.” He pleads with her to think broader and past her family: “What about the other families? Huh? The ones who stay? What happens to them? People are looking to you, Katniss.” While his words do not immediately persuade Katniss, his brave actions finally do. At the end of their conversation, they see a large force of Peacekeepers arrive in the district. In a show of force to squash any thoughts of rebellion, they enforce martial law and “shut down the black markets, take away what little they have [by burning those markets]”. The new Peacekeepers are led by the completely ruthless, Commander Romulus Thread. When Gale sees Thread assaulting a defenseless elderly woman, he intervenes by tackling him. Consequently, Thread orders his men to bring Gale to the town square for a public flogging. Gale tackling Thread is a brilliant change from the book where he was flogged for trying to sell turkeys to Thread since it is illegal to hunt outside the fence of the District on Capitol land. It is a much more powerful scene with Gale committing an act of bravery to inspire Katniss. Naturally, she intervenes with the flogging and stands up to Thread. He marks up her face with his whip and pulls out his gun. Haymitch and Peeta eventually step in too. Haymitch is a smooth talker and negotiates Thread down. He explains who Katniss is [current victor and darling of the Capitol] and that he and Peeta are also victors. As a result, he would need to kill three victors to get to Gale. Moreover, it is already “bad enough that you marked up her face on the eve of the big wedding [that the nation is excited about]”.  For these reasons, Thread’s hand is forced and he allows them to leave with Gale. Again, Gale is critical in lighting the fire in Katniss to fighton. When she sees him in pain, her natural instinct to protect the weak and defenseless kicks in. Due to Gale’s words and example, the Mockingjay is back: “I’m not going anywhere. I’m gonna stay right here, cause all kinds of trouble.”

Katniss and Prim

Another scene I love in the film showcases the growth in Prim (Willow Shields). In the first movie, she is an innocent, defenseless, and frightened girl. However, she demonstrates tremendous character development since then and the film does well to include a short scene that shows it. After the Gale’s flogging, they bring him to Katniss’s house to treat him. While Katniss’s mother’s hand is shaky trying to hold the needle for morphling to ease his pain, Prim takes charge and the needle from her to inject it in him. Afterwards, Prim and Katniss have a private conversation outside when they gather snow to put on Gale’s back. In this scene, Katniss expresses her concern that anything she does for the uprising would put their mother and Prim in danger. However, Prim explains to Katniss that she has given people “hope” and helps her understand how much she means to them. In addition, Prim makes an unbelievably brave statement: “You don’t have to protect me, or mom. We’re with you.” It is one of my favorite moments. Although Prim’s words are short and simple, they are among the most powerful in the film. They also show that she has blossomed from a frightened young girl to a mature, strong young lady. She has played and will play a crucial role in the franchise.

One of the additions to the films I love are the points of view from other characters, particularly President Snow. In the The Hunger Games, his conversations with his Gamemaker Seneca Crane were fantastic in explaining the purpose of the Games and the danger of the hope that Katniss could give to the districts. Donald Sutherland does an incredible job as Snow. In Catching Fire, the point of view scenes  from his perspective are even better. Even the minor ones when he notices his granddaughter is swept by the nationa’s adoration for the Mockingjay (e.g. braiding her hair like Katniss and saying that she hopes to love someone as much as Katniss loves Peeta) are great and add a lot to the story. Snow’s best scenes are with the new Gamemaker Plutarch Heavenesbee, who is played by the late Phillip Seymor Hoffman. Hoffman is a world class actor and matches the brilliance of Sutherland. Their scenes together are magic and add a lot in explaining the story. When Snow talks to Plutarch about the uprisings, Plutarch is the individual that suggests increased floggings and executions as well as taking away what little the districts have to increase fear. However, Snow notes “It won’t work. Fear does not work as long as they have hope, and Katniss Everdeen is giving them hope.” In addition to broadcasts to invoke fear, Plutarch also wants blanket coverage of Katniss’s wedding. Like Snow, he understands that they cannot make her a martyr: “I agree she should die but in the right way, at the right time. It’s moves and counter-moves, that’s all we gotta look at. Katniss Everdeen is a symbol, their Mockingjay. They think she’s one of them, we need to show that she’s one of us. We don’t need to destroy her, just the image. Then we let the people do the rest.” Again, I make a parallel to Gladiator. After Maximus’s heroics in the arena, he has won the crowd. Although Commodus wants to just execute him immediately, he knows doing so will only make him a martyr. As Maximus’s friend Juba explains: “You have a great name. He must kill your name before he kills you.” Similarly, Snow and Plutarch need to tarnish Katniss’s name and destroy her reputation to end the symbol of the Mockingjay before they can kill her. In Plutarch’s plan, he will “Show them that she’s one of us now [that she has sold out to enjoy the extravagance offered by the Capitol].” so “They’re gonna hate her so much they might just kill her for you.” Snow has a huge grin because he knows the plan is “brilliant”. He is like a proud, psychopathic mentor who relishes in the fact that his protégé is equally as twisted and calculating as he is.

Of course, that plan fails miserably when the nation sees Katniss stand up to Thread on the live broadcast of Gale’s flogging. Accordingly, Snow knows that Plutarch can no longer “contain” Katniss. Moreover, she has created another big problem because other victors now think they are “invincible” after they see her stand up to the Capitol. Nevertheless, Plutarch comes up with a genius and cruel “wrinkle” to deal with the situation. As we know, the 75th Hunger Games is a third Quarter Quell which provides an opportunity to do something “special”. Accordingly, Plutarch and Snow decide to reap the tributes for the Games from the existing pool of victors. Of course, there is a male and female tribute from each district. Since Katniss is the only female victor from District 12, she will return to the arena. In addition, the Games will help discredit the idea of the Mockingjay because “The more allies she betrays, the more friends she kills, the more she reveals her true self.” As an added bonus, it solves the problem with the victors because it will serve “As a reminder, that even the strongest cannot overcome the power of the Capitol. “ and outright kill a large number of them. Since other victors are infinitely stronger competition for Katniss than a normal Games, it is highly likely that she will be killed in the arena. After the first film, I had serious questions about how the sequels could make sense and be interesting. Furthermore, I just could not think of a logical way or reason for Katniss to fight in the games again. As a result, I was completely impressed by how Suzanne Collins was able to build and develop her story to this point. In my opinion, everything about it is utterly brilliant. I also give a lot of credit to the film in utilizing Snow and Plutarch as well as awesome performances from Sutherland and Hoffman to lay these points out.

When Snow broadcasts the twist for the Quarter Quell, Katniss, Haymitch, and Peeta immediately understand what it means for her. Katniss is inconsolable and runs in the woods to be alone. Haymitch is furious and throws his drink at his television. Peeta puts his hands to his mouth in disbelief and heartbroken that Katniss will endure the nightmare of the games again. Once Katniss collects her thoughts and regains her composure, she goes to talk to Haymitch. When she arrives, he notes “What’s it say that Peeta was here forty-five minutes ago begging to save your life and you only just now show up?” Accordingly, she agrees that he is a good person who needs to live and win the Quarter Quell. She takes an additional step in suggesting she is not a “decent” person. Of course, they are both caring people who are willing to sacrifice themselves for someone else. However, Katniss needs to convince herself that Peeta is good and needs to live while she is not and should die. She is definitely suffering from survivor’s guilt from the last Games. Nevertheless, she needs to believe it because she is a hero who needs a noble cause whether she wants to accept it or not. Consequently, she asks Haymitch to help Peeta survive by volunteering to take his place if Peeta’s name is called and doing everything in his power to send help to Peeta in the arena if he still ends up in there. The day of the reaping is extremely somber. Katniss spends some time with Gale and he laments not running away with her when they still had the chance. She kisses him goodbye and takes a long walk to the reaping with Peacekeeper escort. Normally, Effie is overly enthusiastic but you can feel her sadness when she reaches into the bowl that only has Katniss’s name to select the female tribute while Katniss has a tear go down her face. Although Haymitch’s name is called as the male tribute and he tries to stop Peeta from volunteering, he obviously cannot stop him.

With a Quarter Quell, everything is grander than a regular Games and starts with a more extravagant Opening Ceremonies. Before the introductions, Katniss meets the most beloved victor Finnick O’Dair (Sam Claflin). He looks like a superhero, specifically Aquaman. On first impressions, he is a total prima donna and unlikeable. When he greets Katniss, he is very flirtatious. He has a sugar cube in his hand, puts it in his mouth suggestively, and asks her if she wants one. He also tells her that people pay for his company with secrets. Furthermore, he implies that he knows Katniss is not heartbroken about her canceled wedding and her romance with Peeta is a sham. After the ceremonies, another victor Chaff kisses her in the mouth. In the elevator, Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch encounter Johanna Mason (Jena Malone). She has a short temper and hates her outfit: “I’d love to put an axe on her face.” She asks Peeta to unzip her dress. Naturally, Peeta and Haymitch cannot stop themselves from looking at her naked body. Haymitch is clearly amused by it and Johanna gives him a wink. Katniss’s awkward and uncomfortable face is priceless. It is another iconic scene from the book. The film and actors portrays it perfectly. In the book, Peeta also explains the actions of the victors. Katniss is known as very pure. As a result, they purposely act suggestively to test and tease her as a joke. Finnick and Johanna are also beloved characters from the books. Sam Claflin and Jena Malone are spot on with their portrayals of the qualities of their characters. Although Finnick appears like a shallow playboy and Johanna appears like an insane person at first glance, there is much more to both characters. Another great moment in the Opening Ceremonies is Katniss and Peeta’s chariot ride into the arena. Similar to their first Games, their outfits light on fire. During the ride, Katniss waits till she locks eyes with Snow before she turns on the flames and gives him a death stare as they ride past him. Snow can only smirk as their personal game continues.

A critical element of any games is allies. It is even more important when all the Tributes are victors. As Haymitch describes it, “I want you guys to forget everything you think you know about the games. Last year was child’s play. This year you’re dealing with all experienced killers.” Nevertheless, he knows Katniss will be a problem since she does not like to play nice with others. In addition, she does not gravitate to the strong. As we know, she naturally protects the weak. When she goes to the training center, she immediately builds a bond with Wiress and Beetee who are tech geniuses. She teaches them how to make fire. Beetee shows her how to recognize force fields and demonstrates it with the force field that is protecting the gamemakers from the tributes. Katniss admits to them that it is there because she shot an arrow at them last year. She also develops a bond with Mags who is the oldest and physically weakest of the pool. Interestingly, Mags is close to Finnick because she is his mentor and close friend who basically raised him. She also volunteers to save the life of the other female victor in her district. Ironically, Katniss agreed with Haymitch that Mags would be a liability for Finnick if he tried to save her before she actually met her. In the training center, there is an awesome sequence when Katniss showcases her shooting ability. In the book, she has fun shooting birds. The film changes it to a hologram program which is much more exciting to watch as she shows incredible marksmanship while dodging all the holographic projectiles that come at her. Of course, her shooting impresses all the tributes and a bunch of them want to be her allies. In the book, it is noted that even one of the Career tributes, Brutus from District 2, wants her as an ally. It puts into perspective how amazing she is with a bow since Brutus, as well as Enobaria from his district, are the only victors that enthusiastically volunteer again for the Games because they welcome another opportunity to fight. While Peeta and Haymitch are fine with Katniss choosing Wiress and Beetee as allies, they are very frustrated when she also states she wants Mags. Katniss is who she is and does not compromise even if it means her probable death. It is another reason she is an inspiring symbol.

Again, they have to do individual assessments and interviews with Caesar Flickerman as part of the pre-game festivities. In the individual assessments, the film makes a significant change to the book that makes the scene much more powerful. When Peeta goes in for his assessment, he draws a painting of Rue when Katniss laid flowers on her lifeless body after her death. In the book, the floor is washed and Katniss never sees it. Peeta only mentions it to Katniss afterwards. In the film, Katniss sees the painting and is incensed by it. It motivates her to draw on a mannequin to make it look like Seneca Crane then hang it. It is a taunt to Plutarch and the other gamemakers. It is an act of defiance that also happens in the book but Katniss seeing the painting of Rue is a great touch by the film. In the book, it is also noted that Peeta and Katniss are both given max scores to put the biggest targets on their backs. During the interviews with Caesar, Haymitch points out to Katniss that “These victors are angry, Katniss. They’ll say anything to try and stop the games. I suggest you do the same.” In the interviews, Finnick shows his real, sweeter side inside his pompous outer façade. He reads a poem and says “My love, you have my heart for all eternity. And uh…if…if I die in that arena, my last thought will be of your lips.” In the book, it is said that his words made at least a hundred members of the audience faint because they thought he was talking to them. It represents the passive aggressive tone that most of the tributes used in a fruitless attempt to stop the games. However, Johanna is not and never will be passive aggressive. In a very funny and entertaining outburst, she screams ““The deal was that if I won The Hunger Games, I get to live the rest of my life in peace. But now you wanna kill me again. Well, you know what? Fuck that! And fuck everybody that had anything to do with it!” Again, her character is so much more than her crazy exterior. As she will admit later, there is no one left that she loves. Although she does not explicitly say it, it is assumed that they were killed because she refused to cooperate with the Capitol as a victor after the Games.

mockingjay dress

The interviews end with Katniss and Peeta since they are District 12. Katniss’s interview shows her progression handling public speaking. Last year, she was nervous and stumbled over her words. When she talks with Caesar this time, she is personable, playful, and “cheeky” with him. It shows how she has come a long way in her ability to win the love of a crowd. Moreover, Snow insisted and forced Katniss to wear her wedding dress for the interview. Before she entered the stage, Johanna sees her and sarcastically says “Really? A wedding dress?” Their dislike of each other, starting from the elevator moment, is obvious and a key part of the books. However, they definitely bond over their disdain for the dress and Snow when Johanna supportively instructs Katniss to “Make him pay for it.” Katniss also gets an assist from a specific alteration made by Cinna. Like last year, she twirls to set the dress on fire. When the wedding dress burns away, it reveals a beautiful black dress with wings which is a mockingjay to acknowledge the rebellion and signal that she is with them. Cinna nods to Katniss in support. It is a courageous move since it means retribution from the Capitol and certain death. It is another great moment from the books that the movie nails. While Katniss working a crowd is a new development, it is one of Peeta’s best strengths and he delivers another great performance. At the end, he also delivers a genius, fake baby bomb that gets the audience in an uproar to stop the games. The ruse gives Haymitch a big smile and he tips his flask in approval, which is very funny. Of course, the Games cannot be canceled. Effie is very choked up when she says goodbye: “And I’m so proud of my victors… I am so…well you both deserved so much better. I am truly sorry.” Moreover, she noticed that Katniss’s Mockingjay pin is gold. In order to show solidarity, she dyes her hair gold and has gold items made for Haymitch (bangle) and Peeta (medallion). It is a thoughtful gesture and the items will be important later in the story. When Katniss asks Haymitch for some final advice, he says “stay alive” and “remember who the real enemy is”.

catching-fire-arena

Another similarity to the previous year is Cinna walking Katniss the platform. As always, Cinna believes in her: “Remember I’m still betting on you, girl on fire.” However, he finally pays the price for his unconditional support for Katniss and her role as the Mockingjay. As Katniss is lifted up to the arena, Peacekeepers come and beat him unconscious in front of her. She pleads with them to stop to no avail. Of course, the timing is deliberate to unnerve her before she is about to fight for her life. As the tributes will figure out, the arena is a clock based arena with twelve regions that have unique dangers. It starts with a lightning strike at the twelve o’clock hand. Some of the perils in each section includes blood rain, poisonous fog, killer monkeys, a big wave, and jabberjays that are mutts with the voice of their loved ones. The sadistic nature of the gamemakers have no bounds. In particular, the jabberjays are cruel psychological torture to torment the tributes further before they die. Unlike last year, Katniss does not run away from the cornucopia as soon as the Games start. In the books, it details how Katniss and Peeta train like careers leading up to the Quarter Quell to prepare. Of course, it is one of the obvious cuts with limited time in a movie. With the additional anger from watching Cinna beaten, she jumps off her platform then swims and runs down the dial towards the weapons in the cornucopia. It is an intense scene with her peaking at the other tributes as she is trying to outrun them. Ultimately, she and Finnick arrive at the weapons first. Although she aims her arrow at him, she backs down when Finnick flashes the gold bangle that Haymitch gave him to signal they are allies and she can trust him. Together, they hold off the careers. However, they head towards Mags. She located Peeta who is fighting another tribute in the water. He is able to fight off the other tribute and the alliance of Peeta, Katniss, Finnick, and Mag descend into the jungle and deep into the arena. Of course, Katniss is very uneasy about the alliance with Finnick. Her feelings are reinforced when he notes “Every time that cannon goes off, it’s music to my ears. I don’t care about any of them.” Since there can only be one victor, she knows it is a matter of time before he turns on them and he is very dangerous. However, they cannot face the Careers without him. Nevertheless, she is definitely annoyed with Haymitch for making a deal with Finnick.

As the Games progress, Peeta and Katniss notice a peculiar trend. It starts with Mags’s sacrifice when they are running away from poisonous fog. When Peeta is paralyzed by it and Katniss cannot carry him, Mags walks into the fog so Finnick will help carry Peeta instead of her. Due to Mags’s advanced age, she never intended to survive the games. While it is a noble act, it is not seen as out of the ordinary at the time. However, it is the first of many actions by tributes that move in a similar direction once they are put in context with subsequent events. When the group engages a pack of killer monkeys, one of the monkeys lunges to kill Peeta. However, one of the tributes from District 6, a morphling who is skilled at camouflaging into the background, jumps in front and sacrifices herself to save his life. Later, Johanna runs out of the jungle with Wiress and Beetee and joins the alliance. It is strange that she would team up with them because she not so flatteringly refer to them as “Nuts and Volts”. When Katniss takes exception with and confronts Johanna for being rough with Wiress, Johanna is frustrated and screams that “I got them out for you!” As we know, Katniss did want them as allies. Nevertheless, it is strange that Johanna would do anything for her since they do not get along. As a result, Peeta and Katniss are perplexed at why other tributes would sacrifice themselves or do things for them. There can only be one victor. As such, it just does not make any sense.

Katniss and Peeta

In the first Games, the romance between Katniss and Peeta is an act for her. Their relationship begins to heal during the tour. She learns to appreciate the affection and thoughtfulness Peeta always has towards her. In the Games, he also complements her very well. He is a great speaker and communicator which are very important traits in winning over sponsors who send aid and other tributes to form and maintain alliances. As we know, those elements are a weakness for Katniss and she also has no interest in them. In other words, she needs him. However, Katniss begins to develop real feelings towards him during the Quarter Quell. When he inadvertently swings a machete into a force field, Katniss completely freaks out and screams in horror when she thinks he had just died. When he is resuscitated by Finnick who performs CPR on him, Katniss immediately embraces and kisses Peeta. In next movie Mockingjay Part 1, Finnick makes the perfect observation about the moment when he tells her: “After your first Games, I thought the whole romance was an act. We all expected you to continue that strategy. But it wasn’t until Peeta’s heart stopped and he nearly died that I knew I’d misjudged you. You love him. I’m not saying in what way, maybe you don’t even know yourself. But anyone paying attention can see it.” Near the end of the film, Peeta and Katniss also have a peaceful moment together on the beach. Peeta assumes that Katniss made a deal with Haymitch to save him but he asserts that he also made a deal to save her. He pleads to her that “If you die and I live, I’d have nothing. Nobody else that I care about.” While he tells her that her family needs her, he pulls out the gold medallion Effie had made for him. In it, there are pictures of Katniss’s mother, Prim, and Gale. It is a very genuine, sweet, and incredible gesture that perfectly exemplifies how special of a person Peeta is. As Haymitch tells Katniss earlier in the film, “You could live a hundred lifetimes and never deserve that boy.” Josh Hutcherson’s performance definitely captures Peeta’s romantic side. Naturally, Katniss is totally touched by Peeta, tells him that she needs him, and gives him the most authentic kiss in their relationship. Of course, it also sets the stage for the difficult decision she will have to make when she needs to choose between Peeta and Gale who are both worthy.

Peeta and Katniss’s alliance is a great success. Despite District 1’s Gloss killing Wiress, they avenge her by killing him and his sister, Cashmere. The other remaining tributes dwindle. The biggest remaining threats is the other half of the career pack from District 2, Brutus and Enobaria. Beetee devises a smart plan to kill them which is very similar to how he won his games. He wants the alliance to leave the beach so that the careers will return to it. Next, he wants to run a wire from the lightning tree to the water so that everyone in it and the damp sand will be electrocuted to death. The agreement is to keep Beetee alive long enough to execute his plan. Although Katniss believes the idea will work, she does not want to go with the alliance. She knows that they will need to turn on each other as soon as the Careers are eliminated. Moreover, she knows it will be extremely difficult to kill people with who they have developed relationships during the Games. Despite her distrust and dislike of Finnick at the beginning of the Games, he has been a great ally and saved Peeta’s life. In addition, she learns about Finnick’s softer, actual self. When Katniss stumbles into the section of the arena with the jabberyjays, they copy and mimic the screams of Prim and Gale to drive her insane. At the same time, Finnick is there with her and the birds torment him with the cries of a girl named Annie. Eventually, Katniss gets the opportunity to ask Johanna who Annie is. Johanna notes “Annie Cresta. The girl Mags volunteered for. She won, like, four years…five years ago.” Katniss realizes Annie is the victor who went crazy. In the book, it details that she witnessed the beheading of her partner in the games who was also from her district. In regards to the romance between Finnick and Annie, Johanna observes that “Love is weird”. Nevertheless, his love for Annie shows that he is not the shallow playboy that he likes to pretend to be for the cameras. Similarly, she realizes that there is also a lot more to Johanna than first impressions suggested. Due to Johanna’s frustrations at one point in the Games, she shouts and calls out Snow. When the rest of the group looks at her like she is insane for tempting fate and incurring Snow’s wraith, she solemnly admits “What? They can’t hurt me. There’s no one left that I love.” In the books and film, it is assumed that she did not cooperate with the Capitol after the games. While Katniss and she definitely have their issues, they have more in common than they first thought. Accordingly, Katniss even develops bonds with people she thought she disliked and could kill.

When the group arrives at the tree, Beetee asks Katniss and Johanna to run the coil to the beach while Finnick and Peeta protect him. Despite Katniss’s protests because she does not want to be separated from Peeta, she reluctantly agrees because the agreement was that it is Beetee’s plan until the job is done. On route to the beach, Katniss and Johanna are ambushed by Brutus and Enobaria who cut the coil. Johanna immediately pushes Katniss to the ground and cuts her arm open with her axe. Since the book is from Katniss’s perspective, the reader experiences the events from that point of view and think that Johanna is trying to kill Katniss. In the film, it is pretty clear that Johanna is ripping out Katniss’s tracker, keeping her down and out of sight to appear that she killed her, and drawing the Careers away to save her life. In the book and the film, Katniss believes Johanna and FInnick betrayed them and are out to kill her and Peeta. Since she is disoriented, she suspects that Finnick has already killed Peeta and calling her name so he can kill her too. When she sees Finnick again, she raises her bow to kill him with an arrow. The movie is able to add to the drama of the scene by cutting to Snow who smiles and says “Let it fly, Miss Everdeen. Let it fly.” He knows that Finnick is the ideal person for Katniss to kill to destroy the idea of the Mockingjay. Although she does not know it, he has been completely loyal. His popularity also rivals her own in the country. Snow is totally gleeful because he thinks Plutarch’s masterplan is coming to fruition. However, Katniss comes back to her senses when Finnick pleads “Katniss. Remember who the real enemy is.” Instead of killing him, she attaches the coil to her arrow and shoots at the ceiling of the arena lashing out in anger for Snow and the Games. The surge of power short circuits and destroys the arena. Snow is in total shock when his broadcast terminates while Katniss is knocked out by the blast.

Immediately, a hovercraft descends into the arena to pick up Katniss. When she awakes, she sees an unconscious Beetee next to her. She assumes she has been picked up by the Capitol and grabs a syringe to attack her captors. She is shocked to see Finnick and Haymitch conversing with Plutarch. Plutarch immediately explains that the plan the whole time was to extract her from the arena since she is the Mockingjay and that most of the tributes were in on it. Furthermore, she was left out of the loop because she was being monitored by Snow at all times. Earlier in the movie, he dances with Katniss at the end of the tour at the Presidential palace. In the book, there is a major hint that he is on her side because he flashes his watch to her which briefly shows a mockingjay identical to her pin. Although he tells her in the movie that she “inspired” him to return as the head Gamemaker, he says it in a sarcastic tone. In addition, Philip Seymour Hoffman does an amazing job with the character and his scenes with Snow. He really sells it that he is on Snow’s side and just as sadistic. I knew the twist at the end and Hoffman still made me hate Plutarch in those scenes. I really love what the film does with the character because it makes the twist so much better for anyone who has not read the book. After the reveal, past events also make so much more sense. You can piece together how Plutarch had subtly been helping keep Katniss alive with decisions he makes as head gamemaker during the Games. When he zooms in the conversation about Beetee’s plan and Beetee notes the time he wants to initiate it, Plutarch’s intrigued look is because he has the ETA on when to initiate the escape plan. Moreover, you realize that Beetee was figuring out a flaw in the system the whole time to destroy the arena. When I read the twist in the book, I gained a full appreciation of how Suzanne Collins developed the story, dropped hints throughout, and wove everything together.

Unfortunately, there was not enough time to rescue Johanna and Peeta and they have been captured by the Capitol. They also did not have time to save Annie Cresta. Of course, Katniss does not care about herself or the need for her to be the Mockingjay in that moment. She is incensed that Peeta was left behind and could be killed. She moves to attack Haymitch because she lied to her about trying his best to save Peeta instead of her. As such, Plutarch is forced to sedate her. When she awakes, Gale is at her bed side. He also mentions that they are in District 13. In the book, there are a lot more hints that District 13 was not actually destroyed but went underground. However, I agree with cutting those scenes for the film due to the time constraints. It also adds to the twist that District 13 is still around and well-armed. In addition, Gale talks to her in a somber tone. He mentions that he was able to save her mother and sister and they are safe in 13. Unfortunately, District 12 is no more and most of the people are dead because Snow ordered a firebombing of it as retribution. Naturally, Katniss is incensed by the news and she stares angrily into the camera to end the film. Revolution has caught fire and the war has begun. It ends a movie I absolutely adore and hold in the highest regard.

For the Retrospective Reviews for the other films in the franchise, please see links below:

The Hunger Games: http://rookerville.com/2013/11/20/retrospective-review-the-hunger-games/

Mockingjay Part 1: http://rookerville.com/2016/01/11/retrospective-review-the-hunger-games-mockingjay-part-1/

Mockingjay Part 2: http://rookerville.com/2017/01/13/retrospective-review-the-hunger-game-mockingjay-part-2/

Pat Wong

About Pat Wong

Patrick is a contributor for Rookerville. He is an avid sports fan. Before joining Rookerville, he was part of a defunct New York Yankees message board, NYYankeefans, where he was its top poster and was inducted in its Hall of Fame for his contributions. Patrick is also a passionate fan of movies. He has enjoyed reading movie reviews over the years and is excited about the opportunity to review movies. Patrick is also a passionate foodie. He is Yelp Elite for three years in a row and shares his great finds in New York and his travels.

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