The Hunger Games: Catching Fire made all the money this weekend, raking in a record-topping $161.1 million. But that's not all this YA sequel did for the movie franchise. Catching Fire actually goes about unchecking our long list of problems with the first Hunger Games film, resetting the franchise both for die-hard fans and people who enjoy coherent action scenes. Here's our list of the many ways Catching Fire the film fixed the ridiculous choices and problems in The Hunger Games. Many spoilers ahead!
World-Building: Catching Fire Has it
Wow, the world-building. The 12 Districts were greatly expanded upon in Catching Fire. To be fair, the sequel didn't have to spend as much time setting up the world, so they had a lot more time to bulk up this dystopian future. In this movie we really get to see the landscape, the people and the problems they're facing. One big help is putting the fallen tributes' families on platforms under a video of the deceased character. It helped put together each District, and absolutely shattered me when looking at Rue's family in District 11.
Even the high-speed Capitol train gets expanded, as the audience got to see the gorgeous observation deck, bedrooms and the countryside of Panem from the windows along with glimpses of Mockingjay graffiti, which symbolizes the citizens' unrest.
Catching Fire also beefed up the utter bleakness of District 12 and the vacant, cold nothingness of the world Katniss and her family live in. The Victors' Village looks like a mausoleum, the Hob gets revisited (and appears to have grown), but nothing delivers a swift kick of coldness better than Katniss and Peeta's first day on their Victory Tour.
Flanked by camera drones, the two Victors coo in the freezing, black snow in a dead village while the world applauds their love. The juxtaposition was fantastic.
Humanizing the Capitol
The greatest beneficiary of this expanding of the world of Panem is, hands down, the people of the Capitol. No longer are they merely props in pink wigs walking around what can only be described as an empty college campus.
First up, director Francis Lawrence reintroduces the beloved characters from the books Octavia and Flavius. These ostentatious members of District 12's prep team give us an inside track into the vapid thoughts of the people of the Capitol, but because they were so disarmingly obtuse about the reality of the world they live in, you couldn't hate them. Plus, they genuinely care for Katniss and Peeta, and showed this in a way that only they could — helping make them both likable. This decadence is the only world they've ever known.
Next up, Effie Trinket, played by Elizabeth Banks, was given a lot more depth and a whole lot of room to actually emote and become a fully-formed human creature. Which was exactly what Lawrence was looking for. He told us:
"She may be a Capitol person through and through but she's actually connecting with our lead very strongly. I wanted to give her, her own story. For Effie, who's been always given District 12 and they're always the losers. Suddenly she has something that's historic. She doesn't just have one victor she has two. And she really likes them, and now suddenly they're getting pulled back into the games and even for someone who's so Capitol like Effie she suddenly starts to feel for them and feel the injustice of the situation."
By fleshing out the people under the fancy wigs, Catching Fire starts to close the gap between the Capitol and the outside Districts. It makes them seem less like monsters and more like people, which is important later when the revolution rolls into their town.
Someone Did Their Homework!
If you're going to direct a wildly popular book with a ravenous fan base, maybe it would be fun if you threw in a few things for the fans? Really anything, any small amount or nugget that demonstrates that you've read Suzanne Collins' books. No one is asking for a slavish retelling of the original story, but maybe you could throw the fans a bone here and there.
We've already touched (many times) on the tremendous decision to recast Buttercup the cat (which was ordered not only by the producer, but by Suzanne Collins herself) but there were so many additional winks and nods to the die-hard fans that didn't leave the casual viewer behind.