Well, I'm continuing my journey through the global phenomenon that is The Hunger Games to see what all the fuss is about. I found the first one to be quite good, so lets see if that momentum continues into the second film, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
When last we left our intrepid heroine Katniss Everdeen, she and Peeta -- the boy chosen from District 12 -- were the sole two survivors of the Games. Rather than have one kill the other, they chose to commit suicide. But, before they could do it, the gamemasters intervened and declared them both to be winners. They went home as champions, but needless to say, they were deeply traumatized by the event.
A few months later, they're prepping to go on their Victory Tour to all the other districts and pay tribute to the fallen. But, before they leave, Katniss is visited by President Snow. It seems that Katniss and Peeta trying to kill themselves was seen as act of defiance against the Capitol, and as such, they've inspired riots and small uprisings across the land. On their Victory Tour, if Katniss and Peeta don't convince the populace that their attempted joint suicide was an act of love and not an act of defiance, Katniss's family will be killed.
That's one thing I left out last time...the romantic triangle that we've got, that all young adult novels have to have thanks to Twilight. No doubt the makers of the Hunger Games films chose to downplay it in order to avoid comparisons to Twilight. Katniss's boy back home is Gale, a strapping young man that occasionally goes on hunting trips with her. Peeta, who was chosen as the boy representative from District 12, is the son of the baker in Katniss's hometown. Peeta revealed that he'd always had a crush on Katniss, and the two of them decided to play it up and fake falling in love to gain sympathy from the spectators. It worked...but now they don't know if their feelings for each other are real or not.
Anyway, on the tour, we see that Katniss is becoming the symbol of rebellion, so the President has to find a way to eliminate Katniss without making her a martyr. Turns out the 75th Hunger Games are a Quarter Quell, which means they can change up the rules for this one game. For the new rule, the President decides that, rather than the kids between 12-18, this year's participants will be made up of previous winners. And soon, Katniss and Peeta are dumped back in the arena, along with veterans of the Games who aren't happy to be back there.
What's good this time out is we finally get more of an opportunity to meet the other competitors in the games. Haymitch, the mentor to Katniss and Peeta, tells them that, this time to survive, they need to make friends and form alliances. And we get a much better blend of competitors too. We get an engineer, we get pretty boys, we get the elderly. But the most dangerous are the "careers," those who have made competing and winning the games their entire life. There's a much better blend this time out.
And again, I'm surprised by the quality of talent in these films. Last time, I forgot to mention Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket. She's the one you saw in all the trailers with the garish make-up and hideous outfits. She's Katniss and Peeta's PR woman. In the first film, she's rather vapid and almost enjoys her job. But this time out, the cracks are starting to show as she's starting to understand the true horror of the Games.
And Donald Sutherland as the evil President Snow. Like most good politicians, he can go from incredibly charming to viciously threatening at the drop of a hat. He's phenomenal.
Again, I'm surprising myself at how much I'm enjoying these films. It's such a richly detailed sci-fi universe they've created. And, in the grand tradition of "the second film has a twist ending," (e.g. "Luke...I am your father.") I liked the twist this ending had. Just enough cliffhanger for the next adventure.