It's undeniable that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is superior to its 2012 predecessor, The Hunger Games. The direction, via I Am Legend's Francis Lawrence, is better. The special effects, free of any groan-worthy camouflage scene, are better. Heck, the film even managed to shoehorn in a believable love triangle that wasn't present in Suzanne Collins' books, and 89 percent of us still hopped on board. Still, watching the beloved blockbuster in the theaters, it was easy to yearn for The Hunger Games, despite the fact that the first film was far greener than the franchise's latest release. Because there simply was less at stake in Catching Fire.
Admittedly, it's weird, and a bit unsettling, to yearn for the days when children were being murdered on screen in Hunger Games. But the first film came complete with a heaping emotional pull that separated it from the likes of Twilight, Percy Jackson Uses The Immortal Instruments at the Vampire Academy, or whatever YA novel Hollywood decides audiences might blindly follow to the big screen. The first film came with Rue, a doomed character who might just have the distinction of being more loved than The Hunger Games' main three characters. She was sweet, adorable, and far too young — knowing her death was imminent made Katniss' defiance all the more potent. Rue, not Katniss, was the figure that convinced audiences that rebellion in Panem needed to happen.
And while Catching Fire is no doubt an important chapter in the Hunger Games franchise — it is, after all, the book that kicks off the rebellion — everything simply seemed less important during this second go-round. Even though the Quarter Quell saw the deaths of Wiress and Mags, watching adults sacrifice themselves for a cause was far less uncomfortable than watching children die nonsensically. And, as a nation of movie viewers who have grown desensitized to both fake and real-life violence, it's important for us to feel uncomfortable every once in awhile. (Why else would films like Syriana or The Battle of Algiers exist, if not to teach us a lesson about our own world?)
But it's safe to say our comfort won't last for long. Just see one of the most striking scenes in Catching Fire, which involved the young, deceased District 11 tribute herself. While on their victory tour, Katniss' words about Rue in the girl's hometown encourage one old man to salute the Hunger Games victor. Immediately, the Capitol's peacekeepers murder the man in front of the District 11 crowd. It's the only scene in Catching Fire that's difficult to watch, but an important precursor for the punch in the gut that Collins delivers in Mockingjay. This man's quiet, peaceful rebellion might have seemed fruitless (leading only to his death and continued rioting), but the violent rebellion to come is even more pointless. No matter how just, war is war, Collins tells us.
So, yes, the stakes will be higher once war begins in Mockingjay. But our discomfort will also surge — the third book in Collins' series tallies up a huge body count, and it's not long until we realize that every heroic death in the franchise, from Mags' death to the heart-breaking ones to come, is for naught. A violent rebellion is just as nonsensical as a game featuring the murder of children. So perhaps we should hold onto this fleeting feeling of comfort after watching Catching Fire. Because, from here, our contentment will only go up in flames, just like a certain girl on fire.