The sequel to “The Hunger Games” is out and many people are claiming that “Catching Fire” is the better movie. I completely disagree and here’s why. Ask yourself if you saw “Catching Fire” first, would you want to see the prequel “The Hunger Games” next? The biggest flaw with “Catching Fire” is the lack of completeness.
Here’s what made “The Hunger Games” and all good movies so great. Everything introduced in the story pays off in the end somehow. For example, when Katniss is training in “The Hunger Games,” she sees Rue, the little girl, hiding on a pole that shows she’s good at climbing and knows how to hide herself well. Later that pays off when Rue climbs a tree to point out the hornet’s nest near Katniss when she’s trapped in a tree. Everything introduced must pay off or there’s no point in showing it in the first place.
There’s a saying that if you show a gun, then that gun better go off somewhere in the story. In “Thelma and Louise,” we see Thelma put a gun in her purse as she’s packing for her trip. Then Louise uses that gun to shoot her would-be rapist. That’s an example of set up and payoff.
In “Catching Fire,” Katniss learns of her opponents and one of them is a woman who has sharpened her teeth so she can better rip out the throats of her victims. That’s kind of cool, but then it never pays off. Ideally, we should see this women with the sharpened teeth directly threaten Katniss or someone else in a tense battle to the death. Instead, this whole sharpened teeth information is never used again.
Another example is that a story is complete when every villain gets defeated. In “Die Hard,” all the terrorists lose by getting killed. In the end, the last terrorist gets killed by the black police officer, not by Bruce Willis, but it feels complete because the last terrorist dies and the black police officer has learned to overcome his hesitation to use his gun. That’s completeness.
In “Catching Fire,” a cruel commander has taken over District 12 and flogged Gale and Katniss, who was trying to protect him. Once we see this cruel commander, we never see him get defeated. He shows up to terrorize District 12, then escaped unscathed. Imagine if in “The Hunger Games,” the game master didn’t get locked in a room with poison berries in the end. That poison berry scene completes the defeat of the villain. In “Catching Fire, ” that cruel commander never gets defeated so that’s another loose end. The more loose ends your story ends with, the less complete your story and the less emotionally satisfying it will be.
It doesn’t matter if you have better special effects in a sequel or not. What matters is completeness. Make sure all your villains are defeated and make sure anything you introduce in a story pays off in the end. Otherwise there’s no point in introducing it.
Now we know the popularity of “The Hunger Games” spawned the sequels, but would “Catching Fire” have created demand for “The Hunger Games”? Probably not, which means “Catching Fire” is inferior to “The Hunger Games.” That doesn’t make “Catching Fire” a bad movie, just an incomplete one that’s not as good as “The Hunger Games.” Completeness is crucial. You can get sloppy with completeness in sequels when you have a built-in audience willing to tolerate incompleteness. You can’t get away with incompleteness for your first story or else there will never be demand for any sequels whatsoever.