It's taken until less than a month before the film opens, but we're finally getting a look at the inside of the arena for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and that one reveal has suddenly made the sequel look like the must-see it ought to be.
If you've read the book Catching Fire you may recognize that opening shot of Katniss firing an arrow into the sky as a giant spoiler, but if you haven't, we won't spoil it for you-- just focus on the tropical look of the arena that's a major change from the pine forest of the first film, and then the birds and monkeys and other terrors that pop up at the very end, promising an arena with more natural threats than the first one. For whatever reason this trailer is still highlighting scenes from the Capitol that feel like repeats from the first movie, including Katniss and Peeta riding in their flaming clothes on a chariot and Katniss's interview with Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), but I guess they can't reveal too much from the arena without messing up that secretive campaign that worked so well the first time.
Especially with Ender's Game arriving this week on what feels like a wave of massive indifference, Catching Fire is obviously the big blockbuster event of the fall season, and they could probably guarantee a $100 million opening just by putting Jennifer Lawrence's face on a few posters and letting subliminal messages do the rest. So it's exciting to see the marketing take this turn in the final few weeks, rewarding the patience of fans who have wanted to get a look at the surreal, tropical arena at the center of this book and even including that shot of Katniss aiming her arrow as a sly little nod-- "Yes, that big moment you're waiting for at the end is definitely coming." It was careful targeting of fans that made the first Hunger Games such an enormous and surprising success when it first opened, and even though Lawrence is now an Oscar winner and the franchise is now the new Twilight, Lionsgate is smart to let the fans know they haven't been forgotten.
If you're not a fan, though, I don't blame you if you're confused by the direction of this sequel, which walks back over so many paces from the first story. Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) find themselves back in the arena thanks to a vicious invention called the Quarter Quell, which stages a Hunger Games entirely with previous winners of the Games. That puts them up against competition much older and more experienced than they are, including handsome and charming former champion Finnick (Sam Claflin), vicious former victors like Enobaria (Meta Golding) and Brutus (Bruno Gunn), and potential allies like Beetee (Jeffrey Wright) and Wiress (Amanda Plummer). There's also the continued rebellion all over the country that Katniss accidentally kicked off at the end of her first Games, which gives the action in Catching Fire a broader and even more life-and-death scope. But in essence, it's still a story about Katniss and Peeta being wrenched from their home and forced to fight for their lives-- and hopefully enough people who haven't read the books will still be intrigued enough to give it a look.
If you're one of those people who hasn't read Catching Fire and is getting a sense of deja vu, let us know in the comments. I'll see the rest of you, Mockingjay pins in tow, when Catching Fire opens November 22.