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Let’s have a serious conversation for a second. You know who sucked in the first Hunger Games movie? Sucked. Sucked. Suuucked with two more u’s than necessary. Peeta Mellark. Whether brooding about Katniss’ lack of love for him or limping around the playing field like an injured bunny rabbit, he was a complete and total buzzkill during round one. He may as well have contorted himself into the fetal position and wrapped his skinny little body around Katniss’ neck like an ill-fitting turtleneck or an outlandishly sized necklace. He was dead weight with only some painting talent to fall back on. Even worse, his general vibe came off as way more helpless little brother than believable love interest, which didn’t exactly help the whole Team Gale vs Team Peeta plotline.
Fortunately, that whole pathetic vibe was almost completely washed away by director Francis Lawrence in Catching Fire. Gone is the overly nice pushover, replaced by a competent human being who can actually carry his own weight and contribute in some discernable way beyond just being physically present. Sure, Peeta still has some notable limitations and a penchant for getting injured, but a cake decorator can’t ever completely change his frosting. On the whole, it’s forward progress, and we’ll take it. Not really sucking is exponentially better than full-on sucking any day of the week.
Here are six ways Peeta sucks less in Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Obviously Contains Spoilers)…
He Can Actually FightHave you ever seen little children fight? More often than not, they lead with their faces and lose all ability to throw punches after being struck once. They have no endurance, no will power and no discernable skills whatsoever. That was Peeta during round one. In theory, he should have been able to offer something given he got a pretty good score from the judges, but instead, he flopped around like an injured fish and eventually got pretty creative with hiding spots. Good for him, I guess.
This time around, he actually, you know, helps the team to stay alive. He chokes out a guy in the water in hand to hand combat. He leads a few expeditions into the wilderness, one of which does not go well, and he doesn’t cower in the face of trouble. Yes, he’s still not Sylvester Stallone. At one point, he needs to be given mouth-to-mouth in order to start breathing again, but it’s still a giant leap in the right direction. He’s gone from a man I wouldn’t want on a hunting trip to one I’d let take a shift guarding the tent from bears. He certainly wouldn’t be able to stop them, but he could be trusted to alert other people before getting eaten.
He’s Even More ManipulativeDuring The Hunger Games, Peeta shows off his powers of manipulation by forcing Katniss into a fake relationship thanks to a well-timed handhold. Is it because he knows the display of young love will help the two in the arena, or is it because he has a big crush on Miss Everdeen and wants her to end up in a situation where she’s forced to kiss him and be flirty in front of the cameras? Ehhhhh. Maybe a little of option two but probably more of option one.
During the second installment, his manipulation is a whole lot more badass. He tells the obnoxiously white teethed Cesar Flickerman that Katniss has a baby on the way. The fake reveal on live television sends the audience into panic mode, and it proves to viewers just how smart and cunning Peeta is capable of being. He might not be Rambo out on the battlefield, but he’s got exponentially better long-term vision than Katniss, which goes a long way to balance the sort of couple out. She can’t be better than him at absolutely everything.
He Volunteers To ParticipateKatniss got a ton of audience sympathy points right off the rip during the first movie because she actually volunteered for the games in order to save her little sister. Many people might have done the same thing, but nonetheless, it made her seem like an aggressive, no-nonsense warrior with a clear mission. Peeta, on the other hand, was merely one of the other scared kids randomly chosen by dumb luck of the draw, which made him seem like a poor, overwhelmed sap.
Both Haymitch and Peeta decide they would like to volunteer for the Quarter Quell, but because of how the system works, they must wait for the name to be drawn. When Haymitch is announced, Peeta steps forward and volunteers without hesitation, which steals some of those badass points Katniss earned during the first film and helps move him closer to a level playing field.
He Doesn’t Act Intimidated Around GaleIt’s no secret Peeta wants to be with Katniss. He’s desperate to gain the girl’s real, genuine affection. Most of his attempts during The Hunger Games at convincing her to like him back were horrible. When she didn’t immediately reciprocate his feelings, he acted like a six-year-old who’s told she can’t have a second cupcake. It was remarkably frustrating to watch and no doubt a huge turn-off for Katniss. Contrary to what you may have heard, most girls aren’t overly excited to be with guys who pout.
As such, you would have expected Peeta to be awkward and intimidated around Gale, a behemoth of a man who Katniss overtly has feelings for in real life, but he is actually able to stomach his less than flattering emotions and help take care of Gale after he’s beaten senseless during an attempt to save people’s lives during the newest installment. In being humble and nice, he comes across as powerful and for the first time, like a real human being an attractive woman might want to be with. There are few things sexier than believing in yourself and where you stand.
He Knows When To Speak And When To Keep QuietPeeta had an annoying habit of lashing out a whole lot and saying completely unnecessary things during the first movie. It made him seem childish, and as a result, it was pretty hard to root for him. Beyond that, it was hard to understand exactly how much his mind was churning. Many times when he did speak up, he offered up some kind of chivalrous comment that wasn’t really feasible in the moment.
But this time around, he’s a whole lot more comfortable with when to talk and when not to talk. He calms Katniss down after her little freak-out on the train. He immediately heads over to Haymitch’s after the Quarter Quell announcement, and in general, he figures out the right thing to say during most moments, which makes him way more likeable as a character. I can deal with a man who has limited fighting skills if he’s at least calm under pressure and can elevate the group mood with reasoned statements and sound advice. Plus, he has no problem volunteering to public speak, which gives Katniss the option of whether or not she wants to talk in any given situation. Given her track record and inability to read situations, she's usually better off not speaking too.
He Actually Has Use Of His BodyThink about all of the deathly sick characters you’ve ever met in movies. How many of them were likeable? How many of them felt like giant burdens that were slowing the entire plot down? That was Peeta during the first movie. He was like a goddamn Oregon Trail character slowly dying over the course of a few turns. He may as well have been the dude from The Sessions. As a viewer, you just wanted to choke him out yourself so Katniss could worry about more pressing matters like killing people and saving herself. By some miracle, of course, he kept hanging on.
Luckily, he actually has mobility this time around, apart from the brief spell in which he almost dies. That’s way more entertaining to watch, and it allows all of the characters a freedom of movement they’ve never had in the series before. It allows them to drift with the clock and fight the elements rather than holing up and hiding.