In 2012, after the release of the first Hunger Games film, a disturbing trend emerged: official Hunger Games-themed tie-in merchandise that you could buy to feel more a part of the story, or something. That trend continues with the release of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Witness, for instance, the CoverGirl's "Capitol Collection" of mascaras, lip gloss, and other cosmetics. Or high-end chocolatier Vosges' character-themed chocolate bars (resulting in the unintentionally hilarious consequence of letting you "eat-a Peeta"). Or Subway's "Fiery Footlong" sandwiches, including a sweepstakes in which you can win your own "victory tour."
Or the (let it not be so) rumored theme park, at which children presumably will not be reaped and placed in the arena for a fight to the death to keep the people cowering in fear. Presumably.
I'm not just frustrated, I'm appalled: all this tie-in merchandise declaws the story of The Hunger Games, in much the same way that the actual affluent Capitol in the books declaws the seriousness of the "real" Hunger Games—a forced gladiatorial battle between teenagers—by staging flashy weeks-long television specials around it in order to distract from the horror of juvenile carnage by making it entertaining.
The movies (gratefully) violently counteract any attempt we might make to see them as fun escapism. To see The Hunger Games is not to be entertained. The films' greatest redemptive feature is their pervasive sadness, from the faces of every character to the musical score to the bleak sets. Even during the biggest, most lavish celebrations at the Capitol, we know the ones who are enjoying themselves are being played for vapid fools. Everyone with half a brain is miserable and, increasingly, furious.
Don't see this film without having seen the first Hunger Games film, because it dives right into the story. To recap: when we last left our teenage heroine Katniss Everdeen—she (Jennifer Lawrence, who at this point in her career can do no wrong) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) had managed to outsmart the Capitol and return as victors to District 12, only to discover that life can't, and won't, ever be the same. Even Katniss's relationship with her lifelong best friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) has changed.
But at the same time, Katniss has become a symbol of revolt to revolutionaries around the country—the mockingjay, the "girl on fire." When the movie opens, it's a year later, and things are only getting more serious. Katniss and Peeta sense this when they embark on their "Victory Tour," in which they (once again) get dolled up, travel by high-speed train to each of Panem's Districts with coach Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and handler Effie (Elizabeth Banks), act like they're the madly-in-love victors everyone wants to see, and give pre-scripted speeches, all in service of drumming up support and excitement for the next games. (You see why the Subway sweepstakes is so disturbing.)