The second Hunger Games film sees a newly-minted Oscar winner, Jennifer Lawrence, starring for a new director, Francis Lawrence (no relation) in what promises to be a bigger, badder story of political unrest and life-threatening televised competition. This week the first teaser trailer debuted online, and gave us a little more of an idea of what we’re in for. Here’s what to take from this teaser, in largely spoiler-free form (unless you skipped the first movie)…
Last we saw of her, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) had just won the 74th Hunger Games and, by dint of threatening mutual suicide if the organisers didn’t relent, managed to save her fellow District 12 Tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) for good measure. But her defiance has made her a target for the totalitarian authorities of the Capitol at the same time it made her a heroine to the people, and this teaser very much emphasises that she’s up against the wall as a result. Even her victory tour threatens to become a blood bath - which is not something Team GB ever had to deal with.
The trailer’s hooked around President Snow (Donald Sutherland) scheming behind the scenes with new right-hand-man and games-runner Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who replaces the executed Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley). The pair are trying to come up with a way to destroy Katniss: first resolving to attack her image, then deciding to kill her “in the right way, at the right time”. For these totalitarian wonks, that means they want to kill her in a second Games. For good measure Snow decides to target all the other winners to quash such defiance in future. This scene isn’t in the book as such, but illustrates what Katniss comes to realise as the story rolls on. “She has become a beacon of hope for them, so she has to be eliminated.” It's worth noting that Heavensbee is a complicated character in the books, so it's good to see someone as talented as Hoffman play him, while Sutherland's a sufficiently good actor to add genteel nuance to the thoroughly rotten President Snow.
The early scenes in this teaser, with Katniss and Peeta presented to a crowd, take place in District 11 on their victory tour, rather than their native District 12. In the book, Katniss is moved to acknowledge the help she received from the two District 11 Tributes (notably her friend Rue) during her Games, and an old man raises a salute to her in return. The rest of the crowd follows his example – but the Capitol’s Peacekeeper guards execute the ringleader and beat up the rest. This is the sort of thing that is unlikely to quash rebellious thoughts in the long term, however good an idea it might seem to the Capitol in the short. The scene with Katniss in desperate tears follows this execution, and the brutality remains with her long afterwards.
Katniss’ home district is also simmering over. The extraordinarily poor District 12, a coal-mining region of the Appalachians in this post-apocalyptic society, is under scrutiny because of Katniss - but the people are also inspired by her. So you see her younger sister Prim Everdeen (Willow Shields) determined to follow her example, which horrifies Katniss. After all, the only reason big sis went to the Games in the first place was to save Prim’s life – and now her baby sister is putting it at risk again. Some people have no sense of self-preservation. Meanwhile, once-and-future love interest Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) is targeted for punishment by the authorities, flogged at a post until Katniss tries to stop it. Against the hi-tech Capitol, the Districts don’t have much of a chance – but that may not stop them rising up.
We barely see Elizabeth Banks’ Capitol fixer, Effie Trinket; the same goes for Stanley Tucci’s smarmy TV host Caesar Flickman. Lenny Kravitz’s fashion designer Cinna is in the film but barely shown here, and the focus is very much on Lawrence herself. Fair enough really, since by now she’s probably the biggest star in the cast and an Oscar-winner to boot. Lawrence hardly needs a stellar supporting cast now that she's a one-woman draw.
Readers of the book will know that much of this story concerns the 75th Hunger Games, a 25-yearly “Quarter Quell”, which follows a similar format to the first Games but has a more elaborate and showy selection of deaths awaiting the contestants. The main criticism of the book, in fact, is that it's too much of a re-tread - although for our money it's a re-tread that massively amps up both the action and the stakes. What’s more, as hinted at in the very last moments here, all the participants are former winners. However, this teaser only shows us what happens outside the games arena, smartly emphasising how the story’s moved on rather than emphasising how the story’s repeating itself, and doesn’t introduce any of the new Tributes – like Sam Claflin’s Finnick Odair or Jena Malone as Johanna Mason.
This teaser shows Katniss and Gale in a liplock – but that doesn’t mean her love life is going to be simple. In the book, advisers like Woody Harrelson’s former Games winner Haymitch caution Katniss that the only way she has a chance of avoiding political attack for her defiance at the end of the last Games is to convince the powers that be that she was motivated by puppy love for Peeta rather than rebellion. So she has to maintain the pretense of a relationship with Peeta – and to complicate matters, his feelings are very real. This is the sort of thing that is irritating in a Twilight book - "Oh no, all the hot men are in love with me!" - but in The Hunger Games Katniss herself is so much more concerned with staying alive than with either of the guys, which rather puts romantic dilemmas in perspective.
We’re wildly encouraged by this first teaser for the film. It looks like (F.) Lawrence is ready to emphasise the wider political struggle around Katniss’ own struggle to survive another Games – something that wasn’t front-and-centre until very late in the book – and we’re optimistic that that will give this film its own feel. It also looks like J. Lawrence has slipped fully back into Katniss’ skin, struggling to use her newfound prominence to protect those around her while aware that it could make them all targets. If it all goes right, this will be a tough watch at times, but one with a moral compass as firm as Katniss’ own and a lot of action as she struggles for freedom.