Today marks the release of "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," and the MTV News offices have turned into a virtual arena. Yes, we are a website divided when it comes to the portrayal of one Peeta Mellark. Played by Josh Hutcherson in both this and the first installment of "The Hunger Games" series, the diminutive baker-turned-champion finds himself back in the arena for the Quarter Quell, a sort of all-star Hunger Games. While he proved his mettle by not dying in the first movie, has Peeta stepped up his game in the second flick?
Our writers Alex Zalben and Kase Wickman take to the cornucopia to decide: Is "Catching Fire" Peeta a baker boy, or has he finally become a baker man?
Kase Wickman: To begin with, this is how I feel about the original young adult series these movies are based on:
So you know I don't take this lightly at all. I don't have encyclopedic knowledge of the story, but I'm into this enough that I'm still kind of miffed that Peeta escaped the first movie with all his limbs intact. Does that give us a good barometer? Good. That said, I am SUPER INTO what I see as a new and improved Peeta in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire." I feel like they totally rebooted the guy. You, however, don't agree.
Alex Zalben: That's right, Kase! Though I don't have an appropriate gif to express my feelings, I'm also a big fan of the book series, and always fell on the side of "Team Peeta." My problem is that by trying to build up Peeta in the second movie, I think instead they made him into even more of a damsel in distress. And I find that... Distressing.
Wickman: Oh, oh I see what you did there. Here's the thing about Peeta 1.0: He kinda sucks? I mean, yes, I fully agree: Team Peeta forever. And I love the Hutcherson casting. I think he seems like a genuinely nice dude, and I'd totally let him bake me a scone or whatever.
Carb-adjacent, here's an example of something that really rubbed me the wrong way about Peeta in the first movie. He's always been in love with Katniss, We know this from him throwing her a giant crouton in the rain while her family was starving even though he knows he's going to take a beating for it. In "The Hunger Games," however, it's almost a fumble. "Oopsie-doodles! Lost my bread! I guess you should have this." And then he runs away. Swoon? I think not. While he'll never be big buff Gale (those bakers' hands don't have calluses, no sir), Peeta comes off as way more decisive in this movie. I know that he spent the majority of the first Games dying in the bottom of a creek and trying out different face paint looks, but this time around, they let him spoon Katniss and straight-up drown a few people. Talk about a character reboot, right?
Zalben: Well, I liked his face painting. It was really beautiful! And he gets to make a nice painting in 'Catching Fire' too, which I really hope they auction off to benefit whatever the Panem equivalent of Amnesty International is or something. It's also nice to know that if the whole "running for your life" thing doesn't work out, he's got a great future in children's birthday parties.
But as everybody, even Peeta himself, says, he's not cut out for the Arena. So to give him a BattlePeeta upgrade just rings as false. Yes, he fights back a little, but that's not what he's about, and it feels more like lip service to Josh Hutcherson than anything else. I think we should talk about the specific scenes in 'Catching Fire' though, yes? Let's start with Water Battle '86, right at the top of the Arena section. What's your take?
Wickman:Let's not disrespect him just because he's not a career Tribute, OK? He definitely grew up thinking it was sourdough, coal or some combination of the two for him. Regardless, he's found himself in the center of this nonsense twice, and this time he's an engaged man to boot.
Here's an upgrade to the character that became immediately apparent at the Cornucopia: Peeta can swim now. It strays from the book, in which Pocket Peeta can't even get himself off his little platform and has to ride around on Finnick's back in the water like they're in a super-intense chicken fight. Remember when I mentioned Peeta drowning people five seconds ago? That starts here. Dude is no wilting flower, right from the get-go. What was your takeaway from the opening bloodbath?
Also, look at this suave MF and try and tell me Peeta's not better/faster/stronger:
Zalben: Nobody is pretending Josh Hutcherson doesn't look good in some sweet Capitol outerwear. In fact, my problem here is that's what Peeta is good at. All his PR scenes in "Catching Fire" are perfect. Katniss takes care of the action, he takes care of the actually speaking to people in a reasonable manner, rather than acting like some sort of Jennifer Lawrence-powered human/badger mutation.
And that's why the water scene doesn't work for me. We get the initial bloodbath at the Cornucopia, Finnick and Katniss realize they have to save Peeta from Nameless Tribute #23, only to find that Peeta made him sleep with the fishes, literally. Except, we don't even get to see it!
This is the moment when we're supposed realize Peeta has gone from zero to hero, and it happens beneath the waves. For all we know, Peeta painted him to death or something. Not that I want to see Peeta snap a guy's neck Superman-style and then tell Katniss to "give me some sugar," but at least if this is the moment where he transforms into a bad-ass, I'd like to see that transformation.
Wickman:But riddle me this: Do you really want Peeta to turn into a hardcore killing machine?
I think they struck a nice balance while toughening the guy up. He's still a dummy; dude runs into a force field and needs resuscitation smoochies from Finnick. But he's a mostly competent dummy. He'll hold someone under if he has to.
Zalben: Right after he bakes his underwater croissant of death the rest of the movie is all about Peeta getting knocked out, or covered in acid fog, or a million other things that completely contradict that.
And it starts with the force-field. He walks into it, and dies.
Yes Finnick resuscitates him with his sweet, salt-water kisses, but are we truly supposed to believe this is a new tougher Peeta if he can't even walk through the jungle for five minutes without expiring?
Then right after that, he gets scorched by acid fog. Katniss gets scorched.
Finnick gets scorched. But they don't fall unconscious and have to be carried, leading to Mags freaking killing herself so they can save his life. This is the new, tougher Peeta? The guy who in the space of 10 minutes dies, and then forces an old lady to sacrifice her own life because he's too weak to save anyone? Really, Kase? REALLY.
Wickman:I can't really argue with you there. Bless his heart, he tries, but it's almost as if he was meant to shuffle off this mortal coil.But just as if we were hankering for an emotionally intelligent (or, let's face it, generally intelligent) Katniss, to portray a Peeta who's great at not needlessly putting himself into life-threatening situations would be a totally different book.
Once Katniss works out her OMG boys issues, we can address Peeta protecting his pulse.
What I see as the most significant change between this movie and the first is that Peeta does anything at all. His future career as a Sephora consultant aside, Peeta literally spent the first movie laying on his back. This time, he's killing people, running around, coming up with ideas, plotting with Katniss to break their alliance (and if there's anything Peeta loves, it's alliances), and, yes, laying on his back. But we're introduced to a new breed of laying on his back Peeta: Big Spoon Peeta.
Zalben: Yes, he's the big spoon to Katniss' little spoon, but is there any doubt who's really in charge of that particular snuggle-fest? Side topic, but I'll say that's one of my favorite nods to the PTSD Peeta and Katniss are suffering from in the movie is that the only way they truly feel comfortable sleeping is how they slept in the Arena. But I don't think you're going to convince anyone that Peeta is a hardened warrior in "Catching Fire" by citing how good he is at cuddling.
Back to the Arena, though, let's talk about where Peeta is at the end of the movie: he gets captured. He is, no doubt about it, the literal damsel in distress. He is taken back to the castle by a dragon, and locked away. If we don't open "Mockingjay - Part 1" with him wearing one of those pointy hats and a dress, I'll be shocked.
By the way, I'm talking about this, not a Klan outfit:
Wickman: Other than them being aaaa-dorable, I think that the cuddling does actually have a point: Peeta has his pride. He stands up to Katniss in the Victor's Village and calls her out for ignoring him. He knows what's up, and doesn't tell her to bug off and sleep on her own luxurious Capitol linens, which, in my mind, is an active decision that he makes. Cuddling is great, but the new extra-strength brand of Peeta isn't so desperate for a hug.
All in all, I think that the representation of Peeta Pan in "Catching Fire" is a stronger character, while still staying true to the books. He stands up to Katniss, makes decisions, spoons large and, yes, gets knocked into the afterlife by a force field, but who among us hasn't had that happen? Peeta 2.0 forever!
Zalben: On, the other hand, watching 'Catching Fire' made me realize that the new Peeta is basically the Panem equivalent of "South Park's" Kenny. At this point I won't even be surprised if Katniss has a line in "Mockingjay" where she says, "Oh my god, they killed Peeta! You bastards!" And then tricks President Snow into eating his own parents.
That's right: I think Katniss is "The Hunger Games" version of Cartman. Which is a whole other debate. Anywho, Peeta needs to stick to what he's good at: baking, snuggling, and dying. We don't need another hero.
What do you think? Let us know on Twitter @MTVNews, or in the comments below!