There’s certainly nothing new about the use of love triangles as a dramatic device or narrative driver in either literature or film, and the cliché hasn’t abated in the post-“Twilight” YA adaptation-heavy cinematic landscape. And yet, the heir apparent to the big screen, big money throne left empty by “The Twilight Saga” has placed such a low premium on its own built-in love triangle that it might as well not exist. Sure, fans of Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” might still be interested in flying their respective “Team Gale!” and “Team Peeta!” flags, but the makers of the first two film adaptations of the best-selling series have no such aims. The romantic returns of “The Hunger Games” are diminishing at a rapid rate (over the course of just two films, that’s saying something), and that’s not a bad thing at all.
Our own Jenni Miller explored the lack of sex in the “Hunger Games” films just last week, and a few articles have begun trickling out that ponder whether or not sharp-eyed leading lady Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is actually just not interested in men in general (which ties back into that pesky lack of sex). That’s certainly interesting and provocative to think about, but Collins’ books do pay plenty of attention to Katniss’ reactions to certain physical acts with both Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) - in short, she likes them, even if they confuse her - and while a discussion on cinematic sexuality can be fruitful for any number of films, that’s not exactly what’s going on within the world of “The Hunger Games.”
Fans of the books already know that Katniss does eventually make a very final choice of paramour by the time the final book, “Mockingjay” (which will be split into two films for reasons of the moneymaking variety), wraps up – without giving too much away, one of Katniss’ competing suitors commits a wholly unforgivable crime with very personal repercussions that all but demands she cast off this particular perpetrator. It’s not the most romantic way to choose a mate, necessarily, but it does drive Katniss into picking the right man for her. And that’s what the love stories of “The Hunger Games” have always been about – Katniss’ romantic life isn’t very, well, romantic. It’s about survival. When she picks the right man for her, it’s very much about picking a partner who can help her survive the hardships of a very hard life. There’s no room for flowers and sunshine and cartoon hearts and tender kisses in the world of “The Hunger Games,” and the films based on that world don’t balk at that.
While Collins’ books do try to punch up the sexy-skewing stuff, that element is almost wholly missing in the film adaptations. Peeta and Gale are a means to an end for Katniss and her heralded revolution, and while that means that the actually romantic rewards of any (and all) lovey-dovey trials and travails in the franchise are only dropping off with each feature, it does make “The Hunger Games” a more interesting franchise than one stuck on doodly-hearted love games.
The plot of “The Hunger Games” is peppered with big problems for Katniss and company – as it turns out, living under an oppressive rule that makes two dozen kids participate in televised murder on an annual basis isn’t the most conducive to happy living conditions – but instead of using romance as a way to escape the emotional pain of her existence, Katniss uses romance as a literal way to escape her existence. At the end of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” Panem has been plunged into that long-rumored revolution, as sparked by Katniss’ actions in the first film (and played up throughout the first act of the new film). While the world adores Katniss and Peeta for their apparent “love story,” the eagle-eyed residents of the various districts recognize what’s really going on - the girl from District 12 has beaten the system, and whether or not her feelings for Peeta are “real” or not don’t mean a damn thing. Katniss has used romance (or, at least, the idea of romance) to break the institutionalized bonds that hold her and most of the population of Panem hostage.
“The Hunger Games,” for all its love triangle trappings (Hemsworth has really upped his looking mopey game, a market that Hutcherson seemed to corner in the first film), isn’t a franchise hung up on rooting for various romantic “teams” or placing all its drama in its leading lady’s decision as to who to spend her life with. Instead, it’s a series that finds value in revolution, spark, and wily political maneuvering, with romance simply serving as one piece of the world-changing toolbox.