When Katniss destroys the games, she goes to District 13 after District 12 is destroyed. She meets President Coin who convinces her to be the symbol of rebellion, while trying to save Peeta from the Capitol.
We’re coming into the homestretch with this, the first part of the final movie adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ incredibly popular YA Dystopia ‘Hunger Games’ series (now franchise).
The movie begins some time after ‘Catching Fire’ – Katniss (the luminous Jennifer Lawrence) is physically recovered from her daring stunt during the ‘Quarter Quell’, having used her bow and arrow to direct a current of lightning at the force field that contains the Hunger Games arena, destroying the arena and resulting in her temporary paralysis.
Interestingly though, the opening scene of ‘Mockingjay’ highlights Katniss’s mental state – physically recovered she may be, but ever since she volunteered for the 74th Hunger Games she has been mentally eviscerated. She is suffering from Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), what was coined ‘shell shock’ in the World Wars.
Not helping her mental state is her current location in District 13 – thought to be destroyed by the Capitol during the first rebellion, they have in fact been secretly militarizing themselves underground – and their President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore, with freaky contact lenses) organized to save Katniss, and now she needs to use her to fuel a rebellion against the Capitol. The rebellion needs their ‘Mockingjay’ symbol – for propaganda, and hope (arguably the most powerful form of propaganda). Katniss agrees, but only to save the Victors who remain prisoner of the Capitol and President Snow (creeeeeepy Donald Sutherland) – among them, Katniss’s fellow tribute and Hunger Games ‘winner’ Peeta Mellark (a transformed Josh Hutcherson).
Propaganda does not deceive people; it merely helps them to deceive themselves.
Let me start by saying that I liked this movie, but I didn’t love it – certainly not as much as its two predecessors. And I think a lot of that comes down to the fact that I wasn’t convinced that it needed to be broken into two parts.
I know, I know – it’s a money-maker and since Harry Potter broke ‘The Deathly Hallows’ and the Twilight Saga broke ‘Breaking Dawn’ into two parts, it was a given that ‘The Hunger Games’ YA adaptation franchise would do the same. But Rowling’s ‘Deathly Hallows’ was a whopping 759-pages, and Meyer’s ‘Breaking Dawn’ came in at 756. Suzanne Collins’ ‘Mockingjay’ was 390, in keeping with the page-count of the first two books. And, if I’m being perfectly honest, the page-to-screen adaptation suffers from injecting filler story that wasn’t in the book … and arguably, didn’t really need to be in the movie.
Most of the filler story is based around strategist Plutarch Heavensbee (in a stunning, bittersweet performance by the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman) and President Alma Coin. There are quite a few scenes included that establishes their political machinations for Katniss as the symbol of their rebellion. Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) is also pushed into the spotlight in this third movie, in an attempt to better round out the love triangle that so captivated readers.
The truth is the best picture, the best propaganda.
The political back-story does work, in one sense. It’s a mirror image that harks back to the scenes between President Snow and Gamemaker Seneca Crane (Wes ‘mustachioed’ Bentley) in the first ‘Hunger Games’ movie. They establish that Katniss is still a puppet, even though she’s now out of the arena – and the business of rebellion is as technical and political as Game-making. And while that’s all very fascinating and philosophical, it’s not terribly riveting. Sometimes all that saves the scenes between Plutarch and President Coin is Philip Seymour Hoffman’s captivating, nuanced performance. Injecting Jennifer Lawrence into these moments also works – a scene in which she’s being filmed for a propaganda ad is particularly artful, if only for Lawrence’s comedic timing.
When this storyline of Katniss as the Mockingjay symbol really works, is when Jennifer Lawrence is given a chance to shine in scenes of dramatic tension, rather than political maneuvering. Her visit to District 8 is especially heart wrenching – the camera stays on Lawrence’s face for most of this scene, and no wonder. She is a force to be reckoned with.
Other moments in the film that felt a drag, to me at least (and I will say that many in the audience started to fidget, becoming physically restless towards the end) concerned military operations. Scenes depicting other Districts rising up and joining the rebellion were heart-palpitating and often distressing, but powerful. But scenes in which District 13 carried out military operations felt a little too ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ for my liking. It leaves me concerned/hesitant for ‘Mockingjay Part 2’ … which we all know includes lengthy scenes of such operations.
It's so easy for propaganda to work, and dissent to be mocked.
Something that did impress me in this book were the performances by supporting cast. Aforementioned Philip Seymour Hoffman, but also Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket. She has really made this role her own, and she provides some much-needed comedic relief in an otherwise fairly bleak installment (that’s only going to get bleaker in Part 2). Woody Harrelson continues to prove every nay-sayer (who wanted Robert Downey Jr.) wrong, in his role as Haymitch Abernathy – I love that in this movie, we see how much Haymitch has come to know and respect Katniss.
One cast member who maybe doesn’t shine quite so bright is Liam Hemsworth. He’s given some potentially great scenes to work with, but when he’s opposite Jennifer Lawrence he doesn’t rise to the challenge of her performance, and he often left me feeling cold. Likewise Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair who so impressed me in ‘Catching Fire’ – he seemed to get lost in this movie.
By contrast, Josh Hutcherson is fairly incredible in a very reduced role. He’s undergone a very physical transformation for this movie – he’s clearly lost a lot of weight as the role demanded, and the change is scary. I have to give him kudos too, right when I was whispering “I’m bored” to my seat-mate towards the end of the movie, Josh Hutcherson’s performance pulled me back in with his menacing turn. Costumer designer Kurt and Bart should also be praised for Hutcherson’s wardrobe, which included slick Capitol suits that seemed to physically choke and collar him.
Loud peace propaganda makes war seem imminent.—D. H. Lawrence
All in all, I didn’t LOVE this ‘Hunger Games’ installment but I enjoyed it – and mostly because I know where the story is going and I’m keen to race to the end. I mostly loved the scenes of District rebellion – particularly those that were soundtracked to Jennifer Lawrence’s ‘The Hanging Tree’ song (which I understand will not be on the movie soundtrack?! TRAVESTY!) There’s an escalation of violence in this movie that’s different from the killing featured in ‘Hunger Games’ and ‘Catching Fire’ – it’s disturbing and powerful, but most importantly it sends a message that has roots in today’s society, from Syria to Iraq and so much more …. Which is what Suzanne Collins intended in the first place. And maybe it's just the sentiments of the movie that I enjoyed most of all - fire is catching, after all.