Note: This is a review of both Mockingjay Part 1 and Part 2. For Part 1, I’m going into lots of spoilers, but everything regarding Part 2 is kept spoiler-free. If you wanna skip everything and just read about Part 2, start reading beneath the image of Evil-Peeta.
The world’s second most famous archer finally bows out. And what a ride it was, financially. In 2012, the first movie in the series grossed an incredible $400 million. Everyone showed up for the sequel as well, making that the biggest movie of the year. Last year, part 3 out of 4 came out, and suddenly, there was a notable drop in numbers. Was it because the final chapter was greedily split into two movies (honestly, my reason why I only saw it today), or did word-of-mouth put off those who didn’t know about the major change in concept?
While the first two movies had teenagers primarily fighting for their lives in a televised arena event obviously inspired either by Kinji Fukasaku’s great Battle Royale or the Schwarzenegger classic The Running Man (both of which had been novel adaptations as well), the third movie turns Katniss into the propaganda icon of a political uprising. Which means, the first movie dealt with exciting topics such as thrilling fights for survival, video-gamey trap systems, cool trainings in sleek uniforms, and room for possible love triangles. With Mockingjay Part 1 (I’ll refer to them as MJ’s from now on), all of that changed.
AN ARROW IN THE KNEE:
THE HUNGER GAMES – MOCKINGJAY PART 1
MJ-1 is a straight war movie. Rebels turn Katniss’s acts of defiance into a campaign for their own to bring down a dystopic government that oppresses the working class. The color palette of MJ-1 is mostly grey and black, everyone is just walking through ruins and piles of corpses (the evil empire even goes as far as bombing a hospital full of injured women and children, because pitting poor kids against each other for the lolz of it wasn’t evil enough yet), and the overall mood obviously went south. The first two movies weren’t exactly fun entertainment either, but with MJ-1 The Hunger Games franchise turned into really depressing fare. Have future children catch MJ-1 on a late night VR-streaming service and they’ll scratch their heads, unable to understand how that particular movie could have become such a pop culture phenomenon. It’s no wonder that some of the earlier fans bowed out, deeming the new direction too harsh.
As a reader of the novels, I found the adaptation of the first entry to be pretty good (I’d rate it 3.5 out of 5), even though it did lack the best thing about the novels: Katniss’s internal monologue. I liked both sequel novels less than the original, but I happened to enjoy the second movie as much as the first (also 3.5 out of 5). While technically just a rehash of the previous story, Francis Lawrence’s Catching Fire looked mighty fine, and the solid cast made it fun to watch. As for MJ-1: I still don’t like the fact that it’s suddenly something entirely different, but I could have been fine with it if only it would have been as good as a war movie as the first was as a Young Adult sci-fi action movie. Obviously, many war movies are stunning experiences, and while Francis Lawrence never seemed like a new Coppola, Spielberg or Lean, maybe it was his hour to shine. Well, it obviously isn’t.
MJ-1 spends a lot of time depicting the cruel sides of war as PG-13 as possible, has a lot of people cry for lost ones, and there’s even one striking moment in which Katniss angrily calls for defiance, but other than that it’s a total mess. It’s a rather soulless slog to sit through, without offering any honest emotions, any interesting characters or intriguing story beats. It’s just dour and depressing, with no one to root for. In fact, it pretty much resembles the movie Battle Royale 2 which also tried to be a gripping, super serious thought piece on bringing down a corrupt empire.
In theory, there is lots of interesting stuff to work with. Katniss slowly bringing down one government while helping another one rise to power. The whole aspect of propaganda videos which constantly remind of Starship Troopers (“would you like to know more?”). The brainwashing of Katniss’s closest alley, Peeta, into a man conditioned to kill her. But none of it really works. What the political element of the movie needed, was a Sorkin level gang of leaders planning, talking, and influencing Katniss. Katniss herself doesn’t care much for the next system, she just wants to take revenge and stop what’s happening. Still, the movie wants us to be really invested in the creation of the new empire, and it fails at that. It skips over Katniss’s trust in the rebel’s leader Coin, and it never shows her in doubts. Her perspective is the most important one and she mostly ignores what’s happening (until forced to act). There’s no subtlety in any of the acting, or in the dialogues, and they had heavy-weights Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Donald Sutherland to act opposite the great Jennifer Lawrence. All of the characters just trade off generic phrases, can’t stand out, can’t emote, due to a weak script and a directing that simply isn’t able to convey the emotions of the characters beyond the most superficial. Yes, war is terrible, killing people is terrible, we know that. What does this movie tell us about that fact, in interesting ways?
The director obviously has nothing to say about propaganda either. No character questions the fact that they adjust the “propo” imagery however it serves them best. Katniss herself never brings herself in, influencing the outcome of the propaganda material. No one realizes that the Capitol itself already used a lot of propaganda. There’s never any reaction shots of single rebels or Capitol citizens, only of blindly applauding masses. The biggest problem though is the fact that Katniss appears to be the only truly interesting character, surrounded by generic soldiers. The only other interesting role, Donald Sutherland’s scene-chewing Snow, only shows up for a few minutes. Meanwhile, the love triangle with Liam Hemsworth’s Gale and Josh Hutcherson’s Peeta doesn’t go anywhere, emotionally, or dramatically. Gale was always a bland character, but both Francis Lawrence and Hutcherson – whom I like – are unable to turn the poisoned, doomed Peeta into anything. Plus, it doesn’t help anyone that he doesn’t have any chemistry with Katniss. At all. I have mercy:
Mocking Jay Part 1 – Flynn’s Rating:
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
AN EMPTY QUIVER:
THE HUNGER GAMES – MOCKINGJAY PART 2
Which finally brings us to MJ-2. First of all, this second half of the final chapter is clearly the better movie out of the two. It does keep up a lot of the problems of the first half, and it’s still far from being the epic ending it wants to be. Hey, it’s not even a good movie in general, but by being forced to reach a conclusion, MJ-2’s final act alone beats MJ-1 in full. Yes, you could easily trim down both movies into one slimmer, way better single flick. That kind of Director’s Cut wouldn’t exactly fix the problems it has, but at least you wouldn’t be spending a whopping 250 minutes to watch all of this. It’s not like the novel it originated from is as long as War & Peace. As for being the first half of a two-part movie, the first part of Deathly Hallows is really slow as well, but it’s filled with endlessly more lovable, charismatic characters, and the pieces of the game are set up in way more interesting ways. Relevant characters die, important objects change hands, it does a lot with its main characters. You can’t really say the same about MJ-1.
So, what’s better this time around? After having moped around in war-torn ruins, Katniss finally steps back into going on an adventure quest (invade the Capitol and kill the boss villain), and the story remembers that it’s set in a sci-fi setting. She puts together a team that uses gadgets, and travels through a trap-ridden city, even fighting monsters on her way. A lot of that feels contrived (really, traps everywhere in the whole city?)(oh look, random monsters inspired by the Doom imps!) and the soldiers barely get into firefights with defending soldiers, but the sense of fun-thrill both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire offered is back. There’s even one scene in the sewers that has great tension. It is a much needed change in pulse, and for a few moments one might assume that it’ll end well. Nah, it’s more of an “okayish” conclusion.
Sadly, it runs out of breath once the ending comes around. You should expect a really tense showdown for Katniss to beat after all that she’s been through, but it’s then that the movie remembers that it wants to focus on politics. After one last depressing war moment (boy, is it a mean one), it’s back to seriousness. The basic decision that is being made by a character might be the right one, in theory, but the movie lazily skips over all of the fallout and consequences that should come from it. If you’re really standing for values such as democracy, equality, and laws, the chosen conclusion of the story does feel rather questionable.
Sadly, the characters stay as one-dimensional and boring as they were before. I’m not going into details of the fates of Gale and Peeta, but while one of their final images does kinda feel earned in the long run, none of them can turn around what has happened so far. Gale doesn’t escape his blandness, and Evil-Peeta stays a complicated, misdirected mess. I can’t ever imagine any cosplayers running as Peeta or Gale, or women lovingly writing fan-fiction about these two movie characters. In case Hutcherson or Hemsworth actually read this, fear not. I believe in your careers and I’ve already seen both of you being used in better ways.
Eventually, it’ll be a matter of fact that, if they stood on their own, not having had the luxury of being sequels to either The Hunger Games or Catching Fire, none of the Mockingjays would be a popular experience, no one would feel any pressure to watch em, and the recommendations afterwards would be pretty low. Jennifer Lawrence is still great in her role and Katniss is (mostly) a fantastic icon as a strong, brave young woman, but these two movies don’t really add anything worthy to the pantheon of Panem. They’re just overlong, depressing war movies without rousing moments, charismatic characters, gripping emotions, or intellectual stimulation. It could have been the Braveheart, the Saving Private Ryan, the Platoon of Young Adult movies, but instead it’s more of a hybrid of the Red Dawn remake and the Emile Hirsch sci-fi flick The Darkest Hour.
Site note: as an international resident, I saw this in 3-D. The 3-D is just terrible. The image is too dark, both movies are edited way to hectically for 3-D, especially during the monster attack, and the post-processed 3-D has neither any remarkable depth nor pop-out elements. I counted one hologram that looked kinda nice, I guess.
Mocking Jay Part 2 – Flynn’s Rating:
Out of a Possible 5 Stars