Someday Productions and Pillow Talking blog are pleased to present its He Said/She Said review of THE HUNGER GAMES — MOCKING JAY — PART 2
The concept of doing sequels at the same time the original film is shot is nothing new to the Hollywood Green Machine. They didn’t pay Marlon Brando twelve million to play Superman’s Dad, Jor-EL, in just the opening scenes of the first Christopher Reeve Superman film. Flashbacks of Brando and voice overs were used in the subsequent sequels. What does seem to be novel (but is quickly coming de riguer) is taking the last installment of a bestselling book and splitting it in half for cinematic purposes. This is known as the “double or nothing” or the “bleed your fans dry” style of filmmaking.
Remember when they split Harry Potter’s last installment into two parts? Then there was Twilight’s last two parts. (Fortunately the Star Wars franchise had too much class to do it.) And now there is The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2.
I had read the first book, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, before seeing the first film, and enjoyed both immensely. I thought both the film and book represented a cautionary tale of where society was going unless it curbed its violent tendencies. The second film, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, while somewhat formulaic, still captured the hearts and interest of most viewers and fans of the trilogy (mine included).
So what happened to Mockingjay – Part 2? It was like its predecessor, Part 1, in that it was half a film – totally unsustainable on its own. Both parts suffered from the same flaws: extended scenes that did not move the story along. The result is inconsistent pacing in both parts. That’s not to say that there wasn’t a great deal of action sequences in Part 2; or tender moments; or sexual tension in the ongoing triangle of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) and Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth). (Why can’t Katniss make up her mind? The audience knew from the first film who was Mr. Right for Katniss – let Miley Cyrus take her sloppy seconds). But I digress.
The film’s ensemble cast is perfect. Watching these great actors slide comfortably into their well-worn characters was like finding an old pair of warm, comfy gloves and slipping them on. Donald Sutherland proved that age has no bearing on acting ability. I actually felt sympathetic to him at the very end. Kudos should also go to Julianne Moore, as President Alma Coin, who made the perfect foil to Sutherland’s portrayal of the driven President Snow. Although they only had brief stints in Part 2, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, and Stanley Tucci nevertheless rounded out both the continuity of the franchise and overall support to the story line. (It was hard to watch the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman, a star of great magnitude that burnt out far too prematurely.)
The Hunger Games — the first film and the book – were targeted to and predicated upon a Young Audience fan base. As the books and films progressed, however, they symbolically represented a coming of age tale that ended with a very mature analysis of the horrors of war and the dangers of absolute power corrupting absolutely.
The only other criticism, which is not indigenous solely to The Hunger Games franchise, is that there is so much time that passes between the distribution of films, one needs a recap trailer (as they do on episodic television) of what had transpired before. For example, I knew that Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) figured prominently in the previous films, I just couldn’t remember exactly what his role was. (Spoiler Alert: But I knew as soon as he got married he was a goner.)
All in all, If Part 2 had been melded with Part 1 and distributed closer to the release of the second film, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – it would have been a perfect trilogy! But then, cinema, like life, is imperfect, and the trick is being able to live with the flaws.
With seven children and stepchildren still under age 20, I’ve seen innumerable kid flicks, many of which I’ve quite enjoyed. The Hunger Games films are no exception. From the first, I sat on the edge of my seat, wincing at the idea that people hunt people (I had flashbacks to reading The Most Dangerous Game in school) and writhing with pits in the bottom of my stomach at the powerful killing scenes, tearing up at witnessing the loss of quickly beloved characters.
Unlike most of my children, however, I did not read bestselling author Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy. I only just had opened The Hunger Games to Chapter 1 when the first film came out; then I enjoyed the movie so much, I truly wanted to be surprised when each new one was presented on the big screen. As time went on and despite my kids alluding to certain things (including the fact that according to them, the third book, Mockingjay, was the “most boring”) I avoided learning about any major plot points.
So in an effort to avoid the malls and also to end the Thanksgiving weekend on a good note, Wayne and I took four of the kids to see Mockingjay Part – 2. But from the opening scene, the first thing I thought to myself was that I should have made it a point to have watched Mockingjay – Part 1 the night before to refresh my memory. With studios spacing out the releases of sequels so far apart, it had been over a year since I’d seen the first part last November, 2014. I only had very vague recollections of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) having been attacked by a deranged Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) but that was about it. Part 2 picked up right where the first left off and fortunately, after a few minutes I either remembered what had happened or it no longer mattered as the present story unfolded.
I’m not about spoilers, so I won’t do any here. And, as I said, not having read the books, I also won’t be able to point to any differences or similarities between them and the film adaptations. What I do know though, is that due to the tragic death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, the character of Plutarch Heavensbee was minimized so as not to have to overdo any camera magic or trickery. From what I’ve read, his scenes were scheduled to be filmed the day after his death, so they used what footage they had and minimized his scenes. In one notable instance, a final scene in which he should have been featured quite dramatically, was rewritten to contain only his words read in a letter to Katniss by another character.
Now the first and second movies, The Hunger Games and Catching Fire respectively, were quite fast-paced, action-oriented, and dramatic. The choice (as has been made for other recent film series such as Harry Potter and Twilight) to draw out endings and therefore make more money for studios by splitting what should be one film into two, made for something of a draggy ending, most notably for Mockingjay – Part 2 (somewhat less so for Part 1, in my opinion). Despite stellar performances by Lawrence, Hutcherson, and Hoffman, as well as countless others including Liam Hemsworth (Gale Hawthorne), Woody Harrelson (love him as Haymitch Abernathy!), Donald Sutherland (the evil President Snow), Julianne Moore (President Alma Coin), Mahershala Ali (Boggs), Sam Claflin (Finnick Odair), Natalie Dormer (Cressida), Jena Malone (Johanna Mason), Elden Henson (Pollux), Elizabeth Banks (Effie Trinket), and Stanley Tucci (Caesar Flickerman), the first half to two-thirds of the movie (I wasn’t checking) was slow. They might have taken the opportunity to feature more of the supporting cast, who instead only had minimal screen time. What we did see were a lot of grim, brooding faces as the deliberating had come to an end from Part 1 and the call to action was to begin in Part 2 in taking on the Capitol. But I will say, once the action started, it was more or less non-stop. And no one would ever dream of putting their faith in anyone but the steely, strong, and focused Katniss (couldn’t have been played better by anyone but Lawrence) in ensuring the safety of its citizens and the best possible outcome for the nation of Panem.
Guns, explosions, pods (traps), beyond creepy lizard mutts (they’ll be giving me nightmares), and oceans of tar were only some of the obstacles to get in Katniss and company’s way. Casualties abounded around the Katnis-Peeta-Gale love triangle and ultimately you’ll have to watch (or read the books) to find out how that part ends. There was little to bring a smile to one’s face in this gripping flick and while some parts were predictable (even my 10-year-old called a few things) there were some twists as well. Overall, despite the slow-to-get-moving first half, I thoroughly enjoyed the riveting story, the unparalleled acting, and the arresting special effects. And on top of it who doesn’t love a formidable female lead? I’d see Lawrence in ANYTHING – she already ranks up there as one of my all-time faves at her tender young age of 25 and I’ll tell you right now, I cannot wait to catch her in her newest film, Joy.