As you know, I go see all the tween movies with my friends way after they are released, so that we can talk during them without disturbing the hardcore fans (we're considerate like that). We tried to see this movie three times in the theater – starting a month after it had been released - and it was sold out each time. So clearly, the fans were thrilled with this one. I didn’t care for it – but not because it wasn’t done as well as the others, simply because at this point in the story, Katniss becomes really annoying. To be fair – I felt that way about the books too, so the movies are staying right in line!
In case you are not familiar with the Hunger Games series – let me see if I can catch you up. The movies are based on the YR novels by Suzanne Collins: Hunger Games (2008), Catching Fire (2009) and MockingJay (2010). Collins was inspired by the recent obsession with reality TV and ancient gladiator fighting. The stories are set in a dystopia near future where what was the U.S. is now called Panem, and is a country split into 12 districts (there used to be 13 – more on that later) ruled by a wealthy Capitol. Each district sends resources to the capital. Once a year, the capitol holds the “Hunger Games”. Basically, every child from ages 12 to 18 put their names into a lottery (the ‘reaping’) and one boy and one girl from each district are chosen as ‘tributes’ to go into the arena and fight to the death which is televised across all the districts. The winner is rewarded. This serves to remind the districts of their failure in a past rebellion against the capitol when district 13 was destroyed. And this is a book series for tweens. Yikes. In any case, the books were hugely popular, so inevitably they became movies.
The Hunger Games was released in 2012, and follows our young hero Katniss Everdeen. She’s from district 12, and spends her free time hunting (illegally) with her friend Gale. During the reaping, her younger sister Primrose is chosen, so Katniss volunteers as a tribute to save her. She survives the games by defying the capitol in threatening to kill herself along with Peeta Mellark, the male tribute from 12, instead of one of them killing the other. Since the public has fallen in love with their ‘fake’ love story, they are both allowed to win.
Catching Fire was released in 2013, and followed Katniss and Peeta on their ‘victory tour’. But, as they seem to be inspiring rebellion in some of the districts, the villainous President Snow decides that the ‘Quarter Quell’, the special Hunger Games that happen once every 25 years will pull tributes from all the former victors. Well, none of the victors are happy about that, and Katniss, being the only female victor from 12, heads back to the arena, and does some more defying – ending the movie being rescued by the rebellion she has unknowingly helped start.
MockingJay part 1 was released late last year, and part 2 will be late this year. In this one, we pick up with Katniss as she is still super emotionally traumatized from the games and hiding out in district 13 – which we thought was destroyed, but really has just moved underground. Here she begins to learn that they have been planning rebellion for quite some time, they just needed a symbol to unite the districts against the capitol. She is introduced to President Alma Coin (what exactly is she president of? Just 13? Okay.) Coin and Plutarch Heavensbee – the former game maker who created the arena for the last Hunger Games – want to film a series of anti-Capitol propaganda films starring Katniss as ‘the MockingJay', a symbol that they can use to unite the districts and inspire them to rise together against the Capitol. Katniss is not really paying attention and instead demands to know where Peeta is. They let her know Peeta has been captured, and is still in the Capitol. She agrees to help them if they promise to rescue him. Once again, I am befuddled by her devotion to Peeta, but I was in the books too. Eventually, despite finally getting to spend time with Gale, Katniss realizes the love she’s been pretending to show for Peeta may, in fact, be real love – so there’s the explanation.
Katniss is given a team of filmmakers and they learn that she’s horrible at trying to film the bits on a stage in front of a green screen. Haymitch helps them realize that she’s more lovable when she’s natural the crew heads to the recently bombed out district 8 – okay, not lovable, but more relatable? Inspirational? They film Katniss as she observes thousands of wounded in a makeshift hospital, just before the capitol comes to bomb the hospital. Enraged, Katniss promises revenge, which the crew films, and it gets sent out. In response, the Capitol releases a series of videos featuring Peeta, where he implores the districts to stop rebelling, and suggesting that Katniss doesn’t know what she’s doing, although, he’s looking frail and you know, beaten. This goes back and forth for a while, Katniss does some quality moping – only to be pulled out of it by Prim, who is really getting her stuff together and being promoted to doctor training, all while being the only sane member of her family. Gale gets angrier, Coin and Evensby insist that Katniss do what they want, Finnick pines over the loss of his love Annie, who is being kept with Peeta, Effie struggles with no longer living in the capitol, and Haymitch is forced to get sober, which he has some issues with. Finally, after a failed bombing attempt of 13, Beetee is able to hack the Capitol’s defense systems, and Coin approves a rescue mission for Peeta, Annie, and Joanna, the tribute who helped them in the last games. As the mission is going on, Katniss tries to assist the diversion by communicating with Snow. Snow starts talking to her, but only to say he’s aware of the rescue mission, and to warn Katniss that the things we love are often the most dangerous to us. They successfully rescue all three: Joanna is fired up and ready to fight back, Annie is happy to see Finnick, but Peeta has been brainwashed to think that Katniss is his enemy, and he nearly chokes her to death which really surprises her, despite Snow having just said that. The movie ends with Katniss watching Peeta flail about in bed, and presumably, thinking that she needs to put an arrow through Snow’s head.
This one is directed by Francis Lawrence, who also did the previous movie – Catching Fire, as well as I Am Legend and Constantine. The action is great, everyone does a great job, but it still left me feeling just a bit disinterested. This is not due to anyone in the movie or making the movie, just my general reaction to the story. The reason I liked both the first movie and book was that Katniss was this strong-willed hero who volunteered to sacrifice herself to save her sister. She was smart and capable. As the stories go on, she becomes more and more a pawn. In this one, Coin is completely using her to fire the rebellion, and she agrees to it, because she’s desperate to save Peeta. I just felt that seemed like a character shift, but in reality, she volunteers in the first one only to save her sister – so it makes sense that she would have the same singular focus in this story, it's a 'good of the one versus good of the many issue. Katniss is all about the good of the one, and her own righteous anger. So, my issues are with the character of Katniss – not with any of the performances in the movie, which were all very good.
- Jennifer Lawrence spends most of this movie looking haunted, disturbed, or distraught. She does a great job, and continues to prove that she will be around for a long time. She’s best in action scenes, and this movie has a little too much non-action.
- Josh Hutcherson has more to do in this movie than he has in the previous two. Instead of just being a huge burden for Katniss, here he really has to look run-down as he is giving his forced messages from the capitol. The one where he realizes that Katniss is watching him, and he tries to get a message through is particularly good. And I have to say – his final scene as he is brainwashed and trying to kill Katniss is really amazing.
- Liam Hemsworth still has almost nothing to do as Gale. He continues to pine after Katniss, which does him no good, since she’s now all about Peeta. So – he volunteers for the rescue mission. He starts to show a shift here in that he is truly throwing in with the rebellion. He tries to explain what it was like when 12 was bombed, and you start to see that maybe Gale has more depth than anyone else in the story. But, since he’s not the focus – don’t think about that.
- Woody Harrelson is in this one less than the previous movies. He steps in to help Katniss, who is overwhelmed by trying to be what everyone else wants her to be. He helps remind her how angry she is, and to just use that.
- Donald Sutherland continues to be horribly villainous as President Snow. He’s so overtly evil that you wonder why the capitol can’t pick up on the fact that this dude is a jerk and keeping them under his thumb.
- The late Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Plutarch Heavensbee, the former game-maker who is now making games for the rebellion. He gives an interesting performance of someone who is committed, but perhaps not prepared for when the rebellions gets real, and close.
- Julianne Moore is great as President Coin, because you’re just not sure you can trust her, which is pretty dead on for a president. I’m still not sure why there is a president of this one rebellious district, but let’s assume she was elected because she had the better platform of rebellion tactics?
- Willow Shields, who was just on Dancing with the Stars, plays Prim, and as in the books, she is really growing in terms of realizing she’s now the only sane person in her family, and she’s trying to keep them all together.
- Sam Clafin plays Finnick Odair, who shows some depth in his few scenes in this movie as he pines for Annie, then gets determined to state all his secrets about president Snow on-air, then finally gets reunited with Annie.
- Elizabeth Banks gets to play a more stripped down version of Effie in this movie, since all her fancy clothes and makeup have been removed (there’s no clothes/makeup budget in 13 – everyone is in plain gray jumpsuits). Even without her outfits, she’s determined to help Katniss become the symbol she can be. She also lets us know that Lenny Kravitz’s Cinna was killed between the last movie and this movie, but that he did leave a binder of ‘MockingJay’ outfit designs for Katniss once she decides on her own to become the symbol of the rebellion.
- Mahershala Ali plays the head of security, Boggs. He’s there to make sure that Katniss gets from one place to another without wandering off, having a breakdown, or attacking someone.
- Jena Malone just barely shows up as Johanna – she’ll be around more in the next one.
- Jeffrey Wright plays Beetee, who comes up with the security ins and outs as they attempt their rescue mission. He also starts to function as Katniss’s “Q” as he creates a bunch of new fancy arrows for her.
- Stanley Tucci again plays Caesar Flickerman – and he’s really only around to do the staged interviews with Peeta.
- Natalie Dormer plays Cressida, the director of Katniss’s ‘spots’. She maintains a cool head despite crazy surroundings, befitting someone who abandoned the capitol after being inspired by the ‘MockingJay’s’ actions in the arena.
- Cressida’s crew includes Elgen Henson and Wes Chatham as Castor and Pollox. Elgen is now magnificent as Foggy Nelson on Daredevil, and if you haven’t Netflixed that yet – do it.
As I said, it’s well put together, and certainly continues the story well. I just have mentally checked out on the character at this point. Certainly my issue, and not theirs. This one is gloomy and depressing, although, really – they all have been. The previous two just had more action to break up the doom and gloom. I do look forward to the next one, this suffered the same thing that many ‘part 1’s of finales have, which is that it mainly felt like a lot of set-up for the conclusion. Everyone does a decent job, and it will be exciting to see the rebellion finally grow into war.
6 out of 10 – that’s just my opinion. Craftwise, it’s probably 8 out of 10. Gained points for Katniss collecting her sister’s cat. Lost points for Snow bombing district 13, including a rose-bomb. Gained points for Gale trying to step it up, but lost points for Katniss being obsessed with Peeta. Gained points for Elizabeth Banks – she tried to bring some lightness in.
Bonus Video 1: The Running Man – another movie with the themes of reality TV and fights to the death – just like Hunger Games, but with less child murder and more Schwarzeneggar, and way more 80s over-the-topness.
Bonus Video 2: Everything wrong with the previous movie:
Bonus Video 3: Cast Interviews: