The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Parts 1 & 2 (feat. Isaac and Jonathan Walberg)Monday, December 14th, 2015 12:06 pm—Film
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Parts 1 & 2 (USA 2014/2015, Adventure/Sci-Fi), Writers: Peter Craig, Danny Strong; Director: Francis Lawrence
[Spoiler Alert: This is a joint review of Parts 1 and 2 of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay. I don’t give away any key plot points from the second part, but I do reveal what happens at the end of the first. Proceed with caution!]
Here we are, back for the final installment of The Hunger Games reviews with my nephews.
If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know I started reviewing the series, based on the books by Suzanne Collins, at the suggestion of my eldest nephew, Jon (now 13). We jointly reviewed The Hunger Games (see The Hunger Games review from April 2012), and my second nephew, Isaac (now 12), joined us in reviewing The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire review from November 2013).
Now all three of us are back for the third and final review, a joint write-up of Parts 1 and 2 of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay.
To recap, The Hunger Games films are set in a future world where the wealthy rule from the Capitol and the rest live in varying states of squalor and unrest, in Districts 1 through 13. For three quarters of a century, two children from each district have been offered up each year as tributes to fight to the death in a televised reminder of the Capitol’s power—and fury.
The first two films show Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) competing in the 74th and 75th Hunger Games, on behalf of their District 12. Having emerged as victors the first time around, their “reward” is to face off against the victors from games past for the Quarter Quell. But things don’t go as planned for the Gamemakers, and Katniss is rescued from the 75th Games by rebels and transported to District 13.
This is where Mockingjay picks up. Katniss, still in the throes of post-traumatic stress disorder, is being persuaded by President Alma Coin (the always wonderful Julianne Moore) and former Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (the equally wonderful, and tragically departed, Philip Seymour Hoffman) to rally the rebels and wage war against the Capitol.
While Katniss was retrieved from the 75th Hunger Games arena, Peeta was captured by the Capitol, who torture him, hijack him (a form of drug-induced brainwashing) and deploy him as a device to turn the districts against Katniss. He’s rescued at the end of Mockingjay: Part 1, but spends Part 2 grappling with his misguided hatred for Katniss and his compulsion to kill her, thanks to the Capitol’s programming.
Heavy stuff for a teen romance. But seriously, while there is a love triangle between Peeta, Katniss and her childhood friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), who joins her in the fight against the Capitol, the filmmakers are right not to give the romantic storyline more weight than is due.
Katniss comes close to unraveling under the pressures she faces. Her life, and those of her loved ones, is almost constantly in jeopardy. If that weren’t far more than enough, she’s forced to quickly learn hard truths about her world and everyone in it. At a phase when most people take many years to figure things out, adolescent Katniss has to make sense of it all at warp speed, and under life-or-death circumstances. It’s a complex psychological task, and one that would certainly overshadow the pressure to choose a boyfriend.
“I thought it was good that Mockingjay didn’t focus too much on the relationships,” says Isaac. “The movies are about the districts trying to take over the Capitol.”
While the first two films focus on the Hunger Games themselves, Mockingjay’s two-parter is “more about the politics and strategy, more about the rebels’ insurgency against the leading government,” says Jon.
It’s less about the games than it is about refusing to play them anymore. Not that the Capitol’s President Snow (Donald Sutherland) doesn’t try to keep throwing the protagonists into the arena, especially as they hit closer and closer to home.
So, given that the series is called The Hunger Games, do the Mockingjay installments stand alone as films? Or do they require some background reading and viewing?
“They were good, I thought they related well to the book,” says Jon, who is both literary and very literal. “But if you want to see the actual plot of the Hunger Games, I recommend watching the first two movies before seeing Mockingjay.”
“You wouldn’t really get the Hunger Games part if you just saw the two Mockingjay films,” says Isaac. “But they’re still good movies overall, even if you haven’t read the series or seen the first two movies.”
Jon recently started a politics section in his junior high school’s paper. Given his interests, I asked how he thought the films relate to real-world events and what lessons we can glean from them.
“It focused on the rebels against the government in power, so it could reflect a lot of what’s happening in Syria,” he says. “I think that if (something like the Hunger Games) were to happen in the future, that a rebellion would happen faster than (the 75 years it took) in the book and the movie.”
As far as lessons learned, Jon has some very wise words: “The districts themselves should have some power. The power shouldn’t all be with the Capitol.”
Before seeing Mockingjay: Part 2, I’d been wondering how the film adaptation would handle the ending. Mockingjay the book ends with some powerful, poetic words. I knew they wouldn’t cut them. But the words are written in Katniss’ voice, as the narrator, and also I knew the films, which never use narration, wouldn’t resort to it in the last moments of the final installment.
I’ll let you see for yourself how the filmmakers dealt with the challenge. But I did want to see what Jon thought of it. “I liked how they handled the final words,” he says. “It would have been different if they’d done narration. But overall I didn’t like the ending. But I’m the worst person to ask about endings; I, for one, generally hate the endings of all final movies and books in a series because I just hate the fact that they have to end.”
I love that.
As for Isaac, even though the Mockingjay installments don’t deal as much with the actual games as the first two films, the two-parter is still “a good continuation of the series and a good conclusion,” he says.
If The Hunger Games movies do have to end, they do it well. Director Francis Lawrence, who stepped in after the first film, does a solid job bringing Mockingjay to the screen. “The action was pretty good,” says Isaac. “They had good special effects for the booby traps (when the rebels invade the Capitol) and the weapons and stuff like that.”
The Mockingjay films also draw some fantastic performances from the actors. As Katniss, Jennifer Lawrence leads the way; she more than rises to the task of making her complicated character believable—and heart wrenching.
In addition to Hoffman, Moore and Sutherland, standouts from the impressive supporting cast include: Elizabeth Banks as former tribute escort Effie Trinket; Woody Harrelson as past District 12 victor Haymitch Abernathy; Jenna Malone as embittered District 7 victor Johanna Mason; and the always-great Stanley Tucci as Hunger Games MC Caesar Flickerman (see the Spotlight review from November 2015 and The Lovely Bones review from January 2010).
So that’s that—the Hunger Games franchise, as seen by an aunt and two nephews. Thanks to Jon and Isaac for introducing me to the series and sharing their thoughts (and being so totally awesome).