Prim and Proper
Do you remember The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1? You’re not alone. Nobody does. It, like its predecessors, was a soporific. That’s not to say that Susanne Collins’ YA revolutionary epic was bereft of ideas. Fidelity to her novels’ themes meant exploring issues pertinent to totalitarianism and revolution – how propaganda works, media manipulation, sensationalist entertainment used to keep the masses docile, then later, when Jennifer Lawrence’s reluctant heroine broke loose, the politics of war. Not a franchise for idiots then, but in a bid to satisfy fans who allegedly demand, apparently without a nuanced understanding of the difference between literature and cinema, that the lion’s share of their favourite page turners make the journey to the big screen, the movie treatments have been overlong – lacking zip. Add to this that they’re a necropolis for style, and you’ve got a series that only works fully for those who can relate the story on screen to the better one they already know.
Part 2’s no different, but the final film (we hope) can at least cut to the quick, or cut to it as quickly as Lionsgate will allow. All the dull exposition and scene setting for the final assault on Donald Sutherland’s despot, President Snow, unspooled a year ago. That means we can crack on with the attack on Snow’s capital city, which has been turned into an effective giant games arena in a bid to deter would-be revolutionaries. The original film writ large, then, only this time the focus is firmly on the difficulties of being an insurgent.
The word’s chosen carefully, because Mockingjay Part 2 isn’t content to be a straight good versus bad blockbuster. Refreshingly, the movie’s bereft of idealism. Lawrence’s Everdeen has to contend with the possibility that her own side would prefer her martyred than victorious, lest she challenge the ambitions of would-be President Julianne Moore. This reflects a very modern tension; that between rhetoric and values, the promise of war and the reality. When Snow’s address to the Capitol’s residents refers to the revolutionaries as terrorists who threaten Panem’s way of life, driven by resentment, he’s using the same language Western Governments use to describe Islamic State and the like. That’s not to say the movie’s an exercise in moral relativism, or an apologist for terrorism, rather it makes the point that all sides in a conflict use the same low-tactics and campaign of disinformation to rouse people to their cause. By showing this truth to its young audience, Part 2 encourages them to think about the ugliness of war – it’s hypocrisy and moral compromise – and that’s a fairly sophisticated message for a film marketed on the basis that a feisty female hero will kick an old man’s ass, dodging traps along the way.
Thus Francis Lawrence’s movie is, pre-ordained ratings driven content restrictions not withstanding, a depiction of war that doesn’t flinch from the sobering reality. Sure, the plot’s ridden with contrivance and convenience, most of which, like the solider with an intimate knowledge of the city’s subterranean passages, designed to save money, and yes aspects of the story like the decision to send the brainwashed PTSD quasi-homicidal Peeta along with Katniss (plot purpose not withstanding) seem absurd, but the movie just about hangs together. It’s not as pacey or indeed visceral as it could and should have been, and it’s decidedly downbeat, but the series ends with its brains in tact. Could it have been exciting and occasionally enjoyable too? Maybe, but we’ll let the next set of filmmakers, thinking about remaking the series in twenty years, worry about that.