Release: Friday, November 21, 2014
Written by: Peter Craig; Danny Strong
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Katniss ought to have directed that last arrow at Hollywood’s greedy, deep-pocketed execs. While I will always be a proponent of staying just a little bit longer inside the Hunger Games, it’s hard to ignore the gratuitousness of the decision to split yet another YA novel down the middle as part of a grand send-off of Jennifer Lawrence-sized proportions.
As a watchful and ever-so-slightly marginalized President Snow quietly reminds himself whilst cloaked in sinister shadows, in any game of strategy there are moves and counter-moves. It’s one of those sneeze-and-you-will-miss-it kind of lines in Part 1, but it is curious how poignant a statement that has now become, not just as it relates to the state of the Games but to the (film) franchise itself.
It’s a sentiment that once cruelly downplayed the grotesqueries of young people entering into gladiatorial arenas and killing one another for sport (and for great television). It once served to illuminate how President Snow and the Capitol regarded the people of Panem: movable pawns on a customizable chess board. As the Nazis found, it’s much easier to carry out unspeakable acts upon objects rather than people. Snow reflects upon the move/counter-move theory as he stares out a window into unforgiving bleakness and his disdain for the revolt that is ongoing is entirely too palpable.
Taking it a step further, though: some slick exec in a Hollywood high-rise who stands firmly against the notion that any narrative on film should end as concisely as possible is sure to be doing something similar. He’s combing his hair back, patting a nice white rose into his pocket before drifting off into blissful slumber knowing he’s just made all us lowly Mockingfans pay double for what’s ostensibly going to be one movie. Sure it’s greedy. It’s dirty, filthy greedy. It’s also effective.
Mockingjay — Part 1 opens right before Catching Fire begins. No, I’m just kidding. It follows right on its predecessor’s heels, duh. (Like, seriously — do I need even to include those details at this point?) Katniss is pretty pissed off after the last Quarter Quell, but more so in desperate need of at least one of the two ‘R’s — rest. No relaxation for the impossibly weary, however, as these most uncertain times now demand she rise up and become the beacon of hope her people so need; a physical reminder that Panem is made of more than rubble, stone and materials for the Capitol’s taking. She must manifest as the mockingjay.
The state of Panem can be described with one word: hellish. In the aftermath of Katniss’ most recent act of defiance by taking down the games’ force field, President Snow has retaliated by raining bullets and bombs from the sky upon her District 12, leaving craters and decomposing skeletons where people once stood. Katniss is rescued by a small band of rebels — ah, a reprieve from the horde of faceless sheep heading towards the slaughter — that takes her to a secluded District 13, a sector that the Capitol foolishly believes to have already been wiped from the map.
There, she will be prepped — after she’s convinced by newcomer President Alma Coin, here played by a reliably strong Julianne Moore, that she is the right one to take up their cause and not Peeta, who is now under the direct supervision of Snow in the Capitol — for a new kind of battle. Up until now, young Katniss has had a lot of her youth drained from her thanks to the woes of being in battle against other tributes, all victimized to some degree by President Snow’s desire to see the color red run freely. She’s been fighting within the system. Now, she must fight back against the system, operating entirely outside of structure and class. Under Coin and game-designer-turned-rebel Plutarch Heavensbee (my primary reason for seeing this film)’s wings, Katniss is poised to do some proper growing up. Given her maturity level already, expect exciting things to happen.
Transitional as they may be, these baby steps in the bunker that is District 13 spell out Mockingjay — Part 1‘s raison d’être, and because director Lawrence doesn’t overextend himself in terms of major action set pieces, his latest is every bit as sturdy as what has come before it as we see a major transformation in Katniss’ willpower — both for the better and for the worse. It also may be the darkest of the installments thus far, which, given the totality of the tone heretofore presented, says a certain something about the destination for which we are bound in 2015’s grand finale. It is a much more dialogue-heavy moment in time, a cessation from the brutal onslaught of action Catching Fire offered however, and may take some time to be fully appreciated on those grounds.
Lawrence and Lawrence (sounds like a law firm) are the definite stars of this outing. As director, Francis faces the tall order of coming up with material suitable enough to justify a two-hour film (not an entirely unreasonable runtime even for a stand-alone project) while not revealing his Ace card prematurely. One can’t help but get the feeling this is a slightly padded story at times, though if one also dispenses with the complaints about it not following the formula set up in the previous two films, they are sure to find an enthralling politically-charged war film that sets a pace all its own, and one that refuses to relent.
As for the other Lawrence, Jennifer is on top-form again, and now comes complete with an entirely new get-up in a jet-black Mockingjay uniform, symbolizing heightened tension in her little quarrel with the ideals set forth by Donald Sutherland’s achromatic and totalitarian dictator. Now more than ever, the film rests upon her shoulders, following an already considerably worn-down Katniss into still darker places. A mock-TMZ-like crew of cameras and lighting techs (made up of previous tributes from several other districts) follows her around District 12 and broadcasts their findings to the rest of Panem. The goal? To inspire the populace into action, to ensure the downtrodden that Katniss is the literal and figurative symbol of hope. Once fire has caught, it’s very hard to stop.
And now the fire spreads like never before. What we are presented with here sure appears to be a partial story sandwiched by back-to-back cliffhanger conclusions, but what’s there is more than enough to blaze a furious path to the finish line. For every move there are indeed counter-moves, and if Hollywood suits truly want to milk projects and franchises for all they’re worth, as a global audience we have the responsibility of making our counter-move. I’m not suggesting we protest Part 2. That would be foolish. Rather, I motion for us to continue on living as we have; not so much subservient to the power of Hollywood (as if there was anything we could do to prevent his two-parter, anyway) but rather empowered by our individual choice to indulge in the games once again. At least try to pretend we don’t care that Hollywood ultimately wins every battle. After all, it’d be our loss if we choose not to show up to the theater next November.
Our counter-move should be rising above the silliness of the marketing strategy; it should be not being bothered by the fact we do have to wait another year to see how Katniss takes out that ruthless son-of-a-bitch seated high and mighty in the Capitol. Instead we should find strength in knowing there is still more fight left in her yet.
Recommendation: Marking a notable change in tempo from its previous installments, Mockingjay — Part 1 is hardly without purpose. It lays down a lot of ground for what is sure to be a breathtaking and presumably violent finale, while providing even more color and depth to preexisting characters, as well as introducing a few new faces that help round out an ever-more popular cast. A games-less version of The Hunger Games is still a better movie than a great deal of the stuff being forked out in pairs these days. (Horrible Bosses 2; Independence Day: Forever, anyone?)
Running Time: 123 mins.
Quoted: “Miss Everdeen, it is the things we love most that destroy us.”
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