The Odds Are Ever in the Favor of MockingJay Part II

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Mockingjay 2 Hunger Games Jennifer Lawrence Critical Blast Review

Before I discuss Mockingjay, I want to discuss something else. Bear with me. I have a point, I promise.

(Some spoilers for Twilight and Mockingjay Part 1. No spoilers for Mockingjay Part II)

There is an emerging trend in the YA books-turned-movies industry, and that is the final book in a series being made into two individual movies. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows started this trend, followed quickly by Twilight’s Breaking Dawn. And let’s not forget that awful strategic decision to take J.R.R. Tolkien’s 320-page classic, The Hobbit, and turn it into not one, not two, but three separate movies.  

While producers work under the guise of, “we’re doing it to stay true to the book and include as much detail as possible!”, it doesn’t take an industry expert to see that the real motivation lies in squeezing every possible drop of cash from fans. And it works. As much as the double-movie scheme annoys me, it works. Because if a YA franchise has enough fans to warrant movie adaptations in the first place, those fans will pay to watch every movie made about it.

But aside from feeling manipulated by the grabby hands of movie producers eager to reach into my pocket, the “double movie” frustrates me in a different way more than anything. Think about the plot structure of a book. First we have a beginning, an introduction period during which we are grounded in the setting, story, and characters, as well as the inciting incident and basic plot. Then as the story progresses, plot points occur, all leading up to a grand finale, a climax scene during which details are revealed and, in the case of most sci-fi and fantasy stories, an epic battle or fight scene occurs. Even in series with multiple books, each book in the series will have its own individual arc. Take, for example, the Harry Potter series. While the overarching plot of the series is a young boy wizard trying to take down the darkest sorcerer of all time, each book has its own storyline – such as being hunted by a mysterious prisoner of Azkaban or competing in the Triwizard Tournament – and its own climax scene at the end.

So what does this have to do with the double-movie phenomenon? Well, by cutting the final book of a series in half, it disrupts this arc. We end up with one movie made up almost entirely of introduction and plot points with very little action, and then we have a second movie comprised mostly of that final epic climax.

Take Harry Potter again (and anyone who knows me knows I’m the biggest Harry Pottery nut in the world and love the series – both the books, and the movies. I’m not picking on it, I swear!). In the Deathly Hallows movies, the first movie is comprised of camping around looking for horcruxes (if you don’t know the term, read the books. Seriously, stop reading this, and go read the books), Harry-Ron-Hermione drama, and a few plot points involving a sword, a locket, and Dobby the elf. A few people die. Then in the second movie, we have action. Action, action, action, and a final fight scene that takes up more than half the movie. It was epic, and I loved it. However, despite the slower Part I, I understood why they did it. Given the length of the book, the detail of the plot, and the size of the fandom, I knew two movies was the right choice.

But soon all the franchises were jumping on this bandwagon.

Next came Breaking Dawn. Now, despite the criticism for the series and the obvious sexism within the pages, I actually enjoyed the Twilight books. Well, the first three. I didn’t enjoy Breaking Dawn for reasons I won’t get into here. While nothing a few things happen in the final book, the double movies end up dragging to the point where it was boring to watch. In Breaking Dawn, Bella and Edward get married, Bella becomes a vampire and has a kid, Jacob falls in love with their child (yeah, I know), and there’s this whole build up for a fight scene that never happens. Think about that plot, and think about splitting it into two separate two-hour films. And that is my problem with the double-movie.

Now, take J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Return of the King, the final book in the Lord of the Rings series. It became an epic, multiple Academy Award-winning masterpiece at over three hours long. A single movie. It was brilliant. So if Peter Jackson could do it, why can’t any of these other directors? And why, why, why, did Jackson think it was a good idea, given the success of Return of the King, to make The Hobbit into its own trilogy? Why?

Since then, there have been rumors of splitting the final films of other popular YA franchises, such as the final installment in the Divergent series – although in the end, I don’t think that one ended up being slated for two movies. And to that I say, good. I’m hoping the trend is fizzling out.

So, what does this have to do with Mockingjay? Well, I wanted to give my less than favorable opinion on the double-movie trend, so you will understand the full weight of my words when I say that Mockingjay Part II pulled it off.

I’ve been a fan of The Hunger Games since before it was “a thing.” Really. I know everyone says that, but it’s true. In college, back in 2008, I bought the first Hunger Games book after learning about it on Stephanie Meyer’s blog (see? I told you I wasn't hating on Twilight) and read it in my dorm room within a day. I remember locking my door and pretending not to be there when friends knocked (if any of you UNH folk are reading this, sorry) because I couldn’t put the book down. I followed the entire trilogy, and was ecstatic when the franchise announced a film adaptation in the wake of its growing popularity.

Despite the critics, I loved the first Hunger Games movie, and the Catching Fire movie even more. They had the same fast-paced high-stakes plot of the books, with the added benefit of special effects and a Hollywood touch. Given that we weren’t in Katniss’s head, the movies allowed us to see what was going on outside the games – in President Snow’s mansion, and with the Game Makers, and with the people back home watching the games on TV. Also, being outside Katniss’s head allowed the movies to tone down the love triangle – my biggest gripe of the books.

So naturally, given my love of the books and my distaste for the double-movie trend, I was appalled hesitant when I learned that Mockingjay would be split into two films. After all, the book itself is only 400 pages, around the same length as Hunger Games (384 pages) and Catching Fire (400 pages). While the book itself is thick with stakes, tension, and action, I wasn’t sure it would be enough to carry two separate films.

But of course, as a fan, I fell straight into the trap set for me by Lionsgate and went to see Mockingjay Part I opening weekend. While the movie itself had some memorable scenes (like that awesome “hanging tree” rebellion scene—that song is so catchy!), it did fall victim to “two movie” syndrome. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed the movie greatly for what it was. It was a great adaptation of the first half of the book. But it was just that – the first half of a story. Part I had very little action and was comprised mostly of set up and tension.

In Part I, Katniss (the incomparable Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself in District 13 – a place she used to think didn’t exist – rescued from the Quarter Quell games by Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman – RIP) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth). Peeta (Josh Hutchinson) and Joanna (Jena Malone) have been captured by the Capitol at President Snow’s (Donald Sutherland) orders. There’s a lot of Katniss exhibiting PTSD symptoms, filming anti-Capitol propaganda commercials, and worrying about captured Peeta, who is starring in his own Capitol-produced propaganda. We meet a lot of new characters, including District 13’s borderline-tyrannical President Coin (Julianne Moore). There were some action scenes added for the sake of adding action, like when Katniss and Prim (Willow Shields) have to quickly run through District 13 in order to reach the secure underground fortress before the Capitol bombs the district and the district locks the door. The movie ends with the rebels rescuing Peeta and Joanna from the Capitol, only to discover that Peeta has somehow been conditioned to hate Katniss. He wants - and tries - to kill her. The very last scene shows Katniss watching through a glass window as Peeta struggles against his bindings where he’s strapped to a bed.

Remembering how much I enjoyed the second half of this book, I eagerly volunteered as tribute to see an early showing of Mockingjay Part II. But given my thoughts on “double movies” and my experience with Part I, in addition to some recent poorly executed (in my opinion) YA movie adaptations from other series, I went into it expecting them to butcher it with very low expectations.

Having read the book, I figured Part II would have more action scenes and end with the same twists I loved from the book. However, I was concerned it would also fall victim to the “two movie” syndrome and be wrought with action and fight scenes without having any build up or emotion behind it.

But lo and behold, I loved this movie! Despite knowing what was going to happen, I was on the edge of my seat, particularly in that creepy tunnel scene. Aside from a few tweaks, the movie stays true to the book, including many verbatim lines. I’m guessing it will not disappoint fans – I wasn’t surprised, after finding the movie to be such an accurate interpretation of the book, to see Suzanne Collins’ name in the credits for writing the adaptation (why won’t all book-to-movie adaptations utilize the talent of the original authors? Seriously, it’s always better when they do). Likewise, it’s easy enough to follow for anyone who hasn’t read the books.

Despite being a “Part II,” Mockingjay didn’t fall into the trap of being one big fight scene with no buildup or emotion behind it. While much of the movie involved high-stakes action, there was emotion behind it that felt well done rather than rushed. I loved a scene near the end where the usually stoic and hardened Katniss has an emotional breakdown involving a cat (no spoilers).

Part II opens in District 13, right after Part I ended. Katniss is getting her neck brace removed, following Peeta’s attempt to strangle her in the previous movie. Peeta still distrusts Katniss and wants to kill her, which we learn is a result of the mind-manipulating torture of the Capitol.

Katniss walks in on Gale talking to another District 13 soldier about a bombing plan – and if you haven’t read the books, pay attention to this part, because it helps explain one of the big twists at the end that was explained a little better in the book than the movie. All of the Districts except District 2 have turned against the Capitol, and President Coin sends Katniss on a mission to convert the final district. There’s a heroic speech, of course, and some gunfire.

Katniss ends up joining one of the many military teams planning to infiltrate the Capitol and kill President Snow. Among the people on the team are Peeta, Gale, and Finnick (Sam Claflin), in addition to some others we met in Catching Fire, and some new people. I actually found all these characters easier to follow in the movie; in the book I got confused and constantly had to flip back pages to remember all the names, but now that they had faces, I found it much more manageable. Because this team is considered “high profile,” they are instructed to stay several miles behind the other teams and film their own mission, much to Katniss’s frustration, as she wants in on the action. Peeta is still violent toward Katniss, which leads to the team keeping him in handcuffs. I still question the logic behind bringing him on this mission to begin with, given that he’s mentally unstable, a recent torture victim, and actively trying to kill Katniss, but I digress.

I’ll admit, I found the Katniss-Peeta-Gale triangle a little annoying, but it wasn’t as prevalent in the movie as it was in the book. There are a couple of awkward Katniss-Gale scenes, and one Twlight-esque scene where Katniss overhears Gale and Peeta talking about her. I think this also happened in the book but I can’t remember. As I said, while reading this high-stakes story, the love triangle wasn’t at the forefront of my concern.

The group makes their way into the Capitol, only to learn that President Snow has activated a series of “pods” around the city – motion-activated deadly booby traps, such as rapid-firing machine guns, killer oil floods, and bursts of fire. Not only are these traps positioned every few steps, but Peacekeepers and soldiers are also hunting for them. It’s very dangerous, and the team loses several members.

I loved the special effects here, and it was just as creepy as in the book. Without giving spoilers, one particular death scene in the tunnels, which I felt wasn’t given enough stage time in the book, was handled really well in the movie. The lizard-like creatures from the book look more like mutant human gorilla type things in the movie, but they were still super creepy.

There’s a great Katniss and Gale scene full of tension during which they hide among a group of refugees to approach Snow’s mansion. The “execution” scene was also great, and I won’t give spoilers. I also enjoyed the buildup and tension in this scene, and one particularly ironic line about tyranny.

The score was great (written by James Newton Howard), and I enjoyed hearing similar themes from the previous movie scores (including a few bars reminiscent of that catchy Hanging Tree song from Part I). The acting was excellent, and Jennifer Lawrence, as always, killed it (literally) as Katniss. Donald Sutherland is the perfect President Snow, and I’ve loved his portrayal of the role in all four movies. Julianne Moore also delivered as President Coin. I was glad to see they still used the footage of the talented Philip Seymour Hoffman in lieu of his recent and unfortunate death; he will forever be immortalized as Plutarch in my mind!

At 137 minutes long, Mockingjay was the perfect length. However, I do think the story could have been made into one movie by condensing Part I to an hour and tacking it on to the beginning of Part II. But others may feel differently.

The movie has a PG-13 rating due to violence. I don’t remember hearing any swears, and there’s no sex (there is one scene where Katniss and Peeta cuddle in bed together). Some of the deaths are a little gruesome, but I don’t think it will be too scary for most younger viewers. There is also one scene with minor animal abuse (Katniss screaming at and throwing objects at a cat), but it's short and the cat isn't harmed.

Overall, I enjoyed this movie and the closure to the series. I highly recommend it!

5.0 / 5.0