There is a scene in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, where Katniss Everdeen puts on the final costume that Cinna designed for her (before his death) and when she models it for Effie Trinket, her aide uses those words to assess her appearance.
While fans and critics alike have different opinions about the Dystopian landscape that The Hunger Games presents, that statement about the film’s heroine is what makes Katniss as heroic as she is. She is the girl you want to make out with (even if you aren’t named Peeta or Gale). She is the girl that can’t be killed. She is the girl that you relate to. She is the Mockingjay.
When it was announced that the third book in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy would be split into two parts to close out the film adaptations, there was a serious concern amongst fans of the series. “Mockingjay” was easily the worst book of the three and now it was being split into two movies? Why couldn’t they split the first film into two parts and shown us more of the actual Games?
There is a reason.
Mockingjay takes Katniss Everdeen’s story in a completely different direction. Instead of the narrative being circled around the heroine surviving a battle where young boys and girls are pitted against each other in a fight to the death, it is now a completely politically driven tale.
When we last saw Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) at the end of Catching Fire, she was ‘rescued’ by Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), as part of a rogue underground plan to overthrow President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and the Capitol.
This film is the beginning of the revolution. The movie begins with a visibly disturbed Katniss waking up in a previously thought to be destroyed District 13, but is now the home base of the rebellion. She is quickly approached by President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and asked to become the ‘symbol’ of the anti-Capitol movement, and to assume her role as the literal and figurative Mockingjay. The leader and face of the rebellion that the holdout Districts can rally around as they head into war against their oppressors.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is completely about Katniss reluctantly accepting this position.
She is followed around by a reality television crew (yes, I am serious) and asked to film spots where she engages in battle to inspire all of the refugees to unite. She is required to motivate a nation. She is pressured into being the representation of victory.
For his part, President Snow also has his own propaganda ploy. In Catching Fire, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) and Johanna Mason (Jena Malone) were two of the tributes who were not saved in the rescue mission and are now Capitol prisoners. Snow has now used trackerjacker venom to turn Katniss’ love interest, Peeta Mellark into a talking robot who appears in video messages from the Capitol, begging Katniss to end the conflict peacefully. These messages, as one might expect, only serve to motivate Katniss’ desire to rescue him.
Heading into the film, I didn’t have high hopes for the movie. The third book was such a disappointment after the thrilling excitement of the Games in the first two and I expected the silver screen adaptation to simply be more of the same. The allure of The Hunger Games is to see people struggle with the decision of saving themselves by killing others. While that can be said of any film that depicts war, because children were involved in The Hunger Games, it raised the stakes and that is what drew audiences in.
While there are no Games in Mockingjay, the storyline is much easier to follow than in the book. Seeing Katniss attempt to inspire by filming scripted spots is the heart and soul of the movie. She must move from being the reluctant leader to being an inspiring voice… not just for the people of Panem, but for the audience in general.
Jennifer Lawrence is quite effective at presenting Katniss as a person who is much more than the huntress she was initially depicted as. She is no longer just a vehicle for manslaughter in the satire of reality television (although ironically, it is her ability to embrace reality television that allows her to assume her new role as the figurehead of rebellion). She was an unaware hero in the first film. She was a reactive hero in the second film. Now, she is just a hero, period.
The problems is that now The Hunger Games just looks like any other war movie. A battle between armies of good and evil and a storyline that we constantly see play out in most big screen flicks. Actually, that will likely be the case in Mockingjay- Part 2 as this film acts as more of a set-up for the impending military showdown. The only reason we give a damn about the conflict between the Capitol and the citizens of Panem is because of how compelling the characters were in the first two installments.
In addition, Julianne Moore’s portrayal of President Coin is also quite lacking. When she speaks to the throngs of rebels, her soft-spoken tone is completely uninspired and the only plausible rationale for this presentation of the character is that she wasn’t meant to overshadow Katniss. The result is a bland performance.
With these allowances forgiven, any version of The Hunger Games will always be a winner. Whereas the plot drove the success of the first two movies, this time it is Katniss and Katniss alone.
The fact that Francis Lawrence stays on as the film’s director (after replacing Gary Ross in the second movie) helps as the movie is structured as a complement to its predecessor instead of feeling like a jarring change (as it did between the first movie and its sequel).
Mockingjay succeeds because it extends the story. The Hunger Games has moved beyond being just a simple satire of reality television exploring why Capitol residents, book readers and moviegoers were so consumed by seeing children kill each other. Now, we want to see Katniss for who she has always been.
Someone we can root for.
Director: Francis Lawrence
Writer: Peter Craig, Danny Strong, Suzanne Collins
Notable Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore