There is a scene in Francis Lawrence‘s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 wherein our heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, no relation to the director), and her band of merry pranksters (including Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Michelle Forbes, et cetera) are trekking interminably through the darkened sewers of her nation’s capital. As they prowl through the tunnels, they talk about how there are “mutts” lurking in the darkness. They are then suddenly beset by a pack of eyeless mutant man-newts who thrash and bite and scream. Eventually, they flee the sewer and leave the mutants behind. No further mention is made of the mutants.
I, and many others, sat there in the dark, scratching our heads. What were those things? Is this a future where C.H.U.D.s have taken over the underground? Are they grown in a lab and let loose in the sewers for security reasons? Are they biological exterminators who eat rats? Why do they attack our heroes? Where did they come from? And then there was the matter of equipping an entire subway platform to erupt into an acre-wide explosion of spinning blades. Does the capital encase chainsaws in cement just in case they have to turn a group of commuters into chunky salsa at a moment’s notice? Or how about the plan to flood an entire building project with black, quick-dry Magic Shell? And who is that tiger woman? What the Hell is going on?
Mockingjay – Part 2 doesn’t bother getting the audience up to speed, and launches us headlong into a story that involves our heroine breaking into the capital of Panem to assassinate its ruler Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland). Meanwhile, the rebels have been somehow amassing weapons and are prepared to seize power.
Although I’ve now seen all four of the movies in the ultra-successful Hunger Games series, I have to admit, I am still bamboozled. Perhaps the future world of Panem – and the violent revolution therein – is more explicitly illustrated in Suzanne Collins‘ original novels, but the feature films leave a lot of details unexplained, leaving those of us who have not read the books more than a little bit confused. This final film takes the few tonal strengths – and myriad tonal weaknesses – of the first three films, and mashes them together into a big messy cornucopia of weird sci-fi stuff, too-violent violence, and mixed messages.
So correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m trying to get these movies straight. In the first film, we saw a world where teens complacently fought to the death for the sake of the upper class. But it was also about having to look pretty on TV in order to get sponsorships, and there were many scenes of trying on dresses and posing for the cameras. If Paul Verhoeven had made this, we may have seen this bonkers setup as satire, but the first Hunger Games played it completely straight, so I’m baffled as to the messages. The teens talk about dying bravely in the own way, and none of them seem disgusted or fearful of the Games. Are the games a liberating experience?
The second film, Catching Fire, started sprinkling in innumerable classical references, and introducing characters with Greek and Roman names (Cinna, Cressida, Castor and Pollux, Messalla, Tigris, Plutarch). There was also a definite Roman fashion motif at work, with more togas and tunics. I finally began to see that The Hunger Games was actually a sci-fi reworking of the fall of the Roman Empire. In that film, the actual Games were secondary to political intrigue, and the story became about how our heroine – beloved by the public for her plucky middle-finger attitude – was being groomed as a media figurehead by the capital.
The third film, Mockingjay – Part 1, the lower classes we rallied to violent revolution by a not-so-savory would-be president (Julianne Moore) who also wants to used Katniss as a media figurehead. This film is the morally muddled chapter that seems to exalt the violence of the revolution, while quietly tut-tutting it at the same time. The revolutionaries are causing death and misery, which the film seems to encourage. Also, it’s another classic example of a large-scale, heavily-marketed studio feature film being used to sell the notion of how we can’t trust anything that is heavily marketed. Curious, that.
Which brings us to Mockingjay – Part 2, which has the bonkers elements of the first, frustratingly few classicist leanings cribbed from the second, and all of the same moral confusion of the third. In short, the film is, tonally speaking, all over the map. It’s a heterogeneous mix of thriller elements, satire, unclear mythologies, and unexplained off-the-wall sci-fi nonsense. And we’re kept off-balance for so long that when we finally reach the conclusion of this four-film mish-mash, it doesn’t feel like much has been accomplished, or that any drama has been experienced. We do have some solid themes about media manipulation, thank goodness, and the cast is too talented to let even goofy material like this slip into rote dullness, but overall, I’m unclear what the message is supposed to be.
Before we lat this series to bed, I’d also like to spend a moment discussing Katniss Everdeen as a character. Katniss is the young women who, by dint of her spunk, and a healthy punky attitude of not giving a crap, manages to undo all of society; in a world where social conformity keeps everyone in place, merely being annoyed and defiant can be a revolutionary act. This is, essentially, a glorious feminist celebration of the “difficult woman.” But, throughout the series, Katniss bows to the will of others, goes along with plans to which she openly objects (for no good reason, I might add), and eventually condones violence and manipulation. I think if Katniss had been more of a loose cannon – perhaps more akin to the awesome screw-everything punker chick played by Jena Malone – then Katniss would emerge as a more inspiring, confrontational icon. Since she is so indecisive, however, a lot of her defiance is defanged.
There is a scene in Mockingjay – Part 2 where Katniss announces that doing violence is the exact opposite of what the revolution should be about, and that violence is exactly what the evil government wants them to do. Not three scenes mater, Katniss is herself murdering faceless police officers with explosive arrows. Do what she says, kids. Not as she does.