This Revolution Burns Out Before It Ever Catches Fire.
DIRECTED BY FRANCIS LAWRENCE/2014
JIM TUDOR: “They’ll either want to kill you, kiss you, or be you!”
So gushes glitzy-ditzy Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), as our heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) steps into the role of Hero Of The Revolution. It’s a good line, and it comes straight from the book which The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I was based upon, Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. It’s too good, in fact – the same thing has been said countless times about James Bond. The only difference is that in the case of Bond, it’s true.
Bond is a man of action, a male fantasy figure of the worst sort, but also impossibly, endlessly compelling. Katniss, on the other hand, is none of those things. Her admirable qualities run 180 degrees counter to those of a character like 007. As it is pointed out in this very film, Katniss is at her best when she’s cut loose, and allowed to do her own thing. Bond, by contrast, is in the service of her majesty the Queen. He’s a blunt-edged government assassin in a tuxedo. Katniss’s formalwear was last seen in Catching Fire – an infinitely better film – actually catching on fire. She’s unsure, and obviously in over her head from the start. She’s an ordinary citizen thrust into extreme circumstances, and is never not about to crack. In short, with any apologizes to Ms. Trinket, Katniss Everdeen is no James Bond.
That said, She does have a “Q scene”, in which techie genius Jeffrey Wright (a Bond alum, here wasted as The Guy Who Stares At Computer Screens And Explains Things) gives her a few gadgets. At least, that’s what I think was happening. Honestly, by that point in Mockingjay – Part I, I had so lost interest, I didn’t particularly care any more. Yes, it’s a movie that’s sole purpose is to set up the presumably Epic Finale of Part 2. But that’s still no license to be dull. And man is it dull. Catching Fire,by contrast, might be right up there with Aliens and The Empire Strikes Back as a superior second film. Arriving hot on its heels one year later, Mockingjay – Part I isn’t nearly as good as needs to be.
At one point in the new film, Katniss makes the clunky pronouncement, “Fire is catching!!” That’s just how slow “Mockingjay – Part I” is – it’s only now incorporating the title of the previous film.
ERIK YATES: I think I too was surprised by how slow this film was. This was supposed to be the moment where Katniss finally embraced being the Mockingjay – the symbol of revolution. It is her chance to slowly let the fire burn for the injustice all around her, for what the Capitol is doing to Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), for the very injustice of the games themselves. Instead, we get one of Jennifer Lawrence’s worst performances that reduces her to nothing more than a damsel in distress that sometimes dresses up and pretends to be Katniss Everdeen, symbol of the revolution.
I, having read the books on which this film series is based, understood and supported the breaking up of Mockingjay into two separate parts. One should focus on the building of the legend, her embracing the role of being a symbol, and the political posturing of both sides as they try to win hearts and minds before the big face-off happens in Part 2. But this is simply a step backwards for a franchise that had picked up so much steam with its second film, Catching Fire. As you mentioned, it is the Empire Strikes Back of young adult fiction, and it still stands above other dystopian-themed, young adult fiction film adaptations. Here, they simply shrink back.
I am glad that as boring as this was, the films are still striving to stay story-driven and not simply succumbing to action for its own sake. But there must be better balance.
As was said in Catching Fire, by the game master Plutarch Heavensbee (the late-great Philip Seymour Hoffman), “Moves and Counter Moves”. And that is what this film is supposed to be. The quote is even resurrected within Mockingjay Part 1 by President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Instead of a giant chess match, however, we simply saw the footage of them setting up the game, which presumably will be a thrilling conclusion (at least that is what we are promised), but who wants to see two hours of pre-game warm-ups?
JIM: I can only speak for myself, but to answer your question, “not me”. During the film, a couple of young girls seated next to me got to chronically texting. Per usual, this gross breach of cinema etiquette bothered me on a seething level. But after about an hour, I realized that I would also rather be texting. Ordinarily, texting in a movie theater is something I will not stand for. But seeing that these girls were the film’s primary demographic, and how bored I was, I became interested in how they were receiving Mockingjay Part 1. For at least fifty percent, I’d say that they weren’t. And yet, when it ended, they got up and said to one another, “That was a good movie.”
What?? We just sat through Jennifer Lawrence’s worst performance. (Agreed, Erik!) The long awaited on-screen reunion of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julianne Moore (playing the President of the Revolution) is reduced to Suzanne Collins gobbledygook and endless exchanges about Katniss. There are two locales for the movie: The dark, vast under-lit Revolution hideout, and outdoor rubble heaps. Even the much-ballyhooed Katniss love triangle was a dud, as Peeta is essentially out of the movie as a prisoner of the Capitol. Every now and then, he appears on The Caesar Flickerman Show (now 80% less annoying!) advocating peace, and everyone stops, turns, watches, and then utters “What have they done to you, Peeta??” And these girls thought it was a good movie.
I do hope that one day they realize that there really is no movie there. Before Mockingjay Part 1 was ever this, it was a release date on a movie schedule, already chopped into its first half form, as to naturally maximize franchise profits for its studio, the hyper-aggressive up-and-comer Lionsgate. The fact that Mockingjay fails as both entertainment and as social/political allegory – some of the strongest points of the previous two films – only more clearly exposes Lionsgate’s decompressing tactic as nothing more than a transparent cash grab. And don’t get me wrong, we could all live with a transparent cash grab, were it some combination of thrilling, thought provoking, and entertaining.
They even forget to have a game in this Hunger Games. It’s all green jumpsuits in control rooms, elevators, and medical bays. Think The Initiative of Buffy The Vampire Slayer‘s fourth season, but on a far larger budget. Now imagine a whole movie of that, but with constant chatter about “tributes”, “mockingjays”, and “tracker-jackers”. No thanks.
ERIK: Well, the no-games-in-this-movie thing is by design, but without the revolution, there is nothing really there that puts our protagonists in a situation where we would want to cheer for them, other than to collectively yell a hearty Monty Python and the Holy Grail bit, “GET ON WITH IT!”.
I agree that the “love triangle” is pretty dead as Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is pretty lifeless here. I felt no chemistry in this film between Gale and Katniss that would even hint that they might end up together, regardless if you know the answer from reading the novels. And without even that angle being compelling, of course you’re only going to be able to remark how Peeta is looking these days.
Lionsgate would have been better served if they had put out a series of short webisodes that showed Katniss struggling with embracing this role of being the “Mockingjay” and her fretting over Peeta before joining the cause. Show some of the propaganda films she makes and then have everyone ready for the real Mockingjay film when it comes out in 2015. While this film will make tons of cash based on it being a continuation of the vastly superior 2nd film, the real test of whether Katniss will be able to cut loose, and be the kind of hero she is set up to be, won’t be known until next November.
JIM: And word is that James Bond will return then, as well. And may that be the only commonality between 007 and Katniss Everdeen. Many of the conversations around the past Hunger Games films have been about what a swell role model the heroine is for young girls. In that she’s a good-hearted person who is keen on doing the right thing, her supporters aren’t wrong. Goodness knows that she’s far better for girls (insecurities and all) than Bond is for boys. But that said, come November 2015, 007 would still get my ticket money first.
But as for now, Mockingjay Part 1 is a rental. Wait and watch it at home on your television. Because after all, as the film keeps inferring, a revolution that isn’t televised isn’t a revolution at all.
ERIK: And Mockingjay Part 1 is simply a film where Katniss is shaken, but the audience is not stirred.