Sci-Fi Film Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2 (dir by Francis Lawrence)


Mj

It’s finally over!

It probably sounds like I’m really excited that the final Hunger Games adaptation has been released.  It may sound like I’m happy that the saga of Katniss Everdeen and her life in Panem has finally come to an end.  And, to a certain extent, I am.  After everything that Katniss has been through, she deserves some peace and, fortunately, the series has ended before Jennifer Lawrence got bored with playing the role.  (To see what happens when actor gets bored with an iconic role, check out Daniel Craig in Spectre.)  Even though I think it can be argued that Mockingjay Part Two is the weakest of all the Hunger Games films, it still allows both Katniss and the actress who brought her to life to go out on a high note.

There’s a part of me that cringes a little when I think about all of the films that were released as a direct result of the success of The Hunger Games.  The Giver, The Maze Runner, Divergent, Tomorrowland, the list goes on and on.  I’ve reached the point where I can now say that I am officially sick of sitting through adaptations of Young Adult dystopian fiction.  And yet, I was still excited to see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part Two (even if that title is way too long and unwieldy).  Regardless of the number of mediocre films that it may have inspired, The Hunger Games franchise has always remained compelling.

So, how was Mockingjay Part Two?  Obviously, it doesn’t work as a stand-alone film.  The pacing is totally off, characters appear and disappear almost at random, and it’s all rather confusing.  If you haven’t seen the film that came before Mockingjay Part Two, I imagine that you would be totally confused by this film.  But, when viewed as the fourth part of one gigantic epic story, the whole thing is rather brilliant.

When the film opens, Katniss is still being used a prop in Alma Coin’s (Julianne Moore) revolution.  The majority of the film deals with her journey into and through the capital.  She wants to track down and assassinate President Snow (the wonderfully evil Donald Sutherland) whereas Coin just wants to use her as a symbol to solidify her authority.  As Katniss quickly realizes, there’s not much difference between Snow and Coin.  However, it takes one great tragedy for Katniss to truly understand the truth about the Alma Coin and her revolution.  If you’ve read the book, you’ll already know about and be prepared for that tragedy but it’s still a heart-breaking moment.

It’s also the most important moment in the franchise, one that reminds us that The Hunger Games has always been far more politically sophisticated (and thematically darker) than all of the films, books, and fan fic that has been inspired by it.  This is a seriously dark and, some would say, cynical movie and, as a student of history, I appreciated that.  I appreciated that Mockingjay didn’t try to force a happy ending on us and I also appreciated the fact that Mockingjay didn’t buy into the simplistic Manichaen worldview that is currently ruining worlds both real and cinematic.  The film’s final scene may be hopeful but it’s never naive.

It’s a bit unfortunate that Mockingjay had to be split into two separate films.  Mockingjay Part Two is full of exciting moments but there’s also a lot of scenes that feel like filler.  You get the feeling they were included to make sure that Mockingjay Part Two’s running team was equal to the other films in the franchise.  This is a film that features a lot of genuinely exciting action and some truly emotional moments.  It’s also a film that features a lot of speeches.  If only both parts of Mockingjay could have been released as one six hour film.  I would have watched it!

The film also features the final performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman, playing the rule of Plutarch.  Hoffman is not in many scenes and reportedly, he died before filming two of his biggest scenes.  Those scenes were rewritten and his dialogue given to other actors.  At one point, Woody Harrelson starts to read a letter that was written by Plutarch and it’s a sad scene because you’re aware that, originally, Hoffman was meant to deliver those lines in his trademark style.  As it is, Hoffman only appears in a few minutes of Mockingjay Part Two and he doesn’t do much.  But, when the film briefly features his bemused smile, you’re reminded of what a great actor the world lost when Philip Seymour Hoffman died.

Of course, the entire Hunger Games franchise has been full of great actors.  Jennifer Lawrence brought Katniss to wonderful and empowering life and one of the joys of Mockingjay Part Two is getting to see her bring the character’s story to a close.  But even beyond Jennifer Lawrence’s rightly acclaimed work, the entire cast of the franchise deserves a lot of credit.  I’ve always loved Donald Sutherland’s interpretation of President Snow and he’s at his best here.

For that matter, if there ever is another Hunger Games film or a Hunger Games spin-off, why not make it about Jena Malone’s Johanna Mason?  The way that Malone delivered her angry and frequently sarcastic dialogue was definitely one of the film’s highlights.

Regardless of whether there are any future films, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part Two is a worthy conclusion to a great story.

(By the way, as you may have guessed from the title of this post, December is science fiction month here at the Shattered Lens!  We hope you enjoy it!)

Previous Hunger Games Reviews:

  1. Quick Review: The Hunger Games (dir by Gary Ross)
  2. Review: The Hunger Games
  3. 44 Days of Paranoia: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  4. For Your Consideration: Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part One

For Your Consideration #6: Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One


Mockingjay

Of the three The Hunger Games films released so far, Mockingjay Part One is definitely the weakest.  That does not, however, mean that it’s a bad film.  It’s just that it doesn’t quite reach the grandeur of the first film, nor does it have the same political immediacy as the second one.  However, there’s a lot of good things to be said about Mockingjay.  Julianne Moore is perfectly cast as the charismatic but faintly sinister Alma Coin.  Philip Seymour Hoffman’s performance reminds us of what a towering talent we lost earlier this year.  Donald Sutherland continues to transform President Snow into a villain for the ages.  Even though he’s only in the film for a few minutes, Stanley Tucci is perfectly vapid as Caesar Flickerman.

In fact, the only real problem with Mockingjay is that it’s so obviously a prologue to something bigger.  Much as with The Maze Runner, we watch Mockingjay with the knowledge that it’s only part one and that the majority of the issues raised by the film will not be settled until next year.  The film itself knows this as well and, as such, it lacks the immediacy and much of the excitement of the first two Hunger Games films.

But yet, with all those flaws in mind, Mockingjay still works and it’s largely because of Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Katniss Everdeen.  Whereas the first two Hunger Games films featured a Katniss who was always at the center of the action and always taking charge of any situation that she found herself in, Mockingjay features a Katniss who has far less control over her fate.  (One of the neater ironies of the series is that Katniss was actually more independent as a prisoner of President Snow than as a “guest” of Alma Coin.)  In Mockingjay, Katniss finds herself forced — with more than a little reluctance — to become the figurehead for the entire revolution and the film’s best moments are the ones in which others debate how to best “market” her.  These scenes are all about how Katniss — who is now not only a celebrity but a political icon as well — deals with losing control over her own public image.  Considering that Jennifer Lawrence’s rise to fame and acclaim occurred just as abruptly as Katniss’s, it’s probable that — even more so than in the previous films — the actress brought a lot of herself to the character.

So, yes, I would argue that Jennifer Lawrence does perhaps deserve some awards consideration for her performance in Mockingjay.  However, she truly deserves it for the consistent quality of her performance throughout the entire Hunger Games franchise.  From the very first film, Jennifer Lawrence’s performance has been iconic.  Fiercely independent without giving into the usual cinematic clichés that come with that, Katniss Everdeen has provided an alternative role model for a generation of girls who, otherwise, might have only had the likes of Bella Swan to look up to.

If that’s not worthy of being honored, then I don’t know what is.

6 More Films That You May Have Missed: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Goon, Headhunters, Jeff Who Lives At Home, The Philly Kid, and Safety Not Guaranteed


Hi there!  Continuing my effort to get caught up, here are six more films that I saw earlier this year but, for whatever reason, had not reviewed yet.

1) Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (dir by Alison Klayman)

One of my favorite films of 2012 was this revealing documentary about the Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei.  Filmed over the course of two years, this film follows Ai as he uses the tools of social media to try to stand up to the oppressive Chinese government.  In the film’s strongest scenes, Ai reveals how the government attempted to cover up the massive destruction of the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake.  For his efforts to give identities to the victims of this natural disaster, Ai is beaten by the police and eventually imprisoned.

Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry is a film that should be seen by anyone who thinks that any greater good can be accomplished by sacrificing personal freedom.

2) Goon (dir by Michael Dowse)

Based on a true story, Goon tells the story of Doug Glatt (played, in a winning performance, by Seann William Scott), a Boston bouncer who joins a minor league hockey team.  Eventually, he gets called up to play in Canada and faces his idol (and new rival) Ross Rhea (played by Liev Schreiber) on the ice.  Along the way, he also romances a hockey groupie (Alison Pill) and befriends a burned out teammate (Marc-Andre Gondrin).

I have to thank Arleigh for suggesting that I see Goon because, otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have given this film a chance.  I don’t know much about sports in general and I know even less about hockey.  (Leonard is our resident hockey expert here at the Shattered Lens.)  However, Goon turned out to be a truly pleasant surprise, a sports film that even someone like me can enjoy.

While the film’s plot may be predictable, director Dowse and his cast tell the story well and they all manage to strike the perfect balance between humor, melodrama, and sentimentality.  Seann William Scott is usually not thought of as being a versatile actor but, on the basis of his performance here, he deserves to be reevaluated.  Williams makes Doug Glatt into a truly likable thug and he and Alison Pill make for a very cute and likable couple.  When you start watching Goon, you know where the journey is going to lead you but that doesn’t make the trip any less enjoyable.

3) Headhunters (dir by Morten Tyldum)

In 2012, one of the best thrillers to be released in America was this import from Norway.  Roger Brown (played by Askel Hennie) is Norway’s most successful corporate headhunter.  Along with having a beautiful wife, Roger also has a mistress and all the other material trappings of wealth.  Despite this, Roger is insecure over only being 5’6 and he deals with his insecurity by pursuing a second, secret career as an art thief.  When Roger discovers that Clas, his latest client, is having an affair with his wife, Roger breaks into Clas’s apartment and steals a valuable painting.  However, it turns out that Clas is not only a trained mercenary but he’s also a psychotic killer and soon, he’s pursuing Roger.

Headhunters is a truly exciting film, one that actually keeps the audience guessing with each twist and turn.  Best of all, the film features a truly memorable lead performance from Askel Hennie.  Playing the type of character who, in the past, would have been played by Klaus Kinski, Henie makes his sleazy character into an odd likable and compelling hero.

4) Jeff, Who Lives At Home (dir by Jay and Mark Duplass)

Jeff (Jason Segal) is a 30 year-old unemployed stoner who lives in his mother’s basement and who spends his day obsessing on the movie Signs and talking about his belief in Destiny.  One day, he gets a phone call from some one asking for “Kevin.”  Jeff reacts by finally leaving his mom’s basement and searching for this mysterious Kevin.  Meanwhile, Jeff’s brother (Ed Helms) is convinced that his wife (Judy Greer) is cheating on him and Jeff’s lonely mom (Susan Sarandon) spends her workday at work getting messages from a secret admirer.

Not much happens in Jeff, Who Lives At Home and the film dares you to get as annoyed with Jeff as everyone else in his family.  However, when taken on its own mellow terms, this is an enjoyable and occasionally even moving film.  It helps if you really like Jason Segal and seriously, who doesn’t?  Susan Sarandon gives a touching performance as well and the filmmakers make excellent use of Helms’ needy persona.

5) The Philly Kid (dir by Jason Connery)

Dillon (Wes Chatham) is a college wrestler who is wrongly convicted for the murder of a police officer.  After spending ten years in prison, Dillon is paroled and returns to his home in Baton Rouge.  Managed by his friend Jake (a manic Devon Sawa), Dillon becomes a cage fighter and ultimately finds himself fighting for his life against corrupt promoters and a crooked cop.

The Philly Kid is a pretty uneven film.  The plot will never surprise you and, halfway through the film, The Philly Kid descends into over-the-top melodrama.  However, both Chatham and Sawa give good performances and, as directed by Jason Connery, the film’s many fight scenes are vivid and exciting to watch.  The film was filmed in Baton Rouge and it makes good use of the Louisiana atmosphere.

The Philly Kid may ultimately just be a genre film but it’s a well-done genre film.

6) Safety Not Guaranteed (dir. by Colin Trevorrow)

Kenneth (Mark Duplass) is the type of person that we’ve all met at some point in our life.  He works as a clerk in a grocery store and spends his time talking about his dead girlfriend and how secret agents are watching his every move.  He also claims to have built a time machine and posts a classified ad where he asks for someone to volunteer to go back in time with him.  The ad is spotted by Jeff (Jake M. Johnson), a smarmy magazine writer in Seattle who travels to Kenneth’s hometown in order to investigate (and, it’s later revealed, track down an ex-girlfriend).  Accompanying the reporter is Darius (played by Aubrey Plaza), a disillusioned intern who has her own reasons for wishing that she could go back into past.  Following Jeff’s orders, Darius approaches and befriends Kenneth by claiming to be interested in his ad.  While the well-meaning but paranoid Kenneth trains her for their trip into past, Darius finds herself falling in love with him…

Safety Not Guaranteed is one of those low-key, sweet natured films that I simply can’t help but love.  The film views it’s damaged characters with a wry compassion and it wraps up its story with one of the best endings of 2012.  Aubrey Plaza is best known for being sarcastic on Parks and Recreation but, with this film, she shows that she’s capable of doing a lot more.