Tuesday, December 23, 2014

It Came From The Cineplex: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 (could that title be any longer?) was written by Danny Strong and Peter Craig. It was directed by Francis Lawrence, who also directed the previous installment. It's based on the novel by Suzanne Collins.

I thought the original Hunger Games was pretty good, and the second one even better. This one seems like a step back though.Due to the cash-grabbing decision to split the final book into two films, Mockingjay - Part 1 is all talk and little action. It spins its wheels in desperation while it waits for Part 2 to commence. The story would have been much better served by turning it into one three hour movie, instead of a couple of two hour ones. 

The biggest story surrounding this film is of course Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died of a drug overdose during filming. Hoffman reportedly had finished shooting the majority of his scenes, so the producers decided not to recast his part.

In a case of life imitating art, the film was banned in Thailand when protesters began using Katniss' Everdeen's famous three-fingered salute at demonstrations against the country's government. Protesters marching against police brutality in Ferguson, Missouri also painted Katniss' "If we burn, you burn" slogan around town. Who knew people would take this little young adult tale so seriously?


The Plot:
Picking up where the previous film left off, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) wakes up inside a bunker in District 13, which we all thought had been destroyed long ago. Luckily for the Rebellion, District 13 is a high tech fortress filled with soldiers, weapons and missiles. Kartniss meets President Alma Coin, the previously unseen and untalked-about leader of the Rebellion against the evil Capitol. Coin wants Katniss to become the Mockingjay— a symbol of the Rebellion to inspire the populace to act.

Katniss can't be bothered and would rather mope over her sort-of boyfriend Peeta Mellark, who's been kidnapped by the Capitol. Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), former Gamemaker and now Rebel adviser, comes up with a plan to convince her. He hopes that when she sees what's left of District 12 after the Capitol leveled it, she'll be properly motivated to join the cause. Standing in the ruins of her former home, she reluctantly agrees to become the face of the Rebellion. She has one condition though— Coin must rescue Peeta and her fellow tributes from the clutches of the Capitol.

When the Capitol firebombs District 8, Katniss realizes she has to become more than just a symbol, and joins the Rebellion in earnest. Her determination inspires the rebels and they begin striking back at the Capitol, going so far as to bomb a dam that supplied it with power.

President Snow orders an attack on District 13, but the Rebels survive by hiding deep in underground bunkers. When they emerge, they find the ground littered with hundreds of white roses, Snow's personal symbol. Katniss realizes his next move will be to kill the captive Peeta.

Katniss' friend-zoned pal Gale leads a mission to rescue Peeta and the other captives being held in the Capitol. They're successful, and Katniss is reunited with Peeta at last. Unfortunately he tries to throttle her the minute he sees her, as he's been brainwashed by Snow.

Katniss watches helplessly as the doctors try to undo the psychological damage to Peeta, as the Rebels prepare for a final strike at the Capitol. A big "TO BE CONTINUED" caption flashes on the screen as the audience groans and realizes they'll have to wait an entire year before this thing is wrapped up.

• At the end of the previous film I thought that the Rebels really had their work cut out for them. The various Districts have what appears to be 1930s Dustbowl-era technology. They have little or no electricity, can barely feed themselves and use plants and herbs as medicine.

Compare that to the Capitol, which is filled to capacity with slick, futuristic technology and weaponry. The odds were incredibly uneven and the Rebels didn't stand a chance against such a foe.

Author Suzanne Collins obviously realized this as well, which is why she pulled the amazingly advanced District 13 right out of her ass. 

Despite the fact that we were told the Capitol wiped out District 13 long ago, it still exists as a super secret underground military base packed to the rafters with highly trained soldiers, high tech weapons and tons of ammo. It's a match for the Capitol's forces in every measurable sense. 

So where'd they get all this technology and materiel? Did they steal it a piece at a time from the Capitol over the decades? Did the Capitol never notice the odd hoverplane or tank that went missing? And what about the bunker that goes down at least forty levels? Who dug this enormous complex under the ruins of District 13? How? With what? All this is apparently none of our concern, because the film never offers an explanation.

It's a good thing the Rebels have District 13, or they'd be going up against the Capitol with clubs and pitchforks. Funny how that just happened to work out, eh?

• After Katniss recovers, she's brought before President Alma Coin, the leader of District 13. Coin is yet another element of the Rebellion pulled directly from Suzanne Collin's ass cheeks. I can't speak for the novels, but I'm sure Coin was never mentioned in any of the previous films. 

• The Rebels are also fortunate that Beetee is on their side. He's a former resident of the Capitol who defected to the Rebellion after the Quarter Quell. Beetee's the one who just happened to design the Capitol's computer security systems, and knows how to hack into their TV signals and broadcast Rebel propaganda.

Yet another incredibly lucky break for the Rebels!

• As Katniss is escorted through the vast underground bunker of District 13, she notices the racks and racks of missiles and other deadly ordnance they've stockpiled. She asks Commander Boggs why they never used any of this weaponry against the Capitol before now, to prevent them from destroying the Districts.

It's a valid question. Unfortunately Boggs gives her a weak excuse about how the slightest aggression on their part would result in a ten-fold retaliation by the Capitol or something. Nice try, movie, but I ain't buying it.

• Star Jennifer Lawrence reportedly cut her hair quite short prior to filming, and had to wear a wig for the entirety of the shoot. A very obvious wig, I might add, that doesn't look anything like her hair in the previous film.

I don't understand why it's so hard to find a wig that looks real on camera. This is a multi-million dollar film, not a community theater production.

• In the previous films, Katniss was a brave and capable young woman who willingly risked her life to save others.

Suddenly in this film she's become weak and indecisive, as she spends most of the run time mooning over Peeta. She's reduced to little more than spectator here, as she's buffeted about by the winds of the plot instead of taking action herself.

• The decadent citizens of the Capitol enjoy their luxury and excess due to the labors of the various Districts. Without them, there literally would be no Capitol. 

Katniss is from District 12, a mining area that produced coal for the Capitol. President Snow decides to make a statement to Katniss by firebombing District 12, completely destroying it. 

I don't quite think he thought his plan through. Without District 12's coal, it's gonna get mighty cold in the Capitol come winter. Perhaps he should have just sent her a strongly worded letter, so the coal would still flow freely into his home.

• Katniss may the most dangerous person in Panem, even more so than President Snow. He completely destroys District 12 just to get back at her. Later Katniss visits a makeshift hospital in District 8, and Snow firebombs it when he learns she's in the vicininty. He even attacks District 13 when he learns she and her family is there.

If I was one of the Rebels, I'd be staying as far away from Miss Katniss Everdeen as humanly possible.

• In the previous film, everyone in this future world watched flickering TVs that projected an image into the air and looked worse than anything we have now.

Suddenly in this film they all have normal hi-def flat screens. Did everyone get tired of their inferior "futuristic" monitors and go back to old school technology?

• Katniss is assigned a film crew to follow her around and shoot propaganda footage of her for the Rebellion. 

One of this crew, Pollux, is an avox. He spoke out against the Capitol and had his tongue cut out as punishment.

At one point he whistles the three "mockingjay" notes to Katniss, to try and get her to sing. I'm not sure, but is it possible to whistle different notes without a tongue?

• I get that there's an overall story arc here, but I was a little disappointed that there were no Hunger Games in this Hunger Games movie.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 is talky and slow moving, feeling like butter scraped over too much bread. It's painfully obvious that it exists only to set up Part 2. I give it a B.

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