Friday, November 27, 2015

It Came From The Cineplex: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

The Hunger Games 3 Part 2, also known as The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, was written by Peter Craig and Danny Strong, and directed by Francis Lawrence.

Craig and Strong wrote the previous film, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. Peter Craig previously wrote The Town. Danny Strong is primarily an actor, having starred as Jonathan in Buffy The Vampire Slayer, among many other roles. He also wrote the screenplay for Lee Daniels' The Butler, which of course makes him the perfect choice to write a post-apocalyptic scifi epic.

Francis Lawrence previously directed The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1.

Long before shooting began on Part 1, Lionsgate Studio said they were splitting the Mockingjay book into two films "because the story was just too big to fit it all into one." To that I respectfully reply, "Bullsh*t."  Lionsgate made two films so they could rake in a cool two billion dollars instead of one billion, pure and simple. There's nothing anyone could ever possibly say to make me believe otherwise.

It was a good business decision, but artistically, not so much. Part 1 was slow, talky and short on action, as the characters seemingly stood around waiting for the second film to commence. Part 2 is chock full of action, but short on actual substance and story. They really did a disservice to the material by splitting it up. With a bit of trimming and editing, these two halves would make a really great three hour film.

So what exactly is the message of these movies anyway? Apparently it's "If you don't like your government, then by all means violently overthrow it!" Got it.

OK, I'm being a wiseacre here, but that's basically what it's saying. And it's a message worth hearing. We forget that our government is meant to serve the people, not the other way around. Our government should never forget that, and do its best to do right by us all, lest we revolt and throw the bums out.

It's too bad the vast majority of American citizens are too busy lying on their couches eating fist-fulls of Cheetos while watching the latest antics of the Kardashians to remember they have the power-- make that the responsibility-- to induct a competent government and replace it if it fails.

Whether you agree with this or not, at least The Hunger Games have a message worth discussing. Unlike a certain other Young Adult book and film series whose message appears to be, "Your life's meaningless unless you have a hot, undead boyfriend."

There was a bit of controversy when poster seen above was rejected in Israel, and replaced by one with a fiery Mockingjay symbol. Apparently in Jerusalem, public posters featuring women are seen as offensive and often torn down. Progressive!

I've only read the first book in the series, so some of the questions I have below may have been addressed in the subsequent volumes. Doesn't matter! This is the movie we're talking about. If I have to do homework and read the books to understand what's happening in the films, then the director has failed.

The Hunger Games franchise has been a huge financial boon for Lionsgate Studios, grossing over $2.5 BILLION dollars worldwide. So you know what that means! Yep, Lionsgate is reluctant to put their cash cow out to pasture, so there's been ominous talk of either a prequel or sequel to the series.

Whether author Suzanne Collins would be involved, and where the story could possibly go after the events of this movie, I have no idea.


The Plot:
Picking up right where we left off (an entire year ago!), Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence) is recovering after nearly being throttled by a brainwashed Peeta (played by Josh Hutcherson). Once she recovers, Katniss visits Rebellion President Coin (played by Julianne Moore) and volunteers to kill President Snow (played by Donald Sutherland), the leader of the Capitol. Coin denies her request, saying Katniss is more valuable as an inspirational symbol of the Rebellion (which was thoroughly covered in the previous film and didn't need rehashed here).

Katniss then sneaks aboard a supply plane bound for District 2, where Commander Paylor is planning a massive assault on the Capitol. Katniss is assigned to Squad 451, which will trail the real invasion force and serve as propaganda for the Rebellion. Peeta is assigned to the squad, in an effort to show the Capitol that he's siding with the rebels. Katniss' pal Gale (played by Liam Hemsworth) isn't happy about Peeta's presence, as he sees him as a rival for Katniss' affections.

Snow has lined the streets of the Capitol with deadly booby traps, designed by the Gamemakers of the Hunger Games. After triggering a couple of traps, Boggs, the leader of the squad, is mortally wounded. Before he dies, he tells Katniss to watch out for Coin, who sees her as a threat to her power. He then transfers his command to Katniss.

Since they can't make it through the Capitol to President Snow's mansion, they decide to go under it, and travel through the sewers. Amazingly, Snow didn't think of that, and hastily orders a group of "mutts" (genetically engineered creatures) into the sewers. Katniss loses several members of her squad before they escape to the surface.

Snow announces that the rebels are now inside the Capitol and orders citizens into his mansion, promising them food and shelter, not to mention forming a human shield around himself.

Katniss and Gale sneak into the Captiol in disguise. Just then the rebels arrive and attack, as the Capitol's Peacekeepers return fire. A Capitol airship flies overhead, dropping silver parachutes (similar to the ones dropped to help participants in the Hunger Games a few movies back) onto the crowd. The parachutes explode, killing hundreds in the crowd. A team of rebel medics, including Katniss' sister Prim, rush in to help the injured. A second round of explosions kills Prim and knocks Katniss unconscious.

When she wakes up, Katniss is informed that the Capitol has been defeated and Snow captured. She confronts Snow, who's being held in his rose garden. He tells Katniss that the bombings were Coin's idea, not his, and were designed to turn the Capitol citizens against him. She realizes that the second round of bombs, which were designed to kill the medics, was Gale's idea. When she asks Gale about this, he doesn't deny his involvement. She tells him to beat it, neatly eliminating their tired little love triangle.

Coin has now appointed herself Interim President of the Capitol. She comes up with the bright idea to have one final edition of the Hunger Games, this time consisting of children of Capitol leaders as revenge. Katniss realizes Coin is just taking Snow's place, and has no plans to change the system of government. She votes in favor ot the Hunger Games idea, on the condition that she get to execute Snow in the opening ceremony. Coin agrees.

At the ceremony, Coin stands upon a high platform, with Snow tied to a post far below. Katniss draws her bow and shoots Coin in the chest, killing her instantly. Snow laughs as an angry mob tears him apart.

Katniss is imprisoned, but later pardoned for her crime by Commander Paylor, who's elected the new President of Panem. Katniss is sent back to District 12 to live. There she reunites with the recovered Peeta.

Years later, in one of the film's many butt-numbing endings, we see Katniss and Peeta playing with their two children, enjoying the new-found peace.

• Unless you're a rabid fan of this series, you might want to re-watch Part 1 before seeing this installment. It picks up right where the last one left off, with no recap, prologue or anything. If you've not seen the previous film (or forgot what the hell happened after an entire year, like me), you're probably going to be lost for the first few minutes.

• I said this last year about Part 1, but it still applies-- a
t the end of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the Rebellion really had its work cut out for it. The various Districts had what appeared to be 1930s Dustbowl-era technology, while the Capitol was filled with slick, futuristic vehicles 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 somehow 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. 

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?

 Gwendoline Christie, who plays Brienne Of Tarth on Game Of Thrones, has a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo as Commander Lyme. Her entire appearance lasts under a minute.

I'm sure she was cast because she's popular and in demand right now, but why go to the trouble of casting a prominent actress just so she could say three or four lines? Was her part originally larger and then drastically cut down?

• President Coin's turn to the dark side seemed to come out of nowhere. The only slight bit or warning we ever get is when Commander Boggs lays dying and tells Katniss that Coin sees her as a threat to her power.

Then the next time we see Coin she pulls a Senator Palpatine and installs herself as permanent President, as bad or even worse than Snow!

That's got to be the quickest turn to evil in the history of cinema. It made her rapid about-face less of a shocking twist and more of a "what the hell?" moment.

Some additional buildup and foreshadowing was definitely needed here.

• Why do some of the characters have surnames and others don't? Everyone from Katniss Everdeen's District 12 seems to have two names, but others-- like Cressida, Castor and Pollux-- are stuck with just one. It doesn't seem to be just a choice on the part of these single-named characters, because even their wanted posters only list their given names.

Is this something that's addressed in the books? Do some Districts use two names and some don't?

• Once inside the Capitol, Katniss and her crew take refuge inside a dress shop run by a woman named Tigress, who's covered in feline tattoos, piercings and implants. I wondered if her tigerish look was prosthetic makeup, or if she was one of those people who do this kind of thing to themselves for real. For the record, it's all makeup.

When Katniss first sees Tigris, she stares intently for a few seconds, then says, "Say, I recognize you. You were on my style team when I was first in the Hunger Games!"

The way Katniss says all this strikes me as funny. It's like she's met quite a few tiger-faced women in her time, and wasn't sure at first which one this was.

• When Katniss and her crew realize they'll never make it through the booby-trapped streets of the Capitol, they come up with the brilliant idea of going under them.

Apparently President Snow-- who always seems to be several steps ahead of everyone else-- never thought of this possibility. This is a grievous tactical error on his part, and quite honestly makes him look like an idiot. 

Of course if he did think to booby trap the sewers as well, it would have been a very short movie and the Rebellion would have been over before it started.

• Once Snow figures out that Katniss and her team are sneaking around in the sewers, he has his Gamemakers flood the underground tunnels with hundreds of mutts-- some sort of blind, deadly mutated humanoids.

I'm a bit fuzzy as to what the mutts are actually supposed to be. Are they mutated humans? Are they some sort of artificially created life form that can be cooked up in minutes? Are they robots? Solid holograms? Apparently it's none of the audience's concern, as their nature is never addressed.

If they are some sort of artificial beings, that's pretty impressive. That means the Capitol has the technology to create life itself!

This vagueness about the nature of the traps and how they're created has plagued all the movies. During the Hunger Games in the previous films, the Gamemakers were able to whip up all kinds of threats to the participants seemingly on the fly. Katniss is hiding in the bushes? Fine, we'll somehow create a giant firestorm to force her out into the open. Another Tribute is getting too close to the wall? We'll instantly create a pack of ravenous wolf-like things to tear 'em apart.

This issue has bugged me for three movies now, and they finally had a chance to address it in this fourth and final one, but nope.

 The defeat of the Capitol reminded me more than a little bit of the ending of The Hobbit. In the book, the Battle Of Five Armies starts up, and Bilbo's almost immediately knocked unconscious. When he finally wakes up, the battle's over and the good guys won.

The exact same thing thing happens here. Katniss is fighting her way to Snow's mansion when a massive explosion knocks her out. 
When she comes to, Snow's been captured, the Capitol's been defeated and the Rebels have won.

I didn't like that plot conceit in The Hobbit, and I liked it even less here. It feels like a cheat, like the filmmakers couldn't be bothered to show us the one event we've sat through four movies to see. Annoying, to say the least.

• Speaking of Tolkien, this film had almost as many endings as The Return Of The King. Sometime around the third or fourth ending my butt's "Excessive Movie Runtime" alarm went off, and I was hoping they'd hurry and wrap things up soon.

• In one of the film's many endings, Katniss goes back to live in District 12, her former home. Um... didn't Snow bomb the living hell out of District 12 in the previous film? Luckily for her, her winner's mansion appears untouched. But what's she going to do about food, water and heat? In one brief scene we see her hunt and kill a duck or goose. Are she and Peeta going to live on ducks until they can get some crops to grow again?

• As everyone knows by now, actor Philip Seymour Hoffman killed himself prior to the completion of the film. At the time of his death he'd finished all his scenes for Part 1, and had a week to go on Part 2.

Rather than try and cobble together a CGI abomination of Hoffman, the director wisely rewrote the remaining scenes to work around his absence.

Nowhere is that more evident than at the end of the film, in which Haymich visits Katniss and reads her a letter written by Plutarch. It was a bit awkward having another actor read lines obviously meant for Hoffman, but all things considered I think it was the best way to go. A CGI version of Hoffman would have no doubt looked terrible and done a disservice to everyone involved.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is a reasonably competent finale to a mostly decent franchise. It's just too bad Lionsgate got greedy and split the final film in half, as it would have made a much better single movie. I give it a B.

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