In 2012 the makers of the first ‘Hunger Games’ must have been feeling pretty good about their chances to be owning the year 2015, they had a successful adaptation of a bestselling book that had a wides[read audience and critics praise. But then the Marvel Cinematic Universe became a huge phenomenon following the success of ‘Avengers Assemble’ that established itself as a serious franchise, then ‘Jurassic World’ was announced for this year, as was the latest ‘Mission: Impossible’ instalment as well as James Bond and of course who can forget that little movie called ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’. So it’s safe to say that the circumstances for the release of ‘Mockingjay Part 2’ are slightly different to what the conceivers of this franchise originally thought they would be.But regardless this franchise has still made a pretty big impact, notice how I can type the word ‘Mockingjay’ without spell check telling me it is not a word. So with the final instalment now out and closing this saga, now is as good a time as any to look back at the previous films and work out why this franchise, above the tidal wave of other YA adaptations, is cherished by so many.
Looking back on that first film it is quite remarkable how quickly the whole ‘Hunger Games’ concept entered popular culture and was permeated with it, suddenly the concept of it was everywhere, people seemed to naturally know that the term ‘Hunger Games’ was referring to a battle to the death, and that young people were involved in it. It also rocketed to career of Jenifer Lawrence into the stratosphere. She was a credible actor before this, but now she was a superstar in every sense of the word (and after her role in Silver Linings Playbook the same year she was an Oscar worthy, blockbusting actor, a position few in the business can dream of achieving). Plus let’s all give a big cheer for a female led action franchise, it has been long overdue (regardless of what sad people on the internet say, the kind that populate a site called ‘Return of Kings’ and write articles about why not to see ‘Mad Max: Feminist Road’)
Watching it again today there is still a lot to appreciate, I say it in a nice way when I say that it is the cheapest looking expensive film I’ve ever seen. It captures a grit and rawness that is not necessarily on screen, while at the same time there are genuine human characters to be found amongst the ruins of the world, and those ruins in question are shot in a stunningly bleak way, though maybe it went too far into that realm sometimes resembling a student film more than a major studio picture. Furthermore it creates a sense of satire and mockery during its first half in the capital in which we witness the elite and successful writhing in their own wealth and taking pleasure in the pain of less fortunate souls, during its time in the capital ‘The Hunger Games’ has a chance to stab at media, fashion, sport events and even haircuts (tell me Stanley Tucci’s hair was not hysterical). Then the violence and adrenaline of the arena is a sharp contrast, jarring and unnerving. Though I’m fairly sure it’s partially intentional to capture the horror of the games but the effect can be a bit too disorientating. I felt like I was watching two different movies, one outside of the games, and the other from within.
But the sequel was out within one year ‘Catching Fire’, and there were many improvements to be found here. The film felt much more consistent in its tone and maintained a great character arc for Katniss as she reluctantly became more than just the survivor of the Hunger Games, she became a symbol for rebels to rally behind. It also steps things up on a technical level by not relying as much on hand held cameras, and by expanding this universe and filling it with new characters you get the great talents of Philip Seymour Hoffman to add to the already impressive cast that also included Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson, with Tucci as well of course. Furthermore the games are more intriguing, the arena has a better lay out and with more obstacles to stretch the imagination of the writers through set pieces and creature designs. One can also credit how it was perhaps the only major blockbuster that year not to adopt 3D and the results speak for themselves, action seems more intense and immediate, there are no shots that obviously try to pander to the effect.
On to the third one, and to be honest I was personally quite disappointed with this one. Mainly for one reason, where the previous two films in the series felt like tight, compacted and well-paced blockbusters, ‘Mockingjay Part 1’ just seemed to drag on and on for much longer than necessary. Such is the essential problem of splitting a medium sized book into two sections. It mainly the magnetism of its cast that kept me engaged to the story. Although even there the film has problems, although Katniss’ ark seemed solid in ‘Catching Fire’ when it comes to this film she remains virtually the same, reluctant to lead a resistance, and conflicted by her feelings for Peeta (the red line just appeared as I’m typing this, so I also have to ask why we can’t just spell his name as Peter), there isn’t really anything new to explore with the character here. This makes it all the more infuriating that Lawrence has little to do drama wise, and the fact that her supporting cast has now expanded so that in one movie you have Juliane Moore, P.S Hoffman, Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks, surely one of the best supporting casts in recent memory, but there isn’t much for any of them to do really. The most they can do is allude to what might happen in the next instalment, the same goes for plot and action, nothing fully develops and nothing is fully resolved. Other classic sequels like ‘Empire Strikes Back’ would avoid this by closing character arcs or opening up potential new ones, not just continuing the same one without closure. There is still a lot to like, but ultimately for me ‘Mockingjay Part 1’ was exactly what the title suggested it would be, it was half of a movie.
But what are your thoughts on ‘The Hunger Games’ what do you think of ‘Mockingjay Part 2’, a full review is coming shortly but until then leave a comment below to let me know, remember to check out more writings on movies at Taste of Cinema, thanks and bye.