I have never read the Hunger Games novels. Honestly, as soon as I heard they were for kids, I dismissed them without really knowing the plot. When the movie was announced, they were explained to me a little bit, and did sound intriguing; kids in a dystopian future forced to kill each other in barbaric, televised tournaments –Gladiator meets The Truman Show. But as far as I understood, the story was primarily about a love triangle featuring an indecisive girl struggling to choose between two dreamy boys. It’s a story that I had heard before.
However, the first film was not so easy to dismiss. The Hunger Games proved to be an exciting and affecting movie, featuring strong performances, primarily from America’s sweetheart, Jennifer Lawrence. The disparate world, “Panem,” was well realized, and the danger in the film felt very real and inescapable.
The sequel, Catching Fire, raises the stakes, broadens the scope and delivers even more excitement and twists than the first film. I was amazed because although it’s based on young adult fiction, it seemed quite a bit more mature that The Avengers – and to my mind, more exciting.
The third and fourth films, Mockingjay: Part I and Mockingjay: Part II are unflinchingly dark and set against a realistic and desolate landscape. They’re about much more than televised gladiator matches and teenage romance.
The final film delves deep into the horrors of war and the manipulating prowess of propagandist media. Katniss Everdeen becomes a disposable tool of the rebellion she is the symbol of; the political movement rising in opposition to the Capital and its President Snow – played with magnetism and nuance by Donald Sutherland.
Mockingjay: Part II is a truly impressive movie, and yet, its reviews are mixed. Some say the film is too slow, too boring, and others say that it is too full of action (though it should be mentioned Jennifer Lawrence’s performance has been unanimously praised.)
Thought the reviews are mixed, the film’s themes are so important and so relevant to our society today, particularly considering the situation going on right now in Syria. It asks a lot of probing questions about war and the nature of heroism. Very little about this movie is black & white; even the visuals are rendered in shades of grey.
This likely speaks to why the film has such mixed reviews – it’s dower, and the morality is so complicated that it’s easy to forget the original audience for this movie was teenagers. And it did seem that the marketing still aimed at attracting this same audience, with the focus on the action scenes and Katniss Everdeen’s heroism. Many of the people in the theatre with me were children.
There are staggeringly exciting action scenes in this movie, but the emphasis is on ideas, and whether or not ‘Right vs. Wrong’ still applies when there is a war going on. A good chunk of the first half involves the leaders of the rebellion deciding if they can accept civilian casualties if it means a chance at victory.
This film is less about our heroine taking on evil bad guys, and more about reconciling the reality that there is good and bad on both sides of a war; if there are human beings supporting a side different from yours, do they deserve to die because of the flag they happened to be born under?
Do you adopt the barbaric tactics of your enemy if it could mean victory, or do you hold onto the ideals that led you to fight in the first place?
I don’t mean to suggest by any means that Mockingjay: Part II is the first film to raise these questions; it isn’t. But it’s refreshing to see this level of moral complexity in a movie based on half of a, as far as I understand, less-than-excellent YA novel.
I can understand if you expected a story like Harry Potter – with everything culminating in a one-on-one showdown between good and evil – you might be a little disappointed. The film is a bit too realistic, and complicated, to qualify as popcorn entertainment; it doesn’t deliver the usual catharsis expected at the end of a film series such as this.
I will admit it puts parents in the difficult position of explaining the culminating half hour to their children – the image of a little blonde toddler from the Capital screaming down at the bodies of her parents, killed at the hands of the soldiers on Katniss’s side of the civil war.
The trailer has premiered for Captain America: Civil War, and I can guarantee at no point in that film will a fan-favourite character get their legs blown off by an IUD.
A movie like this should be lauded for its realistic and inglorious depiction of warfare; the political machine behind it, and the propaganda that turns neighbours into something other. President Snow appearing on television and telling the people of the Capital that the rebels are coming to destroy “our way of life” ought to make us all pause. Are we not hearing this exact kind of rhetoric right now about refugees and unfortunately, the Muslim religion as a whole?
If humanity is ever to evolve, we should stop portraying the destruction of one another as romantic. Mockingjay: Part II should not be criticized for being too “boring” or “dark” but be praised for not presenting war as a happy and exciting affair.