Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

You Give Love a Bad Name
Meet the New Boss/Same as the Old Boss...

For reviews of the previous "Hunger Games" movies, start here, go here, then go here. Then, stop.


"The Hunger Games" are over...until the re-makes, re-boots, re-imaginings or regurgitations happen. It's like Chinese food—after awhile, you're hungry again. I started out cynical of the whole series at the start, but found Jennifer Lawrence's "Joan of Arc," Katniss Everdeen, a nicely unsentimental performance and Donald Sutherland's President Snow deviously played. The rest...been there, done that.

But the series got increasingly better once Francis Lawrence (Constantine, Water for Elephants, I Am Legend) took over direction and the series concentrated less on "boy troubles" and more on Capitol crimes and messiah manipulation, which I found far more interesting. By the time Mockingjay, Part 1 came along, Katniss did not know what was reality and what was manipulation and was going with her gut to ascertain what truth was. By the end of it, her co-hort in the conspiracy against the leaders of Panem, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) had been turned against her and viciously attacked her at the end of Part 1.

Part 2 finds her recovering and trying to find her voice again, which is as good a metaphor for her struggles as any. But, things have definitely changed. For one thing is Jennifer Lawrence's performance: in Part 2, Katniss is almost a zombie—there is a deadness in the eyes, the line readings are flat (except in two, no, make that three places). It's disconcerting, but probably a wise choice. By this time, Katniss is on constant view, not only by Snow's regime, but also by the Rebels' president Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), who finds Katniss remarkably similar to Snow's view—useful but not loyal enough to find trustworthy. Katniss begins to realize that she's merely a pawn, one that can be easily sacrificed and manipulated to the public's view in death much easier than in life. So, her face betrays nothing lest she be betrayed.
(L-R) Malone, Banks, Moore, Harrelson, and Hoffman
That blank face is useful professionally as well as personally, since with Peeta alive and under guard by the rebels, she faces another triangulation—between her Hunger Games ally and partner now determined to kill her, and old flame Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), who seems to be having jealousy pangs about the guy who's raving in a padded cell about what a traitorous bitch his girlfriend is. With two sides pulling at her this way and another, in all aspects of her life, it's no reason Lawrence keeps her face as tight as her own bow-string.
But, she's still useful as an icon. The rebels decide to take the Capitol, with Katniss and a team of past Victor's of "The Hunger Games" dubbed "The Star Squad" hanging back as good media fodder (with Katniss secretly planning to find a way into the Capitol residence to personally kill Snow). Not that their way is easy—the Capitol city is festooned with "Hunger Games"-style traps, some of which they have knowledge of. Others they don't. And just when it looks like they may have a better time of it than they suspected, Coin sends them Peeta to help.
The rebels go over the Death-star plans hidden in the R2-D2 unit.
Yeah. Peeta. PSTD'd Snow-brainwashed Peeta, who, only a couple of scenes previously, was screeching that Katniss was going to kill everybody, and wanted to kill her first. Good choice, that. Not a logical one from a story stand-point (as the revolution has not yet been won and all it needs is a slight tipping point either way), but it does complicate the drama even if it doesn't make any sense. Sort of like the way the Star Squad always chooses to run down the middle of corridors rather than hugging the walls (they didn't mention that strategy in the briefings).
It is this point, that the Squad decides to take their journey underground and Lawrence (the director) returns to his roots with a creepy, dark sequence that goes to claustrophobic Alien territory and to the weird creatures (mutts, they're called) that remind one of the "red Bull-zombies" from his I Am Legend adaptation. It's grisly hand-to-hand combat, and as off-putting as the sequence is, it's where the movie actually comes to temporary life. For a series that started out revolving around pivotal action sequences, they've devolved into lots of people merely anticipating what comes next. The action doesn't count for anything except an increasing body count.
What does come next? Revealing more spoils the movie, but it shouldn't come to any surprise to those who've read the books as it follows them right down the line. Unfortunately, reading about what happens has more impact than seeing it on the screen. Maybe it's JLaw's mandarin way of playing these scenes. Maybe it's FLaw's direction. For whatever reason, they're not as impactful as they could be. Perhaps it would have been better to pay a little bit more attention to the peripheral characters for that to occur, but the film is so populated now that the ones that should matter at the end get crowded out.
Then again, the movie strays back into love triangle territory when that's the least of Katniss' concerns. You would think a relationship would be the last thing on her mind, given the amount of attention that has been heaped upon her, her own independence in the face of it, and the evidence of how the world and individuals can betray would have much more of an impact and not have her fly—or rather creep, this is low voltage Jennifer Lawrence here—into the arms of a man so soon after her ordeals. You would think, given her history, she would heal, mourn, and put everything behind her now that the nightmare has ended.
In a way, she does. But, "The Hunger Games" series had better things to say about society, consumerism, media, manipulation, and the class society based on economics. It spoke of revolution, not romance, and one hopes audiences take home a little bit more of that than the soft platitudes at the end. The revolution will be televised, sure. But don't expect a happy ending.

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