The revolution will be sanitised: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2
The most cynical thing about The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 isn’t the media satire, child murder, or even the bombing of civilians – it’s that it exists at all. No amount of critical acclaim or intelligent filmmaking can hide the fact that Mockingjay, parts 1 and 2, are each half a film.
The splitting of blockbusters’ final chapters hasn’t always been a bad thing. Deathly Hallows Part 1 was the first Harry Potter film that actually breathed; Twilight never had any stakes to begin with, so the two-part Breaking Dawn was kind of… fun? But Mockingjay is more like The Hobbit. At four-plus hours, longer than Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, Mockingjay’s length benefits no one – except Lionsgate, and maybe certain fans with more patience than taste. It’s a dystopia, alright, and we’re living in it.
The PG-13 rating, introduced to the US in the late 80s, was supposed to make films less violent. Instead, it’s lessened the impact of violence. The likes of Steven Spielberg never shied away from depicting blood or injury – not to torment the kids watching Indiana Jones, but because it was honest. If you want to “enjoy” violence, you should understand the consequences. But today’s blockbusters are increasingly willing to censor themselves to get under that PG-13 rating. They’re bloodless, but the body counts are higher than ever.
The Hunger Games was a direct response to our cultural desensitisation to violence. PG-13 or not, there’s no getting around the fact that it’s about children killing children. Mockingjay - Part 2’s setpieces flirt with horror and video game-like staging, but they’re barely “action sequences” – just acts of violence. The camera lingers on explosions, but from afar, as if it doesn’t care enough about the human casualties to zoom in. Other attacks feel like you’ve been grazed by a bullet. Real-life war lacks the rhythms and beats of movies – it’s often described as long stretches of extreme stillness, punctuated by moments of sheer terror. Mockingjay gets that. For an enormous tentpole blockbuster, it’s not exactly “fun”. That’s admirable.
But maybe Mockingjay should be more cinematic. The series’ first two instalments deliberately took their time building up to the Hunger Games events, which forced Katniss to make life-or-death decisions under extreme duress. Part 2 is supposed to be the ultimate payoff, both for Part 1 and the overall series – and it’s still full of dead space. Director Francis Lawrence, who took over from Catching Fire onwards, nails the big moments, but he still doesn’t know how to stage ordinary conversations with any tension whatsoever. Mockingjay is a war film, and its initial scenes of military planning should help us get into the characters’ heads. Katniss has little interest in them, but they play like jargon-filled exposition to us, too.
Mockingjay’s message, too, is muddled. Over the first three films, Katniss is built up as a Joan of Arc-like messiah – one with little faith in herself. By Mockingjay, she’s willing to play the martyr – but instead, she effectively ends up solving violence with more violence. It should be darkly ironic, but it’s played straight. The film acts like she makes the “right” choice, one that comes all too easily.
The message of Game of Thrones is brutally clear: idealism alone can’t overturn an inherently cruel power structure. The world of Panem should be no different. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. But something’s been lost in translation. What was the last studio franchise with an unsympathetic protagonist? That even hinted at an unhappy ending?
The first Hunger Games was thrilling because it was subversive – because Lionsgate actually got a film about child violence made, and because it was wildly successful. The budgets have gone up, but the constraints have only become more obvious. Entertainment Weekly has an in-depth piece on just how soft Mockingjay is, compared to the book. Because of the film’s length, and its need to turn a profit, everyone’s being set up to fail: the narrative, the actors, the director, the original author, even our expectations. But as long as the fans and the studio are happy, it’s all good, right? As long as it’s still better than The Divergent Series: Allegiant - Part 1! Enjoy your annual nine hour-long Hunger Games marathon!
It’s easy to call The Hunger Games packaged rebellion. It’s not going to make the youth take up arms against the structures of capitalism – but what could? Mockingjay’s not as provocative or as conflicted as it should be, but it’s still something. While Marvel and Bond and Fast & Furious are obsessed with maintaining and rebooting the status quo, The Hunger Games always planned to blow it up. It’s just hard not to be cynical about it. Maybe that’s a valuable message after all.