Retrospective Review – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

Retrospective Review – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

“She can’t handle it. The Games destroyed her.” – President Alma Coin

For fans who had read all the books, they already knew that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Catching Fire) is the pinnacle of the franchise because it is the best book in the trilogy. The movie does a flawless job adapting the book into a film. As such, it is almost impossible to top. The source material, the final book in the trilogy The Mockingjay, is the weakest of the books. Nevertheless, I still like it a lot. It provides a dark, realistic, and logical conclusion to the story. At the end of the previous film and second book, Katniss Everdeen is rescued and ends up in District 13. As we have seen in real life and relevant to current world events, different is not necessarily better. An alternative to a dictator may not be that much better. An enemy of an enemy could also be your enemy instead of a friend. It is one of the more fascinating elements of the book. Moreover, how Katniss is used as the Mockingjay is interesting. Keeping her alive was the goal of the rebels in the Quarter Quell. Consequently, keeping her away from combat is a priority for her safety so she can be utilized in propaganda as the face of rebellion. However, she is inspiring because she is naturally a hero. She cannot act for the cameras. For this reason, the book presents an intriguing question asking whether she can be effective if she is not put in real and dangerous situations. I also enjoy the commentary the book makes about the horrors of war. It presents some fascinating questions about what is acceptable and what is crossing the line in total war when it appears there are no rules at times. Of course, there is the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta Mellark, and Gale Hawthorne. In my opinion, the book delivers a satisfying resolution to Katniss’s love story. Combined with a few more stunning twists in the story, I believe the third book is a worthy conclusion to the series although there are plenty of critics that disagree with me.

In terms of the film, Lionsgate decided to split the third book into two movies. Obviously, there are financial reasons for it. Initially, I gave them the benefit of the doubt since director Francis Lawrence did an incredible job on Catching Fire. After I watched The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (Mockingjay Part 1), I initially decided to give the film an incomplete grade. There are a lot of plot lines to set up so I can accept an extra movie if the plot and character development leads to an epic finale. In retrospect after watching the Mockingjay Part 2, it is clear the third book was stretched out for a money grab at the expense of artistic value. It is also disappointing that some of the best scenes and material from the third book are excluded or not fully developed when there are additional scenes added to stretch out Mockingjay Part 1. In the end, the last two films in the franchise are still acceptable for fans of the Hunger Games. The last hour of Mockingjay Part 2 gets the ending correct for the most part. However, the franchise had great momentum following Catching Fire. Unfortunately, it squanders it. It fails to deliver a spectacular finish and make the film franchise truly special. For this review, I will focus primarily on Part 1.

After Katniss’s first Hunger Games, she understandably deals with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When she learns that she will be reaped for the Quarter Quell, she is completely distraught. Naturally, she suffers from PTSD again after the Quarter Quell, especially when the rebels rescue her but left Peeta behind in the arena to suffer the fury of the Capitol. At the beginning of the Mockingjay Part 1, she is struggling to come to grips with the new situation: “Start simple. Start with what you know is the truth. My name is Katniss Everdeen. My home is District 12. I was in the Hunger Games. I escaped. Peeta…Peeta was left behind.” After her first games, she keeps Peeta at a distance and does not confide with him on their shared experience until the Victory Tour. This time, she immediately finds some comfort with Finnick since the Capitol also captured his love, Annie Cresta. On the other hand, the opening scene of the film ends with Finnick noting that he wanted to go back for Peeta, Johanna, and Annie and somberly stating “I wish she was dead. I wish they were all dead and we were too.” Finnick is definitely one of the best characters in the Hunger Games franchise. Katniss has an initial dislike of Finnick on first impressions and a continuing distrust of him during the Quarter Quell. In reality, he is a true hero. For this reason, Katniss eventually develops a great relationship with him. Like Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, he plays a diva and playboy as a façade for the cameras but is much more on the inside. This twist in his character is one of the better parts of the books. However, the movie does not execute the twist nearly as well, especially in regards to developing the friendship that develops between them in the third book.

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Katniss meets President Coin.

Even though Katniss is barely given a moment to breath after her latest traumatic experience, civil war has started in Panem and the rebellion needs her to be the Mockingjay. She immediately gets an audience with the President of District 13, Alma Coin. The President praises Katniss for her courage and acknowledges how “disoriented” she must be after suffering through the Games. Nevertheless, time is of the utmost importance and they need her to be the Mockingjay immediately: “We believe that if we keep this energy going we can unify the districts against the Capitol. But if we don’t, if we let it dissipate, we could be waiting another seventy-five years for this opportunity. Everyone in 13 is ready for this.” Of course, Katniss could care less about revolution in that moment. She is still furious that District 13 and Plutarch decided not to save Peeta. Coin tries to reason with Katniss by pleading “Miss Everdeen, this revolution is about everyone. It’s about all of us. And we need a voice.” One of Katniss’s characteristics is her stubbornness. It is a strength when it manifests in an uncompromising determination to do the right thing. It is a weakness when she loses her temper and her rage prevents her from seeing the bigger picture and greater good. She became an instant hero when she volunteered as tribute to save Prim. However, she was simply trying to save her sister. She had no idea or cared how that action was perceived by anyone else. Similarly, she feels the same way about her heroic deeds. It was just the right thing for her to do in those moments. She has no awareness of or vision for their greater effect on the nation. Consequently, it is a legitimate question to ask whether she is capable of being the voice of the rebellion. I like that the story takes a step back to explore this issue. Katniss’s natural actions make her the Mockingjay. On the other hand, it is against her nature to consciously be the Mockingjay when she is asked to do so. Moreover, being a voice is usually a forte of Peeta. As a result, Coin suggests to Plutarch that maybe they should have saved Peeta instead of Katniss. Nevertheless, Plutarch scoffs at the idea and responds “People don’t always show up the way you want them to, Madam President. But that anger, that anger-driven defiance, that’s what we want.”

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Katniss returns home to District 12 and finds a “gift” from President Snow.

In order to “make it personal. Remind her who the real enemy is.”; Plutarch and Coin agree to send her back to District 12 to see the destruction caused by the firebombing from the Capitol. The charred remains of the district and the skeletons of the murdered people is a heartbreaking moment for Katniss. In addition, President Snow purposely instructed his hovercraft to leave the Victor’s Village untouched. Before her trip, he made a visit and left a fresh rose in the room of Katniss’s home where they spoke in the last film. The rose is a sadistic reminder to her that their game continues. During her visit, she also picks up personal effects, like her father’s picture and supplies (e.g. medicine). In addition, there is a slight moment of comic relief when she finds Prim’s cat, Buttercup. Katniss and the cat hate each other in the book. In the film, it is only clear that Katniss hates the cat. At the sight of the Buttercup, Katniss can only say that it “Figures” he would survive before she brings him back to District 13 for Prim. Of course, the trip back home reminds Katniss of the brutality of the Capitol. As such, she wants to help in the fight against it. Nevertheless, she is still concerned about Peeta. To make matters worse, Snow is using Peeta in his game by showing him in interviews with Caesar Flickerman that are broadcast to all of Panem. Peeta is unwavering in his defense of Katniss as he is adamant that they were “not part of a rebel plan”. He is also being used as a pawn in propaganda (propos) to speak against the revolts. In his first address to the nation, Peeta notes that “We almost went extinct once before, and now our numbers are even fewer.” For this reason, another civil war will “Kill ourselves off”. Unfortunately, Katniss fears the consequences for Peeta if the revolution is successful. His words are definitely considered treason by the rebels. Either way, Peeta’s life is in danger regardless of whether the Capitol or the rebels win the war.

The growth of Prim is an excellent aspect of the films. She starts out as an innocent, defenseless young girl and blooms into a strong young woman who Katniss starts leaning on more and more. In Catching Fire, she has the strength to tell Katniss not to worry about how her actions will affect her family because they are with her. In this film, Prim shows strength and wisdom when she helps Katniss understand how important she is as the Mockingjay to District 13: “I don’t think you know how important you are to them. If you want something, you just have to ask. You could demand almost anything, they’d have to agree to it.” As a result, Katniss agrees to be the Mockingjay but demands that the Victors (Peeta, Johanna, and Annie) be rescued at the earliest moment and granted immunity. Coin blandly responds no and that their fates will be decided by a tribunal. As a President, Coin definitely needs to maintain and uphold law and order. Granting immunity for people who may appear like traitors will be unpopular to her constituency. Nevertheless, Katniss is determined and firmly makes a stand that “The Victors will be granted immunity and you will announce that in front of the entire population of 13. You will hold yourself and your government responsible or you will find another Mockingjay.” Upon that display of anger, Plutarch jumps out in joy since Katniss is finally showing the girl he promised. He also utilizes his powers of persuasion to convince Coin to bend the rules because time is of the essence. Coin obviously does not like it. Her authority as President is also being undermined. In the end, she has no choice and strikes the deal.

One of my biggest issues with the film adaption of the final book is its portrayal of District 13. Like the book, Boggs is Coin’s right hand man who serves as the escort and bodyguard for Katniss. Mahershala Ali does a decent job with the role. Unfortunately, the movie misses the boat on a key part of his relationship with Katniss. In the book, he struggles with keeping Katniss safe despite her tendency to go rogue and put herself in danger. In one scene, Boggs is trying to stop her from running towards enemy hovercraft. In order to spring her loose, Gale is forced to stomp Bogg’s face and breaks his nose. Nevertheless, Boggs maintains his respect for her and even covers for her. It is an interesting dynamic that would have been entertaining to see on screen. Back to the film, he shows her around the district and gives her its history lesson. Back in the Dark Days, the Capitol bombed the surface but District 13 has an underground complex. The district is military so it has been “preparing and training” for the last 75 years. In the book, it is also disclosed that District 13 had nuclear weapons. Since the Capitol also had another nuclear stockpile elsewhere, the mutual assured destruction explains why they left each other alone after the Dark Days. That point should have been included in the films.

Since District 13 is military, the book also makes it crystal clear that the district is very strict. There are no exceptions for insubordination. For example, Gale loses privileges for even minor infractions. In addition, Katniss’s prep team during the Hunger Games follows Plutarch to the district. She wanders around the complex and finds them imprisoned and beaten for the minor infraction of taking extra food. The experience leads her to question whether District 13 is that much better than the Capitol. As we have seen in real life, disposing a dictator does not necessarily lead to a better future. In terms of District 13, it represents a military takeover. In the real world, we have seen such situations turn into military dictatorships. In the movie, Effie Trinket is added to the plot to demonstrate the “hardships” of living in District 13. In the book, she is imprisoned until the end of the war. I like the change because Elizabeth Banks does an excellent job with the character. The film wisely takes various lines spoken by different characters in the book to allocate to her. In the film, her struggles are centered on losing her lavish lifestyle and fashionable wardrobe. Similar to the book, Haymitch is left drying out in another facility because of the prohibition in the district. While Effie and Haymitch’s issues with District 13 are inconveniences, they are far from the loss of liberties that raise the proper level of concern about the district. In my opinion, Mockingjay Part 1 should have put this plotline into place as a specter for Part 2.

After Katniss agrees to be the Mockingjay, Effie presents her with a book of designs Cinna had for the Mockingjay outfit. Looking at the book, Katniss appreciates the fact that he really has thought of everything and is still helping her posthumously. Naturally, District 13 wants to keep her safe so it can utilize her for propos as long as necessary. For this reason, they want her to stay within the confines of a filming studio where she will be written lines that she will say in front of a blue screen. Unfortunately, Katniss is really bad at filming the propos. It is a funny scene when Plutarch becomes outwardly more and more frustrated with her stale performance. At the end, Haymitch comes out and says “And that, my friends, is how a revolution dies”. Of course, she is still incensed at him for not honoring their deal to save Peeta and only gives him a perturbed stare. Afterwards, Haymitch leads a round table to discuss how to get the best out of Katniss. The audience includes Coin, Plutarch, Effie, Boggs, Gale, and Beetee. He asks “Let’s everybody think of one incident where Katniss Everdeen genuinely moved you. Not…not where you were jealous of her hairstyle or her dress went up in flames or she made a halfway decent shot with an arrow, and not where Peeta made you like her. No, I’d like you all to think of one moment where she made you feel something real.” The examples include volunteering for Prim, the song she sang for Rue after her death, choosing Rue as an ally, etc. The book states additional examples but the movie hits the key ones. The key takeaway is that Katniss’s actions need to be genuine. A line from Inception explains it perfectly: “True inspiration is impossible to fake”. They need to just leave her alone and her natural actions will inspire. Haymitch goes an extra step and advises that they send her into battle. Coin has major reservations about it because they cannot keep her safe. However, they can never keep her safe. Accordingly, Coin relents and allows it after Katniss tells her to “Make sure you get it on camera” if she is killed in combat. From my perspective, it is a great part of the book that the film portrays correctly. Katniss was terrible as a puppet for the Capitol even when she tried for the sake of her loved ones. It only makes sense that she has the same problem when District 13 wants to control her like a puppet to be the Mockingjay. In addition, it is a reminder of why she is the Mockingjay. The qualities that make her the Mockingjay cannot be taught, coached, or coerced. Her impeccable virtue is innate.

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Katniss visits a hospital in District 8.

Before Katniss enters the field, Gale and her visit Beetee for equipment. Beetee serves as the Hunger Games version of Q [from James Bond]. He developed a militarized bow and crossbow for Katniss and Gale respectively: “Regular. Incendiary. Explosive arrows. All color-coded.” Next, she is supported by a new, elite propos team comprised of Capitol defectors led by Cressida (Natalie Dormer). As Game of Thrones fans know, Dormer is an incredible actress who steals the show as Margaery Tyrell in the television series despite the character not being a marquee character in the books. It is good to have her in the Hunger Games series too. However, Cressida is not a supporting character that allows Dormer to fully utilize her abilities. Katniss’s first stop in the field is District 8. The intense fighting has just concluded so it is one of the safer warzones. In addition, there are plenty of casualties in the hospital where Katniss can do a lot of good to lift the morale of the wounded. When Katniss is in the hospital, she feels helpless when she sees the wounded and wants to leave. However, the sight of her and her promise to fight with them inspires the crowd. It is a good scene when they raise the three finger salute in support of the Mockingjay. In my opinion, it is the moment Katniss understands how powerful she is and how much the rebels need her to fuel the revolution. It is the first time she sees her effect on the country first hand.

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Katniss has a message for President Snow after the Capitol bombs a hospital.

When the Capitol learns of her appearance in District 8, they scramble hovercraft. Instead of targeting Katniss who is a moving target, Snow orders the hovercraft to bomb the hospital. This scene is much better in the book because the attack comes in waves with Katniss and Gale standing on a rooftop trying to use their militarized bows and arrows to shoot down the aircraft. Katniss and Gale miss at first before they both shoot down hovercraft. In the film, it only shows Katniss downing hovercraft with the first arrow she shoots. It is a surprising decision to shorten the scene in the book since it is the only major action scene in a film but lacks sufficient action. In the book, it is also a time Katniss goes rogue in a combat situation. Specifically, it is when Gale needs to kick Boggs in the face, breaking his nose, to allow Katniss to get on the roof to fight the Capitol aircraft. Unfortunately, this part of the scene is left out altogether. On the other hand, the film still captures the emotion of Katniss after the hospital is bombed and completely destroyed when she speaks into the camera and says “That I’m in District 8 where the Capitol just bombed a hospital filled with unarmed men, women and children! And there will be no survivors! If you think for one second that the Capitol will ever treat us fairly you are lying to yourselves! Because we know who they are and what they do.” It is Jennifer Lawrence’s best moment in the movie as she fully captures the heart break of Katniss. In addition, she portrays the anger accurately: “I have a message for President Snow. You can torture us and bomb us and burn our districts to the ground. But do you see that? Fire is catching. And if we burn, you burn with us!” It is definitely the best scene in the movie. Unfortunately, I can list at least ten scenes in Catching Fire that are better. Moreover, Catching Fire portrayed the scenes as well or better than the source material. As I explained above, the book describes the scene much better. While the hospital plotline is good and the best part of this movie, it also symbolizes how Mockingjay Part 1 is a major letdown from Catching Fire. Fans of the book can still appreciate the storylines the movie sets up for Part 2 but I can definitely understand how mainstream moviegoers would hate this film and the decision by Lionsgate to stretch out the final book.

Similar to the previous films, Mockingjay Part 1 is not only from Katniss’s point of view as it is in the books. This film adds an interesting perspective by showing the direct effects of the propos. After Katniss’s scene at the hospital, it jumps to the lumberjacks in District 7 climbing up trees and ambushing Peacekeepers with bombs set on the ground. At the end of the clip, the lumberjacks scream her catchphrase from the propos: “If we burn, you burn with us!” The most memorable propos is when Katniss sings the song “The Hanging Tree”. Apparently, Jennifer Lawrence did not feel comfortable singing for the movie. She does an excellent job anyway. The song was remixed and that version became a radio hit and debuted at number 12 on the Billboard Top 100. Is there anything that Jennifer Lawrence cannot do? The book goes into detail about the song. Katniss and Prim learns the song from their father when they were very young and sung it despite not really understanding the lyrics. The song is actually very dark and about a man who “murdered three”. As Katniss has gotten older, she is still not completely certain about the meaning. She believes the man is being hanged for his crimes and waiting for his lover to join him at the tree. However, maybe she murdered the people and he was there to join her to make it easier. Regardless, the song is definitely too twisted for little girls to swing. As a result, their mother hated it and forbade them from singing it. It was one of the rare times that their wel-mannered mother actually yelled at their dad. In terms of the propos, the lyrics are very haunting and work well when Plutarch syncs them to images showing the destruction of District 12. Moreover, he changes one of the words from necklace of “rope” to necklace of “hope”. As a former Gamemaker, it is a wordsmith and showman at his best. Of course, he boasts about his cleverness to Coin. This propos directly inspires the rebels to storming a dam and setting bombs to destroy it. Again, the film does a good job showing the power and importance of the Mockingjay propos.

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Katniss and Gale hunt in the woods above District 13.

In this film, we also get to see more of the relationship between Katniss and Gale. Liam Hemsworth looks the part of Gale and does a solid job with the character in his expanded role. At the beginning of the first film, they are smiling, laughing, and joking around up to the point when Prim is chosen at the reaping but Katniss volunteers for her instead. Katniss and Gale had great chemistry. Personality wise and physically, they looked like they belong with each other. Similar to the beginning of Catching Fire, Gale continues to offer his support to Katniss as she tries to recover from another Games and the loss of Peeta. As her hunting partner, he is also the ideal person to accompany her into warzones where she films her propos. They know how each other think and react in a combat situation. In the book, she also takes a moment to wonder how life would have been with Gale and whether she would have married him if she was never involved with the Games. There is a good scene in this film where they are allowed to hunt. It is a peaceful moment that gives a glimpse of how life was and could have been for them together. That thought does not escape Gale and obviously pains him. He is clearly in love with her and heartbroken about how their relationship has forever changed because of the Games and Peeta. There is a scene at Katniss’s house in the Victor’s Village when Gale recalls getting kissed by Katniss in the previous movie as he laid barely conscious recovering from being whipped. She is surprised that he remembers but he responds “I’d have to be dead to forget that. Maybe not even then”. In response, she kisses him. However, he tells her that he knows she would “Cause I’m in pain. That’s the only way that I can get your attention. Don’t worry, Katniss. It’ll pass.” It is an important scene in the book that the film does well. Although Katniss has affection and romantic feelings for him, she does not love him… at least not yet. In addition, he knows that she will never love him while Peeta is at the Capitol and suffering. A tidbit in the book that I wish the film includes is when he admits the moment he fell in love with her. Back in District 12, he was watching another boy “teasing” her about trading a rabbit she caught in exchange for one of his kisses. At that point, he realized that he “minded”. In the first film, Peeta admits he fell in love with her at a young age when he heard her sing. As a result, I thought that the same should have been done for Gale to fully develop his side of the love triangle.

As the series progresses, Gale’s hatred for the Capitol and its loyalists only strengthens and eventually becomes absolute. Both he and Katniss are fiery individuals. However, his fire is stronger and uncontrollable once it is lit. Nevertheless, his feelings are understandable. During the filming of the propos showing the destruction of their district, Katniss is at a loss for words so Gale starts talking instead. After the end of the Quarter Quell, he knew that there would be retribution against District 12 for Katniss’s actions. He recounts how he went house to house to try to save as many people as possible before the bombs dropped. Unfortunately, only “nine hundred and fifteen out of ten thousand” people escaped the destruction. Quoting President Snow in Catching Fire, Katniss fought in the Hunger Games “But they were games. Would you like to be in a real war?” Katniss has experienced the Games but Gale has seen the full horror of war. Consequently, he feels no sympathy for the Capitol or anyone who sympathizes with it. He understands that it is total war. The enemy showed no mercy in murdering innocent civilians so they should not be given mercy either. Although Katniss is willing and ready to fight, she balances her fire with compassion. It is another quality that makes her the Mockingjay. From my perspective, the difference between her and Gale highlight that trait and its importance well in this film and Part 2. Of course, their difference in opinion causes a tense disagreement between them that causes a significant strain in their relationship. It adds a dark and thought provoking element to the franchise since it asks the question of what should be allowed and what is going too far in total war. I like it because it adds realism and depth to the story.

On the other hand, Peeta’s captivity casts a shadow on Katniss and Gale in the film. Although Katniss is cold to Peeta at the beginning of the previous film, she develops genuine feelings for him during the events of Catching Fire. In a conversation with Finnick during this film, he explains Katniss’s affection for Peeta perfectly: “After your first Games, I thought the whole romance was an act. We all expected you to continue that strategy. But it wasn’t until Peeta’s heart stopped and he nearly died that I knew I’d misjudged you. You love him. I’m not saying in what way, maybe you don’t even know yourself. But anyone paying attention can see it.” Unfortunately, Snow knows it as well and uses Peeta as a pawn in the sadistic chess match he is playing against Katniss. Again, the rose he leaves for Katniss in her home at the beginning of the movie is a taunt and part of the game. Similar to how the rebels use Katniss in propos, Snow uses Peeta in propos to dissuade further revolts. As noted above; in the first propos, Peeta is being interviewed by Caesar Flickerman about the Hunger Games. In a heartfelt response, Peeta notes that “I think it costs more than your life”. Since the Games force the tributes to kill others to survive, it destroys who they are before they die. Again, he is adamant that Katniss and he knew nothing about a rebel plot during the Quarter Quell and pleads for a ceasefire. Naturally, his comments are perceived as treason in District 13. It is the reason Katniss makes a deal with Coin to grant him and the other Victors immunity. However, Gale shares the sentiment of District 13.

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Peeta in an interview with Caesar Flickerman, showing obvious signs of being tortured.

Of course, Peeta is a strain on the relationship between Katniss and Gale anyway since Gale knows Katniss will never be with him so long as she feels guilt for Peeta suffering in the Capitol’s captivity. Peeta’s defense of the Capitol in the propos infuriates Gale. He calls him “coward” and he does not care whether he has been coerced. When Gale notes that he would rather die before saying the things Peeta says, he definitely means it. He was brutally whipped in the previous film defending an innocent woman against Peackeepers. Again, his feelings are understandable since he watched the Capitol ruthlessly annihilate District 12. On the other hand, Katniss knows Peeta has no choice. In addition, the Capitol tortures Peeta more as Katniss does more as the Mockingjay. It is displayed by how he looks worse and worse in the propos. As a result, she feels responsibility for his misery. Accordingly, Gale and Katniss get into heated arguments throughout the film about Peeta’s messages in the propos. However, Peeta understands the game. He is still playing it to protect Katniss. Near the end of the movie, he tips off Katniss about an impending Capitol airstrike on District 13 during a live propos. His actions allow District 13 valuable extra time to safely evacuate its people deep into its underground bunker. This scene is much better in the book. It includes Peeta and Snow in the same propos. When Peeta discloses the Captiol’s plan, Snow orders the live feed to be cut off while Peeta is beaten for his betrayal. It is a missed opportunity to have the two charismatic characters together on screen for a potentially special scene.

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The Mockingjay and Coin join hands in an address to District 13.

My biggest issues with the film are its portrayal of President Alma Coin and her relationship with Katniss. I really like Julianne Moore as an actress but the film does not utilize her skills properly. Coin has no charisma and is uninspiring. However, the film intends for her to be that way. Coin has literally lived underground her entire life and is the head of a military. Her communication style is direct and without much emotion. Consequently, she needs Plutarch’s talents as a showman, who has a flair for the dramatic, to coach and help her transform into a charismatic leader who inspires the revolution as its leader with support from Katniss as its symbol. In Catching Fire, the conversations between Snow and Plutarch are amazing. As such, the subplot of Plutarch teaching her to be more interesting may have been an attempt to replicate it. Unfortunately, that plot line is simply boring. I wish the film portrayed her as a firm and strong leader from the start so Moore could run with the role. I do like that she is seen as a strong military commander. When District 13 is being bombed, she remains composed and rational when commanding her forces while Plutarch is panicking. Next, this film does not accurately depict her relationship with Katniss. It is supposed to be contentious. It is obvious why the two characters do not get along. Katniss is an independent, strong willed young woman that does not like to be told what to do. She has problems with authority figures. She is very difficult to control. In addition, she is completely ineffective as the Mockingjay if she is being controlled. On the other hand, Coin is in charge of a well-run military district. Insubordination is not tolerated. Since she is the President of a military district, she has absolute power and is not accustomed being contested. In the book, it is noted early that Coin wanted to rescue Peeta instead of Katniss but no one else agreed with her. Peeta can take orders and be a good soldier. Katniss is the total opposite. Coin does not like people she cannot control and Katniss is obviously not controllable.

Katniss openly challenges Coin when she makes demands before agreeing to be the Mockingjay. It publicly undermines Coin’s authority because she has to publicly announce her pardon of the Victors. At the end of her speech, she also notes that the deal is off if Katniss does not deliver as the Mockingjay. In my opinion, the film botches this line and the scene. When Coin says the line, she does it with no emotion or expression. It is like a small footnote that no one reads. When I read it in the book, I feel the venom in the tone of her words. It is an ominous warning to Katniss that she better deliver or there will be consequences. In Catching Fire, there is great eye contact between Katniss and Snow that could illustrate their feelings towards each other even without words. Coin should have had an aggressive, firm tone in her voice and threatening eye contact. Katniss and the audience should know that Coin means business and Katniss better not fail in fulfilling her side of the bargain. Then, Katniss should have expressed the same look of fear she had after President Snow suggested she comply with his requests “for the sake of your loved ones” in the previous film. Instead of showing a contentious, uneasy relationship between the two characters, the film goes in the opposite direction and makes them seem too cozy for my liking. For example, Gale volunteers for a covert operation into the Capitol to save Peeta, Johanna, and Annie at the end of the film. Katniss is obviously inconsolable at the thought of potentially losing Peeta and Gale in the same night. Surprisingly, Coin attempts to comfort her: “There’s no news. I’m sorry. It’s the worst torture in the world. Waiting, when you know there’s nothing you can do. Especially for people like us. But whatever strength, courage, madness, keeps us going, you find it, at times like these… You have it, soldier. It’s what’s kept you alive all this time. And it won’t fail you now.” For me, it makes it worse that this scene is added in to stretch out the film because the book was split into two parts. Coin never says those words or expresses those sentiments in the book. In my opinion, the movie would have been much more interesting if it properly portrayed a tense partnership between Katniss and Coin. It would have been fun to see it set up a chess match between them too with Katniss trying to manage and play two different games against Snow and Coin. The ending for Mockingjay Part 2 also makes a lot less sense because of the directions Part 1 takes with Coin.

On the other hand, the film franchise does an excellent job with its interpretation of President Snow in all the movies. Donald Sutherland is the perfect choice to play him. Since the books are only from Katniss’s point of view, the movies provide an opportunity to see the events from Snow’s perspective. His conversations with Gamemaker Seneca Crane in the first film are great in explaining the purpose of the games and how they help in controlling the districts. His conversations with Plutarch in the second film to scheme how to discredit and destroy the Mockingjay are magic. Sutherland and Philip Seymour Hoffman deliver brilliant performances and have incredible chemistry on screen together. Snow’s conversations with his minister of affairs, Egeria, in this film do not even come close to be as interesting. He quibbles over the use of the word “radicals” instead of “rebels” in a speech written for him. Egeria is also taken aback when he makes the ruthless decision to bomb a hospital. Unfortunately, those scenes do not really add that much to the storytelling and are not that exciting. The best part of this movie about Snow does not even include him. It is also an iconic moment in the book. After Snow has roses delivered to Katniss at the end of the Capitol’s bombing of District 13, Katniss is unwilling to proceed as the Mockingjay any longer because the roses are a signal that Snow will kill Peeta if she does. Accordingly, Finnick stars in a propos in her place. During it, he makes a shocking revelation that “President Snow used to sell me, or my body, at least. I wasn’t the only one. If a Victor is considered desirable, the President gives them as a reward or allows people to buy them. If you refuse, then he kills someone you love.” Since Katniss is obviously desirable, she understands the horror she would have endured being prostituted out. In the book, it is assumed that everyone who Johanna cared about were killed since she refused. However, Katniss would have complied to save her mother and sister. That fact makes you feel even more disgust for Snow. It also adds more resonance to what Haymitch said in Catching Fire: “Nobody ever wins the games, period. There are survivors. There’s no winners.”

Normally, patrons who slept with a Victor would give him or her jewels, money, etc. in order to feel better about it. Finnick cleverly asked for secrets instead. As a result, he learned many dirty secrets about President Snow. The most damning fact about Snow is that he used poison to kill rivals and potential threats and drank it himself to avoid suspicion: “Snow would drink from the same cup, to deflect suspicion. But antidotes don’t always work, which is why he wears roses that reek of perfume. Help cover the scent of blood from sores in his mouth that will never heal.” It explains the scene at the end of the Victory Tour in Catching Fire when he drinks from a cup and blood comes out. A major change from the book is that Finnick’s propos is used as a distraction and disruption of the Capitol’s defense network so that the rescue mission to save Peeta can proceed. Just as the Capitol is about to block the rebel signal and regain control of their defense network, Katniss begins to speak and ask for Snow. She knows he cannot resist an opportunity to talk to her and keep playing their game. The film shows the rescue operation simultaneously as they speak. It is a decent conversation but certainly not a great one. She pleads that all she wanted through everything was to save her sister and Peeta. She also offers to trade herself for Peeta. At the end, Snow taunts her by saying “Miss Everdeen, it is the things we love most that destroy us. I want you to remember that I said that.” It foreshadows the twist at the conclusion of the film. Moreover, he tells her that he knows about the rescue mission before he orders his people to cut off the transmission. Katniss is obviously distraught because she believes she just lost Gale and Peeta.

President_snow_2_hunger-games-mockingjay-part-1

Katniss talks to Snow.

The conversation between Katniss and Snow as well as the rescue operation are all added to the film to stretch it out. I would have cut all of it out to put in other good storylines that are actually in the book. As an action sequence, the rescue mission is not that exciting and not needed. When Katniss hears about the rescue operation in the book, she wants to join it but feels helpless when she is told it has already commenced with Gale volunteering for it. She feels total dread and powerless as she waits in District 13 hoping for news of their safety and return. I do not really see a good reason to do it differently from the book unless there is a spectacular action sequence added. The conversation between Katniss and Snow does not add that much to the story and definitely is not nearly as good as their conversation in Catching Fire. In my opinion, they should have just had Snow in a couple of propos denouncing the rebellion in the film and included the scene in the book when he appears in a propos with Peeta. His only communication with Katniss in this movie should have been the symbolic use of the roses. For readers of the book, it would have built anticipation for her epic conversation with him in Part 2. The power and meaning of the roses is diminished by including a bland conversation that really offers nothing knew and telegraphs the big twist. Of course, I am referring to the successful rescue of the Victors. Gale is puzzled when he returns because “Every gun was back online and on us and we flew right past them. They let us go.” When Katniss sees Annie embrace Finnick, she rushes to find Peeta to do the same. When she moves to hug him, he begins to strangle her. The Capitol tortured and hijacked Peeta with tracker jacker venom in order to make him hate and want to kill Katniss. It is a brilliantly sadistic plan by Snow to assassinate Katniss. It is also the meaning of his earlier warning to her. I knew it was coming when I watched the movie and still jumped a little from my seat at the suddenness and viciousness Peeta has in attacking her. Nevertheless, I do not like Snow telegraphing the twist with his words. I think there is more surprise if the audience wonders why the Capitol let them escape without Snow’s words as a clue.

In the end, there are a lot of storylines that need to be set up (e.g. District 13 and President Coin, screen time with Katniss and Gale to complete the love triangle picture, Peeta’s hijacking, etc.) before the conclusion of the series. Initially, I gave the film the benefit of the doubt that director Francis Lawrence needed two parts to set up a spectacular final film because there was too much material to get through in one film. After seeing the final product, I concede the book is obviously stretched out for financial reasons because Part 2 feels stretched out too. Even so, they could have done a better job with creating more tension and drama between Katniss and Coin in Part 1 that carry into the final film to make both parts more riveting. Sadly, there is also of plenty interesting material omitted from the book that I was hoping to see in Part 1 or Part 2. Part 1 should have been a much better set up for Part 2. It is definitely the weakest in the franchise. With how the final product ended up, I can definitely conclude that the final book should have been kept as one long film without all the extra fluff to stretch it. Of course, the film industry is a business and artistic value is going to be sacrificed for money.

For the Retrospective Reviews for the first two films, please see:

The Hunger Games: http://rookerville.com/2013/11/20/retrospective-review-the-hunger-games/

Catching Fire: http://rookerville.com/2015/11/18/retrospective-review-the-hunger-games-catching-fire/

For the Retrospective Review of the final film, please see:

Mockingjay Part 2: http://rookerville.com/2017/01/13/retrospective-review-the-hunger-game-mockingjay-part-2/

 

Pat Wong

About Pat Wong

Patrick is a contributor for Rookerville. He is an avid sports fan. Before joining Rookerville, he was part of a defunct New York Yankees message board, NYYankeefans, where he was its top poster and was inducted in its Hall of Fame for his contributions. Patrick is also a passionate fan of movies. He has enjoyed reading movie reviews over the years and is excited about the opportunity to review movies. Patrick is also a passionate foodie. He is Yelp Elite for three years in a row and shares his great finds in New York and his travels.

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