“But I’ve been watching you. And you watching me. I’m afraid we’ve both been played for fools.” – President Snow to Katniss Everdeen
It has been more than a year since the conclusion of The Hunger Games films. I cannot help but be bitterly disappointed that Lionsgate and Director Francis Lawrence squandered a golden opportunity to make the Hunger Games saga a truly special set of films that rank with the best movie trilogies. After the magnificent second film, Catching Fire, I had total faith in Lawrence to do an incredible job with the rest of the story. Of course, I should have been skeptical when Lionsgate decided to split the third book, Mockingjay, into two parts. While I think the final book is still very good and offers a logical conclusion to the story as well as powerful commentary about war, it is definitely the weakest of the trilogy. As a result, I should have known that it was a money grab to divide it into two movies. Nevertheless, I gave Lionsgate and Francis Lawrence the benefit of the doubt because I was blown away by how good the Catching Fire is. I even reserved judgment until I saw Mockingjay Part 2. I wanted to believe that Part 1 is necessary to setup storylines that would provide great payoffs in Part 2. After finishing all the films, I concede that the story is stretched out over two movies predominantly for monetary purposes. From my perspective, it is one of the primary reasons Francis Lawrence struggles to tell the story as well as he does in Catching Fire. Although the books peak in Catching Fire too, there is great source material he omits. In my opinion, he could have definitely utilized more of it especially considering they are stretching out the source material over two movies anyway. I also did not like some of the interpretations of the books. For example, I believe he misses the boat on some of the key relationships, especially the one between Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore). Moreover, the books are written from the point of view of Katniss Everdeen. While Catching Fire does a wonderful job adding to the story by providing the perspectives of other characters, I believe the source material in the final book, Mockingjay, is better told and understood from Katniss’s point of view. Accordingly, I enjoy and prefer the book over the final two films. Fittingly, the two parts are not as financially lucrative as Lionsgate had hoped. An incomplete and average Part 1 definitely killed the momentum of the series and enthusiasm for Part 2. In addition, the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a few weeks after Part 2 was released in theaters, definitely hurt Part 2’s box office. In my opinion, the studio should have made sure they ended the saga with the best product possible whether it took one or two movies. As an epic trilogy or tetralogy beloved by fans, it could have released spin-offs/ prequels to milk the franchise. Except for the Hunger Games die-hard fans, I believe most fans are tired of and done with the Hunger Games world. As a standalone film, the beginning of Part 2 is a bit slow because it is stretching out the story and feels like it is missing the first part [because it is]. The middle of the movie could have been a lot better and should have been portrayed to feel like another Hunger Games. However, the film does get the ending relatively correct. For anyone who has read the book or finished the movies, we already knew the ending of the story is bittersweet before watching the film. I feel the same bittersweet symphony about the two part finale of the films.
At the end of Part 1, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) suddenly and shockingly strangles Katniss Everdeen. The opening scene of Part 2 shows Katniss suffering from the aftermath of that encounter with swollen vocal cords and difficulty speaking or even saying her own name. Unbeknownst to Katniss, the Capitol has “hijacked” Peeta. In the next scene, Katniss’s sister Primrose Everdeen (Willow Shields) is sent into his room to speak to a restrained Peeta. In the book, it is actually a friend from District 12, Delly Cartwright, who talks to him. However, I can understand utilizing Prim instead of introducing and developing another character in the movie. In the conversation, it is confirmed that the Capitol has brainwashed Peeta to believe Katniss is a Capitol mutt that he needs to kill. He screams those points when he loses his mind in front of Prim and pleads with her to kill Katniss. I do not prefer how the movie portrays the relationship between a hijacked Peeta and Katniss and do not like how it does not properly develop the story of his rehabilitation. When he speaks to Katniss, he recalls the time he burned bread and got a beating from his mom for it so he could toss it to the ground for a hungry Katniss to take home. It is a key moment in their history because it is their only real interaction until they are reaped for the Games. In the film, Peeta twists the memory to bark at Katniss that he should have thrown the bread to the pigs [as his mother instructed] and saved himself a lot of trouble [since Katniss would have starved to death and not been a part of his life]. I do not hate how the film alters the scene because it truly shows how brainwashed Peeta has become. However, I prefer how the book handles their conversation. In the book, he does not go crazy and berserk. He recounts the memory but only in terms of trying to sort out what images are real or not because the Capitol has fed him a lot of fake ones. Of course, Katniss and he have a complicated relationship anyway. For this reason, he even has trouble understanding real images such as the ones of her trying to kill him then kissing him in their first Games. Objectively, it is complicated to comprehend when one’s mind is straight so it is understandable for someone to be completely confused when they are struggling with reality. In the book, she also observes that the Capitol had used words such as “Violent. Distrustful. Manipulative. Deadly.” for Peeta to associate with her. However, she is self-aware and realizes that those words accurately describe her more than she would like them to. While I prefer the book’s version of that scene, I have more issue with the film’s complete disregard for showing much of Peeta’s rehabilitation. An example from the book is when he is shown clips of Katniss singing the “Hanging Tree”. He never heard her sing it before so the Capitol could not have altered the memory. In addition, he remembers Katniss’s father singing it so it is an ideal mechanism to reverse the negative impulses the sight, mention, or thought of Katniss causes him. In my opinion, a scene or two like that one should have been included in the film to show some of the natural progression in Peeta’s recovery so it does not seem to occur suddenly without reason.
One of the interesting parts about the beginning of the movie is the relationship between Katniss and Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth). In order to distract herself from Peeta’s predicament and do something constructive instead, she heads to District 2 and Gale accompanies her. She wants to go to the Capitol for some revenge but it is not a possibility until the arsenal of District 2 is subdued. On the flight over to the district, Katniss and Gale have a chance to discuss their relationship. Although she notes that he does not have to be jealous of Peeta anymore, he knows better. He understands he doesn’t “stand a chance if he [Peeta] doesn’t get better”. In addition to the guilt she would feel if she were with Gale when Peeta is fighting for his sanity, she also gravitates toward the person in pain and in need of help (e.g. when Gale is whipped and suffering from his injuries in Catching Fire). In the book, their conversation is a little longer and meaningful. Of course, Gale is desirable so he admits to her that he kissed other girls during their friendship but before they were romantically involved. In addition, Katniss was 12 when he met her. As such, he was living his life. She asks him when he realized she was special to him. He answers that it was 6 months before she was reaped for the Games. Another guy in town, Darius, tried to trade one of his kisses for one of her rabbits and Gale realized that he minded. Similar to how I thought The Hunger Games should have included from the book that Peeta fell in love with Katniss when he heard her singing voice, I thought it would have been a nice touch to elaborate slightly more on the romance between Katniss and Gale and that moment in the book would have been a perfect story to include.
While Peeta is an obvious obstacle to their relationship, the war puts a strain on it too. Their distinct and contrasting views on the rules of war are thought provoking. On the flight over to District 12, Gale also speaks to Beetee about his idea for a “hummingbird” trap. It calls for a two tiered explosion. The first detonated wave of bombs will draw in more people to help the wounded then the second tier goes off and kills more people. While it is a clever trap, it is very sadistic and brutal. In response, Katniss passively aggressively objects by noting “I guess there are no rules anymore about what a person can do to another person.” She is much more vocal once they reach District 2 and Gale hatches another plan. District 2 is the most loyal district to the Capitol. Most of the Peacekeepers are supplied by the district. In addition, it is home to the “Nut”, which is a mountain that houses the Capitol’s primary military operations. Consequently, the Rebels and District 13 desperately want to take the complex and control the weapons inside. However, attempts to attack the Nut have been disastrous and heavy casualties are mounting. As a result, Gale comes up with an alternative plan. Instead of trying to capture the facility, he proposes to disable it by using controlled bombing to cause avalanches that will bury the complex and its inhabitants alive. Despite Gale’s calls for no mercy, President Coin commands that a train tunnel be left untouched so an exit is left for survivors. Nevertheless, Gale points out “It’s a luxury we weren’t given when they firebombed 12.” In the book, he gets into a heated exchange with Commander Lyme, who is a former winner from District 2. Naturally, she wants mercy for her district even though she is fighting against it with the rebels. In the film, Lyme is played by Gwendoline Christie, who is best known for her role as Brienne of Tarth on Game of Thrones. In my opinion, the movie should have had her argue with Gale. It seems kind of a waste to cast her but use her so little.
Nevertheless, Gale gets into an argument with Katniss about it. He notes that civilians are helping the enemy even if they are only mopping the floor. From his point of view, “No one who supports the Capitol is innocent”. She makes an excellent point that “With that kind of thinking you can kill whoever you want”. However, Gale is a fiery individual who has witnessed the worst horrors of war firsthand. He had a front row seat for the merciless and total destruction of District 12 and the murder of most of its inhabitants. His thirst for retribution is very natural. Accordingly, he cannot be reasoned with and truly believes “Sometimes killing isn’t personal. Figured if anyone knew that, it was you.” However, Katniss feels “I, of all people, know that it’s always personal”. When Katniss was in the Games, she was forced to kill for self-defense. She did not enjoy or relish in it. Even when she faced the worst situation humanity had to inflict on her, an impossible situation, she retained who she was as a selfless person and the defender of the defenseless. The worst in humanity actually brings out the best in Katniss. It is this special quality that is one of the reasons she is the Mockingjay who inspires a revolution. On the other hand, Gale has allowed war to amplify the worst of him. In the book, Katniss has a thought that a miner, like Gale, would have compassion and empath for other miners. It is a good point that emphasizes how much bloodlust Gale has acquired. Again, it is a very understandable and realistic stance. When countries go to war against each other, it is a brutal and terrible thing. When you are in a total war like in Mockingjay, all resources of society are mobilized to fight the war. In addition, all resources and infrastructure, even if they are related to civilians, are legitimate military targets. There should be no mistaking that waging war is an always noble and clean endeavor. Combatants will be faced with horrors and some difficult ethical decisions in the midst of the stress and strain of waging war. Of course, even war is governed by a set of rules. To Gale’s point, why should he have to follow them if the Capitol is not? On the other hand, it begs to question whether you are better or are fighting for anything better if you adhere to the same savage behavior of your enemy. For all those reasons, Katniss and Gale’s perspectives provide thought provoking considerations and commentary about what is acceptable in a total war situation. In addition, it definitely causes significant friction in their relationship.
One of the scenes the movie needed to portray from the book is Katniss’s plea for the Loyalists of District 2 after the Nut is buried by the avalanches. It is the hope of President Coin that the power of the Mockingjay can convince them to surrender and preserve their lives. It is not one of my favorite moments in the book but I understand it is necessary. The film does a decent job with it. When Katniss walks to the train tunnel entrance, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) has cards for her to read but she defiantly says “I’m not saying that”. He nonchalantly responds “Okay. Didn’t think so”. It adds humor to a serious scene and highlights the love-hate relationship of Katniss and Haymitch that Jennifer Lawrence and Woody Harrelson perfect in the films. Naturally, it is a tense situation when survivors come out of the train cars and are armed. In an attempt to deescalate the situation and save lives, Katniss is in her natural Mockingjay form as she pleads with her troops not to shoot and rushes to the aid of a hurt survivor. It is a selfless but foolish act. Of course, the man pulls a handgun out and points it at her head. He asks her to give one reason he should not shoot her. Her response is a surprise. He answers that she cannot: “We blew up your mine. You burned my district to the ground. We each have reason to want to kill each other. So if you want to kill me, do it. Make Snow happy. I’m tired of killing his slaves for him”. When he objects to the notion he is a slave, she clarifies “I am [his slave]. That’s why I killed Cato. And he hilled Thresh. And Thresh killed Clove. It just goes around and around. And who wins? Always Snow. I am done being a piece in his game.” In short, the districts have no fight against each other than the one the Capitol gave them. Katniss is absolutely correct. The Capitol has kept the districts in check by having them fight each other in the Hunger Games and for the scraps while the Capitol lives in luxury and excess. When the man puts down his guns, she stands up and gives a speech: “These people are not your enemy. We all have one enemy. And that’s Snow. He corrupts everyone and everything. He turns the best of us against each other. Stop killing for him. Tonight, turn your weapons to the Capitol. Turn your weapons to Snow!” Again, she hits on the key reasons the districts have revolted and united against the Capitol. Nevertheless, some Loyalists can never be turned. One of them in the background shoots her in the body. Again, it is not my favorite moment in the book but it is a necessary one for the film to portray since it is the point when the war is finally taken to the Capitol.
Of course, Katniss does not die from the gunshot wound. Regardless, she is injured. When she awakes in the infirmary back in District 13, she is greeted by an annoyed and envious Johanna Mason (Jena Malone). In my opinion, the scene could have been much better. Moreover, it is disappointing that the movie does not fully utilize the friendship that develops between Katniss and Johanna in the book. When Johanna sees Katniss is awake and alert, she sarcastically remarks that “Of course” Cinna made sure the Mockingjay costume is bullet proof. Moreover, she expresses her resentment that everyone is bending over backwards to keep Katniss alive: “I’m surprised they haven’t found you a new lung. I mean I’ve got two.” In response, Katniss asks why she hates her so much. Johanna explains “The whole tacky romance drama and the ‘defender of the hopeless’ act. Even though it’s not an act. Which makes it even more unbearable.” Johanna’s statements are some of my favorite quotes from the book. She is contradictory with her words and tones but also makes total sense. If Katniss is a fake with her virtue, Johanna could hate her as a fraud. Due to Johanna’s raw and cynical view of the world, the fact that Katniss is completely genuine, totally pure, and not too good to be true actually makes her even angrier. When I read this scene in the book, I always envision Johanna beginning those lines with irritation but ultimately ending her remarks with a tone of admiration. In other words, she feels a warrior’s respect for Katniss. However, Jena Malone’s delivery makes it only seem like Johanna is annoyed and jealous of Katniss. Moreover, their relationship in the book is much more fascinating. In it, they are required to train before they are allowed on the battlefield. As a result, Katniss and Johanna train together. Ironically, they become friends. Ultimately, Johanna does not complete the training. At the end of it, they test a trainee’s biggest flaw. With her, it is water. Since the Capitol used it to torture her, she relapses into an unstable state and fails. Naturally, she is distraught. Interestingly, Katniss becomes her closest friend and is sent in to console her. During the conversation, Johanna makes her promise to kill Snow. In the film, there is no training. Johanna would like to see Snow dead and knows Katniss does too so she proposes that she will act as a distraction while Katniss sneaks on a cargo plane to the Capitol. Although Johanna still asks Katniss for a promise to kill Snow, the context is completely different and the emotional meaning of the conversation is stripped. Their developed friendship in the book is one of the things I was most looking forward to in the Mockingjay films. As a result, is extremely disappointing that they chose to ignore it.
A couple of other things from the book I wish the films elaborated on is Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) and Annie Cresta’s (Stef Dawson) wedding and the camaraderie that develops between the former Victors when they are united in District 13. In the film, the wedding occurs suddenly. It is a natural step for Finnick and Annie so it still makes sense in the flow of the movie. Nevertheless, the staging of a wedding is part of a brilliant propaganda campaign by Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in the book. As we know, the Capitol is accustomed to lives of excess and entertainment. Ironically, the term for it in Latin is “Panem et circenses” or bread and circuses. With the frontlines of the war inching closer to the Capitol, those luxuries are gone. The pampered Capitol residents will not adjust well to shortages and modest means. For this reason, the broadcast of a luxurious wedding of former Victors in District 13 will continue to break the morale of the Capitol as it shows that the districts are now enjoying the privileges that the Capitol is no longer entitled to. In addition, I wish the films would have done more with building relationships between the Victors gathered at District 13. In the book, there is a good scene when they are in the mess hall, joined by Gale, after the wedding. Naturally, Johanna recognizes no boundaries and fires off inappropriate remarks such as joking about being tortured: “We’re old friends. Peeta and I had adjoining cells in the Capitol. We’re very familiar with each other’s screams.” Of course, Annie is mentally unstable from her experiences in the Games. As such, she becomes startled by the talk of torture. For this reason, Finnick gives Johanna a dirty look. The conversation is changed to the wedding cake that Peeta decorated. Annie is polite and thanks Peeta. Although he is cordial at first, he is still recovering from his hijacking and eventually lashes out at Finnick and Katniss. In poor taste, he jokes about wooing Annie away from Finnick. Although Finnick attempts to lighten the mood by joking Peeta should not make him regret restarting his heart in Catching Fire, Peeta erupts in anger noting that Finnick only saved him for Katniss. As part of his tirade against Katniss, he facetiously asks if Katniss and Gale are officially a couple. In my opinion, this scene or a similar one would have demonstrated the bonds and friendships, albeit dysfunctional at times, forming between the Victors. With these emotional attachments between the characters, it would have generated more emotional impact when key characters are lost in the war effort later in the movie. This particular scene in the book would have also served a dual purpose of showing the struggles and slow progression Peeta has with unwinding his hijacking. In the book, Delly Cartwright scolds Peeta on how brutal he is to Katniss and helps him sort out his thoughts. Delly is not used in the film but another character could have easily been utilized similar to how Prim substituted for Delly in the earlier scene.
My biggest gripe with both Mockingjay films is that they muff the relationship between Katniss and President Coin. In the book, they have a rocky and contentious relationship from the start. In Part 1, Katniss forces Coin to announce the “Mockingjay” deal, immunity for Victors, in front of District 13 in exchange for her agreement to be their Mockingjay. In the book, it is clear that Coin is incensed at getting strong armed and getting her authority undermined. Although she announces the deal, she also includes a threatening and direct ultimatum at the end of her speech that the deal is null if Katniss does not deliver as the Mockingjay. In the movie, the lines are said but delivered poorly. Instead of emphasizing the warning, Coin’s words are bland and the statement can be overlooked by any movie viewer who did not read the book. In addition, Coin actually comforts Katniss at the end of Part 1 when Gale leads a team to rescue Peeta and she is worried about losing both men she loves. It contradicts the combative relationship they are supposed to have. By suggesting it should be anything otherwise, the films’ direction toward the similar conclusion of an antagonistic relationship as the book makes no sense. Instead of developing the relationship properly in both films, Part 2 attempts to do it quickly and suddenly. Again, Katniss sneaks to the Capitol in a cargo plane. When the rebels see her walk off the plane, they are stunned to see her among them despite her recent gunshot wound. As a result, they greet her with a legend’s welcome and give her the District 12 salute. Plutarch and Coin watch it on video. Plutarch admires the move because he could have not staged it better himself to inspire the troops. Of course, Coin recognizes that Katniss has become “mythic”. Although she is upset that Katniss is insubordinate and gone rogue, she understands that she cannot call her back now that the troops know she is there. Nevertheless, it does not stop Coin from trying to spin it in her favor: “She’s going to stay where she is. And whatever she’s doing, we conceived it. It was our plan all along. Mr. Heavensbee, you’re the Gamemaker. I want everyone to know, whatever game she’s playing, she’s playing for us.” From Plutarch’s silent reaction and facial expressions, it is obvious that he knows Coin cannot be trusted to do the right thing at the end of the war.
The film quickly confirms the suspicions about Coin. She orders a “star squad”, led by Boggs (Mahershala Ali), who watched over and escorted Katniss in District 13, and includes Gale and Finnick, to join Katniss. Boggs team also includes recognizable names from the books: second in command Lieutenant Jackson (Michelle Forbes), twins Leeg 1 and Leeg 2, Mitchell and Homes. The team is tasked with filming propos. Accordingly, Cressida (Natalie Dormer) and her film crew accompany. Her team consists of Messalla and cameraman and brothers Pollux and Castor. In terms of Dormer, I love her performance as Marjorie on Game of Thrones. It is disappointing to not see her do more in Part 1 but she plays a bigger role in Part 2 and has her moments. Although the star squad will be exposed to the live combat zone, they will be far from the front lines. Coin’s plot against Katniss becomes clear when she later sends Peeta to join the squad. As everyone knows, Peeta will definitely attempt to kill Katniss at some point. When Peeta arrives, Boggs and Katniss immediately speak privately.. Boggs informs Katniss of what he knows about Coin and why she might be trying to kill her. First, Coin wanted Peeta rescued from the arena instead of Katniss because “she doesn’t like anybody or anything she can’t control”. Next, there will be free elections after the war. Even though Katniss will not run for President, she will support someone and her endorsement will be crucial. Obviously, Katniss does not really care for Coin. If Katniss’s “immediate answer isn’t yes” to endorse Coin then she is dangerous and a threat to Coin’s power. In addition, Coin does not need Katniss anymore for the war effort so the only thing that can add more fuel to the fire is her death as a martyr. Naturally, Boggs is a trusted counsel because he has protected her. It is a touching moment when he promises to keep her alive because “I’m planning for you to live a long life… because you’ve earned it”. Back to the films’ mishap of Katniss and Coin’s relationship, they should have been developing their quarrel throughout both movies. Instead, the sudden tensions makes no sense. It goes from 0 to 100 mph in a matter of moments. In addition, Katniss is supposed to question whether District 13 is even better than the Capitol. 13 is a military district with very strict rules and zero leeway. In the book, it shows them torturing Katniss’s prep team because they were taking slightly more food than they were rationed. In my opinion, the Mockingjay films would have been a lot more compelling if Katniss has to constantly question whether she is fighting for the right side [District 13] even though she knows she is fighting against the right side [the Capitol]. Sometimes, there is no clear good guy and bad guys. In real life, we are often forced to pick the lesser of two evils. It is one of the most intriguing elements of the final book and the films completely botch it. The game played between President Snow and Katniss and their conversations in the film series are epic. Jennifer Lawrence and Donald Sutherland are brilliant going at it with their characters. If the final two films also decided to properly set up a similar chess match between Katniss and Coin, I truly believe they could have been great. I would have loved to see Julianne Moore portray Coin in that manner. I feel she is a brilliant actress who would have been up for the challenge. Instead, I am left wondering what could have been.
After the fall of District 2, President Snow understands that defeat is inevitable. Nevertheless, he is still ruthless. He instructs his Gamemakers to booby trap the outer neighborhoods of the Capitol with pods similar to the ones that were used in the Hunger Games. The pods contain death traps (e.g. machine guns, bombs, mutts, etc.). Even though he has lost the war, he wants to make the rebels pay for every block they gain. Before the star squad enters the Capitol, Boggs briefs the team on the pods and that he has a holo that marks where most of them are. Fittingly, Finnick responds by remarking to Katniss: “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 76th Hunger Games.” In the book, Katniss agrees it is another Hunger Games but realizes that President Snow is a player this time. The film could have done more to make this part of the film seem like another Games. Although the middle of the movie is not as exciting as I had hoped it would be, it does cover some important moments from the book. One of them relates to Peeta. When he arrives, he is obviously bound and shadowed. A critical part of his recovery is when Finnick introduces the “real or not real” game that he plays with Annie to help her sort out reality. Whenever she is confused about something, Finnick confirms whether it is real or not real. Of course, Katniss participates in the conversation and is a key part of his rehabilitation. They make a little progress. Naturally, she also tries to use only safe words that do not activate any triggers for Peeta. Nevertheless, her use of the word “ally” only confuses him more because their relationship is so complicated and yet another word association for her makes it even more difficult to sort out his thoughts and feelings towards her: “Friend, lover, Victor, fiancée, enemy, target, mutt. And now ally? Yeah, I’ll add that to the list of words I use to try to figure you out.” Of course, Peeta’s condition casts a shadow throughout the middle of the movie. In fact, he has a relapse and attempts to kill Katniss. In the midst of the confusion, one of his teammates, Mitchell, is killed protecting her from Peeta. Consequently, he asks them to kill him at a point and the team needs to consider it even though they ultimately refrain from it.
The most interesting side story in this act of the film is Katniss’s hidden agenda. As we know, she is only in the Capitol to assassinate President Snow in contrast to her team’s objective to stay out of the heat of the fighting and only film propos. She prefers being solo so she has no problem ditching the group to pursue her mission. However, she cannot go anywhere without the holo in Boggs possession that she needs to navigate through the minefield of pods. Accordingly, it is interesting to watch how or if she can get her hands on the holo and breakaway from everyone else. The answer is in the middle. During an incursion into the Capitol, Boggs triggers a pod and it blasts away his lower body. In a surprise move, he transfers access to the holo to Katniss. On the other hand, it is really not that surprising because he believes in her and has always been loyal to her. However, Boggs official second in command, Lieutenant Jackson, is having none of it and demands that Katniss transfer the holo over to her. Of course, it is not going to happen and a standoff with weapons ensues among teammates loyal to Katniss and those to Jackson. Katniss attempts to convince Jackson to follow her by lying that President Coin assigned her to a secret mission to assassinate President Snow to end the war quicker. Jackson is unconvinced until Cressida steps in to confirm the story. Later in the film, Katniss regrets her lies because she feels responsible because a lot of her team members die following her. Nevertheless, Cressida reassures her that they all knew she was lying but chose to follow her anyway because they believed in her. Peeta supports Cressida’s point with some of the better lines in the movie “Glimmer. Marvel. Mags. Clove, Wiress. Rue. What do all those deaths mean? They mean that our lives were never ours. There was no real life because we didn’t have any choice. Our lives belong to Snow and our deaths do, too. But if you kill him, Katniss… If you end all of this, all those deaths, they mean something.” This scene offers a great commentary about war. In a war, many individuals give their lives. Nevertheless, they choose to do so because they believe they are giving their lives for a cause that is greater than themselves. As Peeta elegantly explains it, all those lives and sacrifices mean something if they are victorious and usher in a better future for their country. In my opinion, Mockingjay provides a logical ending to the story because it provides a dark ending that emphasizes the sacrifices and heartbreaking loss of life in war rather than the spectacular victories that are glorified. It is a realistic depiction of the horrors of war. Nevertheless, the means are justified when the cause is noble enough.
The movie also does a decent job with a couple of scenes from the book during the star squad’s run through the Capitol. One moment is when the Capitol believes its Peacekeepers have killed Katniss and her team. Shortly afterwards, President Snow interrupts television broadcasts to show the footage and address the nation. He states “So Katniss Everdeen, a poor unstable girl with nothing but a small talent with a bow and arrow is dead. Not a thinker, not a leader. Simply a face plucked from the masses.” His main point is that the rebellion has no true leader and no real vision. Accordingly, he taunts the rebellion will ultimately fail. However, Beettee cuts into Snow’s broadcast and allows President Coin to speak to the nation instead: “I have interrupted a broadcast from your president in which he attempted to defame a brave young woman. ‘A face picked from the masses’ he called her. As if a leader, a true leader, could be anything else.” When Katniss hears Coin’s words, she sarcastically reacts “I had no idea I meant so much to her.” The scene is a noteworthy one because we never get a chance to see Snow and Coin directly interact so we need to settle for an indirect one. Donald Sutherland does another excellent job being very Snow-like. It is funny when he listens to Coin and takes issue with her misquoting him by using the word “picked” instead of “plucked” to describe Katniss’s reaping for the Games. In terms of Coin, we see her more personable and charismatic thanks to Plutarch’s coaching as he tries to mold her into a leader who the new Panem can follow. Of course, Katniss’s reaction at the end of scene caps it off well. Next, a lot of members of Katniss’s team die and in gruesome manner during the incursion into the Capitol. For example, the cameraman Messalla is incinerated by a pod with a heat ray. Nevertheless, the movie cannot depict the deaths exactly as they are in the book because of its PG-13 rating, which is necessary for its target audience of teenagers and young adults. It is obvious in the most notable death in the Capitol: Finnick’s demise. When Snow realizes that Katniss is still alive, he unleashes mutts in the form of giant lizards to pursue them. In the book, the mutts suddenly decapitate Finnick. Obviously, following the source materially directly might have changed the rating to R. In the movie, Finnick is being mauled by the mutts and Katniss mercifully activates the self-destruct function on the holo by saying “nightlock” three times then throwing it at them as a bomb. In the book, she also uses the holo as a bomb but Finnick is already dead. More importantly, Finnick and his friendship with Katniss is better developed in the book. Consequently, it is more shocking and upsetting when he perishes.
As the survivors of the team near the center of the Capitol and Snow’s mansion, they take shelter at the home of Tigris, a former stylist in the Games and part of Plutarch’s underground resistance. It is the setting of one of my favorite moments from the book. While Peeta and Gale think Katniss is asleep, they have an open and honest conversation about their love triangle and her. First, Gale laments not volunteering for Peeta in the Games. Gale is Katniss’s hunting partner and he could have obviously been a great ally and help. In addition, Peeta would have never entered the picture. Before the Games, Katniss and Gale appeared to be destined to be with each other and a perfect match because they have a lot in common. They act, think, and look alike. On the other hand, Peeta points out that Katniss would have never forgave Gale because she needed him to take care of her family. Again, the odds were not in their favor in the arena and Gale and Katniss would have likely died in the Games. By not volunteering, it was guaranteed that Gale could take care of her family if she died instead of him taking a risky chance where the best scenario would have been them prevailing and Gale sacrificing himself for her to win. If Gale fought with Katniss in the Games, the events would not have transpired the same and there is no guarantee that Katniss would have figured out the loophole of using nightlock berries to threaten suicide so the Capitol would have no Victor. Gale’s regret only makes sense if everything occurred the same with him in the role of Peeta. Of course, it is flawed logic. Nevertheless, it is understandable that his reason is clouded by his love for Katniss. Moreover, it is a “what if” thought that all of us can relate to in our lives. During Gale and Peeta’s conversation, Gale also notes that Katniss has never kissed him the way she kissed Peeta during the Quarter Quell and he won her over because he gave up everything for her. In addition, he declares “I do know that Katniss will pick whoever she can’t survive without.” Again, the book is from the point of view of Katniss. In it, she is very offended by the statement and the fact that Peeta does not immediately disagree with it to defend her: “There’s not the least indication that love, or desire, or even compatibility will sway me. I’ll just conduct an unfeeling assessment of what my potential mates can offer me [in order to “prolong longevity” of her life]”. Nevertheless, there is definitely a lot of truth to Gale’s word. In the book, the resolution of the love triangle is done better. Again, it is from her perspective so we get her unsaid thoughts in her mind when she chooses who to love and her rationale references back to Gale’s statement. It is an example of why I believe Katniss’s point of view in the books is better for telling of the Mockingjay story than movies.
Despite my issues with Mockingjay Part 1 and the beginning and middle of Part 2, the film gets the ending mostly correct. In the climax of the war, Katniss and Gale head towards the mansion alone. Their star squad is on the radar of all the Peacekeepers so it does not make sense to bring the rest of the team. Gale is her hunting partner so it is a natural fit for him to accompany her on her assassination attempt. However, the Peacekeepers have checkpoints near the mansion. As Katniss and Gale try to avoid them, the rebels break through and fighting starts. In the chaos, Gale is grabbed by the Peacekeepers and he screams for her to shoot and kill him. In the book, Katniss does not understand what he is yelling and languishes over her failure to fulfill her responsibility as his hunting partner and allowing him to be tortured as a captive. In the film, she simply does not have the heart to kill him. Near the gate of Snow’s mansion, he has a pen full of Capitol children. Of course, he is not worried about the safety of the children. He is using them as human shields. Eventually, a hovercraft appears and drops parachutes to the children. As we know from the Games, parachutes deliver help in the form of gifts from sponsors. Accordingly, the children reach for them believing they are relief. Instead, they are bombs that detonate. Naturally, Peacekeepers and others rush to the aid of the children. In addition, rebel medics also run to help. Katniss spots Prim among the medics. As a reader of the books, I already knew about the dark twist at the end of the war. It is also foreshadowed earlier in the movie when Katniss dances with Prim during Finnick and Annie’s wedding. At the end of the dance, Katniss embraces her sister very closely as if it would be the last time. Consequently, it is no surprise when the second explosion occurs that kills Prim as Katniss is screaming her name and sets Katniss’s clothes on fire. When I read this turn of events in the book, I felt completely heartbroken. I re-read it immediately hoping that I misread the text. Nevertheless, I ultimately understood the power of Prim’s death in the story. Again, all the events of the plot are set into motion by Prim’s reaping and Katniss volunteering for her sister. Katniss was only trying to save her sister but eventually sparked a revolution that liberates Panem from the rule of a dictator. Ironically and cruelly, the war basically ends with the death of Prim. It is also a reminder of the horrors of war. During a real war, many innocent people are killed. It is often random and unfair. Again, I appreciate that the story provides a realistic depiction of war with the loss of many great characters we love. Moreover, Prim’s death also plays prominently in the rest of the story.
In the book, Katniss is severely burned. Again, the film does not depict the grotesqueness from the book due to the PG-13 rating. In the film, she awakens in a medical bay with her mother nursing her and Haymitch present for support. Haymitch informs Katniss that the palace guards and Peackeepers had children in the pen and gave up fighting the rebels after the bombing. If she had any hope that her memories of Prim dying where a fake memory, it is quickly dashed with her mother’s morbid silence and heartbroken facial expression. Shortly after, Katniss is allowed to wander into Snow’s mansion. It is the first time she is there since the extravagant celebrations at the end of her Victory Tour in Catching Fire. Of course, the tone is a lot more eerie and silent this time. Eventually, she finds her way to a greenhouse guarded by soldiers. Although a soldier greets and prevents her from entering because Coin gave orders not to anyone in, the soldiers are actually Commander Paylor’s (Pattina Miller) men and she intervenes to allow her through because “she has a right to anything behind that door”. As a reminder, Paylor is the commander from District 8, where Katniss visited a hospital that was later bombed. Paylor is a respected and level headed leader. She has pops throughout Part 2. She is present and active in the discussions to attack the Nut in District 2 and delivers an excellent speech to inspire the Rebels when they were about to penetrate the outer defenses of the Capitol. When Katniss enters the greenhouse, she immediately notices it is full of white roses. Naturally, she is soon greeted by President Snow who delights in her presence. It sets the stage for a final, epic conversation between the two adversaries. It is my favorite scene in the movie. Snow breaks the ice by offering condolences for the death of Katniss’s sister: “So wasteful. So unnecessary.” He also rubs salt in the wound by noting that he was about to issue a surrender. Donald Sutherland provides such a great performance that you cannot really tell if he is being facetious or genuine. For Snow, it is a little of both as he sets up another shocking twist. He explains that “We both know I’m not above killing children. But I’m not wasteful. I take life for specific reasons. And there was no reason for me to destroy a pen full of Capitol children.” Next, he accuses Coin of the ruthless decision and appreciates it as a “masterful move”. As Haymitch noted, it turned the rest of his Peackeepers against him. In addition, it was aired live for the country to see which implies Plutarch’s hand. He also realizes Coin’s brilliant plan to allow the districts and Capitol to destroy each other and take Snow’s place with District 13’s arsenal. Coin and Katniss failed to see it before it was too late: “But I’ve been watching you. And you watching me. I’m afraid we’ve both been played for fools.” Of course, Snow is a snake. Moreover, he has nothing else to lose so tormenting Katniss may be the last pleasure he has in life. She does not want to believe him but he makes one remark that gets her attention: “Oh, my dear Miss Everdeen. I thought we’d agreed never to lie to each other.” It is a drawback to the conversation they had back at her house before the Quarter Quell. They hate each other but they have always been honest and blunt with each other. In the film, there is more suspense on whether she buys his story. In the book, there is not much left to doubt. He also states that he would have used a hovercraft to escape if one was available. She realizes that he would have escaped to a Presidential bunker where he could have lived out the rest of his life if he did have a craft. More importantly, she deduces that Prim has very little experience as a medic and the only way she would have been on the frontlines is if someone higher up, such as Coin, ordered it. Framing Snow for murdering Prim would give Coin the one thing she needed and did not have: Katniss. It would either put Katniss unconditionally on Coin’s side or break her so she would no longer have the will or care to oppose her. Of course, the two tiered explosion is also a trap that Gale thought up earlier in the story. Consequently, she knows Snow’s explanation of Coin’s plan is real.
Nevertheless, the movie resolves any mystery in the very next scene when Coin calls on the surviving Victors for a meeting: Katniss, Haymitch, Peeta, Enobaria, Annie, Johanna, and Beetee. First, she announces that she has declared herself interim President indefinitely since the nation is too emotional after the war to make a rationale decision. She also declines to commit to when elections will be held. Next, she calls for a vote among the Victors that a majority 4 will make the decision and no one can abstain. Coin notes that Snow will be executed but the districts naturally have bloodlust and will demand for a lot of his accomplices to be executed. In order to balance the need for retribution and preserving human life, she proposes the idea for a final, symbolic Hunger Games with the Capitol children. Of course, the scene completely confirms that she plans on installing herself in Snow’s place as Panem’s new dictator. The proposal of another Hunger Games totally polarizes the room and splits the Victors on opposite sides. Johanna loves it because “I think it’s more than fair. Snow’s got a granddaughter. I say “yes.” In the book, Johanna is incensed Enobaria is in the room and threatens to kill her. Nevertheless, Enobaria votes with Johanna in the book and the film: “Let them have a taste of it”. Peeta leads the opposition to the idea since “this way of thinking is what started these uprisings.” Annie votes with him and notes that Finnick would have done the same. Of course, he cannot because the Capitol killed him and Johanna rightfully points that fact out in her counterpoint. Naturally, it comes down to Katniss and Haymitch. This moment is depicted much better in the book. Again, it is another example in Mockingjay when it is better to experience the scene from Katniss’s point of view. She has serious thoughts about whether a panel similarly decided on the first Hunger Games around a table 75 years ago. Despite all the people that are dead, including her loved ones and friends, they are still discussing another Hunger Games. She submits to the depressing reality that “Nothing has changed. Nothing will ever change now.” Nevertheless, her decision is more calculated in the book. With the understanding that Snow is correct about Coin, she is smart enough not to outwardly oppose her. Accordingly, she wisely plays the politics game and votes yes and leaves it up to Haymitch. However, she has an inclination on how he will vote: “This is the moment, then. When we find out exactly just how alike we are, and how much he truly understands me.” Of course, he votes with her. In the film, we do not get her thought process and she asks to kill Snow, to which Coin immediately agrees, and says yes “for Prim”. In both versions, Haymitch notes “I’m with the Mockingjay”. Although the book is better in regards to this scene, the film could not really do much more with it since it muffed up the contentious relationship between Katniss and Coin. Regardless, the movie still does a relatively good job with it.
The film also does a good job portraying the execution of Snow. As Katniss is suited in her Mockingjay outfit one last time to prepare for her part as the executioner, Gale finally pays her a visit for the first time since the death of Prim. Naturally, she asks whether it was his trap that killed Prim. He answers that he does not know but he does know that she cannot ever look at him the same again because the trap is his idea. He understands that taking care of her family is the only thing he had in his favor in the love triangle and he failed. In the film, she says “Goodbye, Gale”. The book provides a more powerful moment. They have the same conversation. However, he also gives her a single arrow to shoot Snow to signal the last shot of the war. In the film, she has a sheath full of arrows. At the end of their talk, he simply walks out the door forever. Her silence is more resounding than her words in the film. She wants to call for him but knows she cannot. In regards to the actual execution, the film holds it in the Avenue of the Tributes instead of Snow’s mansion in the book. In addition, Coin gives a speech about a new Panem that she does not deliver in the book: “Welcome to the new Panem. Today, on the Avenue of the tributes, all of Panem, a free Panem, will watch more than a mere spectacle. We are gathered to witness an historic moment of justice. Today, the greatest friend to the revolution will fire the shot to end all wars.” I think her words are excellent and Julianne Moore delivers the lines very well. It is one of the few times I thought the Mockingjay films actually improves upon the source material. Coins final lines are very ironic and foreshadow one final twist in the story: “May her arrow signify the end of tyranny and the beginning of a new era. Mockingjay, may your aim be as true as your heart is pure.” Katniss points her arrow at Snow then raises it up and releases it at Coin who dies from the fall. Snow is thrilled with the revelation and laughs so hard that he coughs up blood. The spectators eventually form a mob that kill him themselves. In the book, it is uncertain whether he died choking on his own blood or killed by the mob. Katniss has a nightlock pill that she is about to take but Peeta stops her because he cannot let her go. Eventually, she is taken into custody.
During the filming of the Mockingjay movies, Philip Seymour Hoffman tragically passed away. As a result, the ending needed to be altered. In the book, she is in prison for a bit while a trial plays out. Plutarch is one of the individuals who testify on her behalf. The star witness is a Dr. Aurelius who attests that she is a “hopeless, shell-shocked lunatic” due to the traumatic events she endured throughout the Games and war, culminating with the death of her sister, so she did not understand her actions. Of course, she was of completely sane mind and knew exactly what she was doing by preventing another dictator from taking Snow’s place. Nevertheless, the nation could not handle the truth about Coin after a devastating war. It needs to believe in its leaders and a brighter future. The end of The Dark Knight is a good parallel for the situation and explains Katniss’s actions perfectly. At the end of that movie, Batman takes the fall for all of Harvey Dent’s crimes so that Dent could die a hero and the city could rally behind his values. In that scene, Batman references a quote from Dent earlier in the film “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become a villain”. He notes that “I’m whatever Gotham needs me to be” because “sometimes people deserve more. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.” Throughout the entire Hunger Games saga, Katniss is the hero the country needs her to be. At the end, she is also a villain when it needs her to be. In the book, she has a final conversation with Plutarch. The film gets around the death of Hoffman by having Plutarch send a letter to Katniss that Haymitch reads to her instead. In the letter, he begins with saying “Katniss, maybe the country was shocked tonight by your arrow, but once again, I was not. You were exactly who I believed you were.” Of course, he figured out Coin’s plot and understood that Katniss saved the country from another dictatorship. He goes on to explain he cannot be seen with her because of her perceived treason. However, there will now be an immediate election and Commander Paylor, who has become a “voice of reason”, will likely win the election and pardon Katniss when she is President. Moreover, he acknowledges the horrors she has endured and the sacrifices she has had to make as a reluctant hero: “I’m sorry so much burden fell on you. I know you’ll never escape it. But if I had to put you through it again for this outcome, I would.” Naturally, the letter also had to include his snarky yet insightful comment from the book about war “The war’s over. We’ll enter that sweet period where everyone agrees not to repeat the recent horrors. Of course, we’re fickle stupid beings, with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction. Although, who knows? Maybe this time, we’ll learn.” The letter and having Haymitch read it is a smart way to handle the death of Hoffman. Shortly after, Katniss is released into Haymitch’s custody to bring her home to District 13. Before they depart, Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) also says her goodbye to Katniss. She is heartbroken for Katniss but hopeful that she will find the “Life of a Victor”. In addition, she kisses Haymitch as they have a romance, which is another alteration from the book I like. The sequences from the execution to this point is done very well.
The movie also decides to depict the epilogue from the book. It is debatable whether it should have just ended the film without it since the 2 part format stretched out the story already. Nevertheless, I lean toward it being necessary to resolve the love triangle completely and show how a person could cope with the horrors Katniss endured throughout the saga. On the other hand, the film does not portray the epilogue as well as I had hoped. When Katniss arrives home, she spots Prim’s cat Buttercup and flips out at it because Prim is gone. As we know, Katniss never liked the cat anyway. Naturally, the reminder of Prim is too painful. Eventually, Peeta returns home too. She spots him when he is planting flowers. True to his sweet and thoughtful personality, he found primroses and planted them in memory of Prim. In the book, a friend stays with them to help both of them through their injuries and adjustment back to normal life. In the film and the book, Katniss’s mother cannot return to District 12 because she has lost too much there and needs a start on a new life. Of course, Gale is completely out of the picture. Slowly but surely, Katniss and Peeta grow closer and fall in love. Ultimately, he asks if she loves him “real or not real”. She finally admits it and answers “real”. Again, the book is from Katniss’s point of view so it does a more thorough job explaining her feelings on Peeta. She realizes that “That what I need to survive is not Gale’s fire, kindled with rage and hatred. I have plenty of fire myself. What I need is the dandelion in the spring. The bright yellow that means rebirth instead of destruction. That promise that life can go on, no matter how bad our losses. That It can be good again. And only Peeta can give me that.” In my opinion, it is a brilliant and logical resolution to the love triangle. Although Gale is disqualified after the death of Prim, she still chooses Peeta. It is consistent with the idea that opposites attract. Ultimately, Gale is too similar to Katniss and he does not offer anything that she cannot provide herself. In regards to Peeta, he is a positive and sweet person who gives Katniss qualities she does not have and needs. In the book, she also explains her thoughts on children. She does not want them because of the horrors she faced but eventually relented and had them because Peeta wanted them so bad. In the film, they cut straight to the future with Peeta playing with one child in the meadow and Katniss comforting a baby in her arms: “I have nightmares, too. Someday I’ll explain it to you. Why they came, why they won’t ever go away. But I’ll tell you how I survive it. I make a list in my head of all the good things I’ve seen someone do. Every little thing I can remember. It’s like a game. I do it over and over. Gets a little tedious after all these years, but there are much worse games to play.” Those words are straight from the book and great in explaining how she is able to cope with the horrors from the Games and war to live her life. In addition, they are the perfect words to end the series.
The Hunger Games offers a bittersweet ending. Although it is very dark, it also provides hope and light. Again, I enjoy that it is a logical and realistic end to the saga and its thought provoking commentary about war. Unfortunately, my feelings for the Mockingjay movies is also bittersweet. They could have been done a lot better to cap the film series. Instead, they squandered its great potential to be special. If the story was told better in the last two films to complete the series, I would have put the trilogy or tetralogy right behind Star Wars, The Dark Knight, and Lord of the Rings trilogies. Of course, I cannot and can only wonder what could have been.
For the Retrospective Reviews for the first three films, please see:
The Hunger Games: http://rookerville.com/2013/11/20/retrospective-review-the-hunger-games/