Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Final Flight of the Mockingjay

This past weekend, the El family went forth from our Fortress of Ineptitude to go see the epic 4th installment of The Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay Part 2.  Ever since the last Harry Potter book was split into two movies, it's now a thing for hot movie franchises based on book series to wring an extra movie out of the last book. Twilight did it and now it's The Hunger Games' turn.  

Before I go any further, be warned. There will be...

So proceed with caution.  

Mockingjay Part 2 was released two weeks ago and it was our intent to see it on its opening weekend. But the day before we were going to see Mockingjay Part 2, we saw Doctor Who and Face the Raven. We were still in mourning (er, spoilers) over the loss of a beloved character and we weren't prepared to face the possibility of another so soon. 

While my daughter read The Hunger Games books, my wife and I had not. I for one was concerned that something would happen to the protagonist that doesn't happen a lot. In this case, my guess was that Katniss Everdeen would die. 

I tend to not get caught up in fandom speculation on a character's final fate, particularly the all too easy guess that someone is not going to survive their final adventure. It's an easy guess but often an incorrect one. I remember before Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (the book) came out, there was a lot of speculation that Harry Potter would not survive the final battle with Voldemort.  My thinking on that was no. The death of Harry Potter would've invalidated the sacrifice of James and Lilly Potter to save their son. After all, he was known as the Boy Who Lived, not the Boy Who Would Defeat Voldermort. His destiny from the moment of his parents' sacrifice was to live. Harry Potter's ultimate victory over Voldermort was to continue to defy him by living. 

That's not to say there aren't heroic sacrifices in books, movies or more that end in death. But the audience who has followed along with the struggles of the hero need to experience the relief that comes from that victory, a relief that is undermined by having the hero die.  

In the case of Katniss Everdeen, however, that seemed an almost inevitable fate. Her story was about her sacrifices. Her sister was selected for the Hunger Games and Katniss saves her by sacrificing herself to the games. From there, Katniss makes sacrifice after sacrifice to survive the games, to defy the Capitol, to lead the revolution. Katniss would seem to be on a collision course with the ultimate sacrifice, to give up her life to secure victory for the rebellion over the repressive Capitol.  If any story would defy the convention of having the hero survive the victory, it would be The Hunger Games

But (SPOILER) it doesn't. 

Not that Katniss isn't put through hell. We pick up where Part 1 left off: brainwashed Peeta tried to kill Katniss, his erstwhile ally and lover. If this betrayal was meant to shake her resolve, it doesn't work. Katniss is now more determined to look President Snow in the eye before she kills him. But while making an appeal to the refugees from the rebel strike on District 2 that they should unite against President Snow, one of those refugees shoots Katniss. Thank goodness her Mockingjay uniform is bullet proof. (And no one was aiming at her head.)  

President Coin thinks the Mockingjay has done her work for the revolution and forbids Katniss from going back into battle. She's a PR prop for the revolution now. But Katniss will have none of that and hops a transport that's heading for the Capitol. She hooks up with a unit that includes Gale (the other love of her life) that's making it's way through the city but its slow and treacherous going. Various traps and snares have been placed like mines through out the city. Yep, it's a version of the Hunger Games on the field of battle. Oh, and Peeta shows up. Seems President Coin thinks showing Peeta back on their side in battle will be a great PR move against the capitol.   

Bit by bit, the members of the unit keep getting picked off in a variety of gruesome ways including an attack by albino zombies. Yes, zombies!! (My daughter advises me they are called "Mutts". I don't care. They're ZOMBIES!!) 

Eventually Katniss and Gale make it to within sight of President Snow's mansion. A teeming mass of capitol refugees, escaping from the onslaught of the rebellion, have been summoned by President Snow to come to his home where they will be protected and provided for. 

Capitol drones fly overhead and begin dropping things. Supplies? Food? 

No, bombs! It looks like that dirty bastard Snow is prepared to bomb his own people to stop the rebels in their advance. Quickly entering the scene to offer aid are the rebel's medical teams which include Katniss' sister. Unfortunately a bomb finds its mark and the sister that Katniss had sacrificed so much to save is killed. And Katniss herself is lost in a fiery explosion. 

But Katniss awakens in a hospital room. The revolution, it seems, proceeded without her. The rebellion is victorious. 


There are things that don't make sense to Katniss. A face to face meeting with Snow himself gives weight to her doubts. The bombing of the capitol refugees was done by the rebels. Katniss confronts Gale about this. Not satisfied with his answer, she tells Gale good-bye.  

And under the heading of the "The more things change, the more they stay the same", Coin has announced she will take on the position of "Interim" President until elections can be set up. But who knows when that will be? Furthermore, Snow and a bunch of his cronies are due to be executed but Coin thinks that instead of barbaric executions, satisfaction would be better achieved by staging a Hunger Games event with the children and grandchildren of Snow and his confederates. 

Katniss actually agrees to this plan. As long as she gets to kill Snow. 

So the next day, a large crowd is gathered. Snow is standing next to a post. Above him, dressed in grey including an imperious cloak is Coin. Enter Katniss with her bow and arrows. She notches an arrow and lets it fly. 

Straight into Coin's heart. 

Snow doesn't get off easy, though. The gathered crowd rushes in to beat him to death. Meanwhile, Katniss is shuffled off to exile where she is reunited with Peeta who is no longer trying to kill her. They go off to make babies and live in peace.

So no, Katniss Everdeen does not die but her happy ending is not without its shadows. In the film's epilogue, a few years into her future with Peeta and her kids, it's clear that Katniss is still haunted by all she saw and did. 

There are a lot of quiet moments in this movie that do much to advance character development but they do have the side effect of slowing things down. Still, if Book 3 had been made into just Movie 3, those moments would've been lost. And also lost would've been some great acting from Jennifer Lawrence who provides a wide range of nuance to her role as Katniss. One of the last scenes, where Katniss is back in her childhood home and finally gives in to all the emotion that has been building up inside, emotion she had kept pushed down under wraps, going back as far as the first film. Finally, after all she's been through, she lets all out by taking it out on the family cat. The cat, by the way, is unmoved by this outburst.  

Kudos to Julianne Moore as Coin, at times genuinely sympathetic but coldly calculating as she headed down the same path as Snow. And speaking of Snow, Donald Sutherland does icy evil with a smile better than anyone. I wish we could've had more time with Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, an always welcome snarky counterpoint to the earnestness of the revolution. And a special nod of appreciation to Phillip Seymour Hoffman who tragically died before the release of Mockingjay Part 1 but who still appears in both films in scenes shot before his death. In those brief appearances, we see why Hoffman is a talent that we will sorely miss.  

Overall, Mockingjay Part 2 was an effective wrap up of The Hunger Games. A bit overlong but that seems to be the way of movies this days. Thanks to our daughter was dragging us to the first Hunger Games movie years ago; it has been both an exciting and a thought provoking journey. 


Here is a link to a prior Hunger Games write up that appeared on this blog in November 2013. 


Tomorrow, a blog post on comic books as I ask the question, "When did Bruce Wayne become Tony Stark?"

Until next time, remember to be good to one another.   

I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You

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