The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt 2 (2015)

hungr12016.25: The Hunger Games-Mockingjay Pt.2 (Blu-ray)

Well, I’m glad I watched Pt.1 the night before, because after twelve months I would have been pretty well lost dropping straight into this one as there is no re-cap at all; the viewer is just thrown into it as if having watched Pt.1 immediately prior (which would be a looong double-bill, incidentally). These serial storylines are problematic and just assuming the audience is up to speed could backfire and it certainly hampers the storytelling. The fans will  be fine but casuals like me, well, we need a little consideration. You don’t get a huge multi-million dollar franchise just working to the hardcore crowd, after all (maybe Lucas was on to something with those introductory crawls in the Star Wars films).

Anyway, two questions spring to mind. Does this film work as a separate film, and does it work as a conclusion to part one (and the films prior to that)?

Well, as a separate film it’s clearly problematic. Mockingjay Pt.1 has set things up and Pt.2 needs to be immediately up and running and finding a resolution to everything- which would be easy enough had the film only got to last ninety minutes maybe, but this thing is again over two hours long. So just as in the case of Pt.1, there is plenty of padding here, uncomfortable lulls as the film slows things down when it should (or had Mockingjay been one film) be racing to a conclusion, reaching for that resolution.

Just when things seem to be happening it often seems to make a clumsy side-step. A handy foil against finishing everything seems to be the still-unconvincing love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale which repeatedly threatens to bring the film to a stuttering halt (that said, I can’t say I was ever particularly convinced by the romance between Katniss and Peeta in previous films either). I just accept all the romantic drama nonsense as an indication of the original novels being aimed at a teenage female audience and try to ignore it but it’s something of a problem for the films when the central relationship doesn’t convince. By the time the love triangle is resolved it is with a distinct sense of anticlimax anyway.

hungr2These lulls in the plot and problems with pacing also occurred in Pt.1, which does make me wonder if there might somehow be a fan-edit one day assembling Pt.1 and Pt.2 into a workable single film. Even if it were two and a half hours long or more it might work better with superior pacing. There clearly isn’t really enough material in Pt.2 to really justify releasing Mockingjay as two separate films, particularly with all the treading water plot-wise of Pt.1 already. Suspicions that it was a greedy studio trying to crank up some extra box-office from the material seem well-founded. Looking at it the other way, had Mockingjay been released as one film, and then released as two extended cuts as we have them today, would those extended cuts be well-lauded, or contain important scenes that fans were desperate and glad to finally to see? I rather doubt it.

So I have to wonder if  Mockingjay Pt.2 is perhaps stretching things just a film too far.

In anycase, this film concludes the Hunger Games saga of what has become four films. As such, how does Mockingjay Pt.2 fare? Well, its a mixed bag really. I guess the biggest surprise to me is the sense of self-importance the last two films have-it reminds me of what happened with the Matrix films. By the time Mockingjay comes around it’s all very serious and momentous and stodgy. Indeed, is it just me or does Jennifer Lawrence actually look bored throughout this film?

I welcomed the examination of the importance of propaganda, about what is real and fabricated in order to marshall and influence public opinion. How the public seem to instinctively look for a leader, an icon. How the end justifies the means and how leaders hide personal agendas. There’s some very interesting stuff there that I didn’t expect. Unfortunately its all rather an intellectual exercise and lacking in any emotional value. What began as a thrilling dystopian future with people fighting in life and death arenas for public amusement and the status quo has by Mockingjay Pt.2 been completely ditched in favour of a rather dry tale of political skullduggery, of opposing campaigns using Katniss and Peeta to influence the masses and further their own agendas.

There is one sequence in the sewers that feels like something out of Aliens and is one of the highlights of the whole saga, but there isn’t really a lot else that thrills or recaptures the excitement of the first film. Part of it is the self-importance and profundity of Katniss and her cause as she attempts to finally bring President Snow to justice. It just threatens to drag the whole thing down into maudlin melodrama. Or is this is because Katniss seems to have become, incredibly, actually rather irritating, unable to take charge, simply accepting that she is being used as a political weapon. Perhaps she is supposed to be broken and traumatised but there are moments where she seemingly cannot think for herself, or take charge of her own destiny. Hardly the definition of a hero.

As realistic as that may be intellectually, it doesn’t really lend itself to a great heroine in a grand adventure. By the time the final twist occurs it doesn’t really come as a surprise, and the film lacks, shockingly, any real emotional punch at its end. Characters die and we feel very little. For a saga spanning four films this seems to be the biggest sin of all. There is no valediction, no fanfare, as Katniss finally walks into the proverbial sunset in a love affair that didn’t really convince me anyway, so it all felt rather shallow. The ending satisfies on an intellectual level but fails on an emotional one. For a saga aimed at teenage girls that really surprised me.

Mockingjay Pt 1 (again)

2014, THE HUNGER GAMES -  MOCKINGJAYPrior to watching the recently released Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt.2 Blu-ray which closes out the Hunger Games saga, I’ve had to watch last year’s release of Mockingjay Pt.1 again, if only in the hope of then following what goes on in the second part. Funny thing is, that same logic would (you’d think) have required me to rewatch the first two Hunger Games films too- and yes, actually it would have helped, because I had a bit of a hard time getting back into Pt.1 as it was. But how much time do these film-makers and studios think we casual fans have to devote to their sagas?

Its the trouble with these serialised franchises if you aren’t familiar with the original source material or such a fan that you’ve re-watched installments several times and are wholly familiar with the storyline.  I’ve enjoyed the Hunger Games films, but I’ve bought the successive releases really out of curiousity of how the damn thing all turns out. It does raise the question of the demands these serialised films make on the audience- sure, die-hard fans will always be onboard and up to speed, but what mainstream ‘general’ audiences have to make of dipping into these movies is anyones guess. It also must inevitably impact on the quality/success of the individual films themselves. Are they supposed to function as separate entities or not?

I raised this in my original review of Pt 1 last March, and I’ll quote it here – in some ways its the most interesting of the Hunger Games series I’ve seen. But it is inevitably hamstrung by the decision, right or wrong, artistic or purely business-based, to split its original book’s story into two. Essentially Mockingjay is, by its very nature, the beginning and part-middle of a bigger story. There is no resolution here. Characters are being introduced, arcs being set up, that will not come to fruition until the second part. It makes for  very frustrating experience, especially in light of having to wait another year for the conclusion.

Re-watching Pt.1, I’m in that same position of not knowing where its all going but at least I’m nearer to that particular goal with Pt.2 now sitting by the Blu-ray player. Pt.1 remains a very interesting film and a surprisingly dark one too, but I guess its real value and success can only really be judged by having seen Pt.2 so we’ll see how that turns out. I appreciate that these grand sagas and their long stories can reward in ways that short one-off films cannot, but do think the patience of audiences must be getting strained by these annual episodes.

It raises the question of how much audiences will continue to accept the demands of serials like this. I’ve read that when Pt.2 was released theatrically last year its box-office was lower than earlier installments, an indication perhaps that audiences are tiring of such demands and serialised film-sagas in general. Logic might have expected a bigger or at least maintained audience since its the grand conclusion and everyone wants to see how it all turns out, but it doesn’t seem to have turned out that way. Or maybe some people were turned off by Pt.1 and its inevitably hamstrung anti-conclusion? Is a year too long to expect people to wait? Maybe some of the potential audience decided to just wait a little longer for the home video release and watch the whole saga as a box set rather than drop into the second part at the cinema.Maybe their patience will be rewarded by a superior viewing experience. In anycase, I’ve found myself in the strange position of being forced to rewatch a film in order to improve my enjoyment of the succeeding one, and actually found that I might have been better served by watching the previous two too.

We are living in the era of the box-set, and it’s getting quite exhausting.

It’s not even a movie (not in the old sense): Mockingjay Part 1.

mock1I remember back when The Empire Strikes Back was released, back in the summer of 1980; it was criticised by some for having a poor structure. Films generally have a beginning, middle and end (at least they used to- these days some films are more like serials that might make perfect sense when viewed in a Blu-ray boxset but prove rather more problematic viewed as individual entries). My reference to TESB however isn’t chiefly because it was the middle part of a trilogy, moreover it was how the film was structured itself. I recall John Brosnan pointing out in his TESB review in Starburst that in an ordinary movie, the battle of Hoth would have been the grand climax. Instead it was placed in the first third leaving everything beyond it rather anti-climatic, even the duel between Luke and Vader (which itself, when you think of it, ends without any real resolution). Back at the time I was your typical teenage Star Wars-nut and thought Brosnan was talking nonsense; TESB was even better then the first Star Wars in my eyes, and Brosnan’s talk about film-structure flew over my head. But over the past few years I’ve thought back to Brosnan’s comments.

In a strange way, that odd structure of TESB would prove rather prophetic though. Films really don’t have that beginning, middle and end anymore; not always anyway. Of course TESB had not just put its traditional grand climax in the first third, it also ended on something of a cliffhanger,.Again, this was very unusual at the time, but Star Wars was famously based on old movie serials, so people could get their heads around what Lucas was doing. But I don’t think anyone back then could have predicted how films would eventually make TESB look rather normal, its then-odd structure rather mundane. Imagine Lucas saying back then “someday, all films will be made this way”- people would have thought he was crazy, his huge successes at the Box-Office notwithstanding. But now, people have become used to films lacking any real resolution, indeed, some entire films are just a tease for the next one. Were people coming out of screenings of Interstellar thinking that all their questions will be answered in the next one, only to be frustrated when informed that’s it, its just Interstellar, that was The End, there is no sequel?

I was thinking about all this watching the most recent film in The Hunger Games series, Mockingjay Part 1. I don’t know much about the books, but I understand that there are three in the series and the third book Mockingjay is being split into two movies. Its all very The Hobbit (not forgetting the last Harry Potter.book being split into two or indeed the next entry in the Divergent series).

I won’t go into how cynical it all seems regards maximising ticket sales in cinemas or further along with the DVD/Blu-ray sales. What concerns me is how it effects the individual films themselves. Mockingjay Part One is not a bad film, indeed, in some ways its the most interesting of the Hunger Games series I’ve seen. But it is inevitably hamstrung by the decision, right or wrong, artistic or purely business-based, to split its original book’s story into two. Essentially Mockingjay is, by its very nature, the beginning and part-middle of a bigger story. There is no resolution here. Characters are being introduced, arcs being set up, that will not come to fruition until the second part. It makes for  very frustrating experience, especially in light of having to wait another year for the conclusion (I much preferred how Warners managed the two Matrix sequels, released, as I recall, only six months apart?).

hob3Moreover, I do think the second part itself will also suffer, as these films usually do. It won’t have much time (or feel any need) to set events up, it will likely leap into the storyline in a rush to the grand finale. That might be fine, or indeed welcomed, by fans, but it won’t really be functioning like a ‘proper’ movie. It’ll be the second part; the middle and end to a larger story. Maybe I’m alone in thinking in how annoyed I was by the beginning of the third Hobbit movie, leaping into the Smaug attack on Laketown, shoving a noisy climactic sequence into the beginning of a film where I should have been settling into it, not having my senses assaulted from the very start. For myself, that entire sequence was ruined by not having any build-up. CGI suffers without dramatic storytelling around it as it is; here there was no build-up of tension, no raising of dramatic effect, no context. It was just “Bang-here we go, have a visual effects reel before we start the movie proper!” That sequence should have been the end of the second film, giving that film a much-needed climax, and the third film allowed to set up its own arcs/storyline for its own climax. Good business for Warner/MGM maybe but lousy artistic sense; it spoiled two movies and crippled what should have been a highlight.

Mockingjay Part One rather meanders through two hours (!) leading to an inevitable tease promising a ‘proper’ conclusion that leaves it inevitably wanting. It doesn’t function as an exercise in traditional storytelling. Being split itself in two surely risks alienating its audience- I wonder how many people stayed away, preferring to wait until Mockingjay Part Two is released? I was tempted to delay watching the Blu-ray until the second film gets released on disc next year but my curiosity got the better of me. But even then, to (eventually) watch the entire Mockingjay story will require something like four hours over the two parts. What is the sense in that? Does the storyline deserve that much screentime, can it carry all those hours? How many people will ever watch both in one sitting? Is it always doomed to be two parts over (at best) two consecutive nights? Would it just work better as a two and a half-hour movie, or even one approaching three hours in one whole, with its own beginning, middle and end? Don’t we as an audience deserve that? Shouldn’t we be demanding that?

Somehow none of these trilogies/serials feel like ‘proper’ movies any more, but splitting the individual parts of these trilogies/sagas into two just makes it even worse. Where will it end?  A three-part Hobbit movie? Ahem.