RECAP: Mockingjay (Parts 1 & 2)

Mockingjay (2014 & 2015): Francis Lawrence

Not the first and not the last to try it, studio executives at Lionsgate split the final book of The Hunger Games series into two films.

The movie were hits at the box office, and likely made more as two movies than as one, but each of the two parts of Mockingjay paled to the huge box office and high quality of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire.

It probably didn’t help that Katniss Everdeen, the hero, stood on the sidelines for much of the final installment. The driver of her narrative when in the arena, Katniss takes orders from those who’ve fought the war against President Snow for decades.

Much like Aaron Rodgers backing up Brett Favre for three seasons as Green Bay Packers quarterbacks, Katniss waits her turn until the final moments, when one decision changes history.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: Newly minted symbol of the resistance, Katniss Everdeen fights President Snow as a propaganda tool in District Thirteen’s war against The Capitol. 

Hero (7/10)

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) begins Mockingjay in a dank tunnel, muttering her life story so she doesn’t lose her mind. Orderlies drag her away, telling her, “We can help you sleep.”

Katniss wakes in a hospital bed. One of her fellow victors, in bed beside her, laments the other victors. “I wish they were all dead and we were too.”

That’s life in the not-so-mythical District Thirteen. We last saw Katniss airlifted from an arena during the Quarter Quell that ended Catching Fire. Now she meets President Coin (Julianne Moore), leader of the resistance; Boggs (Mahershala Ali), her military escort throughout the film; and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman); some for the first time.

Most folk enjoy a bouquet of roses. Not Katniss.

(Side note: that’s four Oscar winners in the same scene. I don’t know if that’s a record, but it’s plenty of firepower.)

Coin wants Katniss to be the Mockingjay, the face and voice of the rebellion, the avatar that will unite the other twelve districts against The Capitol and President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

At first Katniss isn’t interested. Survivor of two Hunger Games, her initial thoughts are of her beloved Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). He wasn’t rescued from the arena, instead captured by The Capitol. Coin, we learn later, wanted him instead of Katniss, for reasons that become obvious at the film’s conclusion.

Katniss needs to see how bad the world is under Snow’s thumb. Boggs takes her to District Twelve, her home, where she wanders the desolate of her youth village. Katniss returns to her victor’s house, gathers a few items, including Prim’s cat Buttercup, a cool jacket, and some vials. As always, Katniss’s thoughts are for the well being of others.

Before leaving Twelve, Katniss finds a small courtyard littered with dozens of skeletons. She steps on a skull. Death still overwhelms, even after all she’s endured. Katniss also finds one of Snow’s trademark white roses in her house. After all this, she agrees to become the Mockingjay.

Finnick is there to help

If you, like me, expected a war movie with Katniss at the front, Joan of Arc style, you were mistaken. Katniss spends most of her time as a pawn for President Coin. Coin runs the rebellion–has so for years–and this upstart rookie isn’t about to take her place.

Coin sends Katniss on several behind-enemy-lines missions with a camera crew led by Natalie Dormer as a half-bald director. Katniss visits a hospital of war wounded and receives the Mockingjay salute.

Snow catches wind of Katniss’s movements, and he dispatches two jets, not to kill Katniss, but to destroy the hospital, which they do before Katniss shoots them down with an explosive-tipped arrow.

Katniss, feeling every death personally, makes the first of several effective “propos” (as Heavensbee calls them). “We must fight back,” she shouts to the camera. Fire is catching. “If we burn, you burn with us.” That last bit was to Snow.

While Katniss is busy winning rebels to Coin’s cause, she’s also dealing with a capital L capital T Love Triangle.

Everyone knows Katniss and Peeta love each other. Many forget about Gale (Liam “Don’t Call Me the Lesser” Hemsworth). Gale was Katniss’s first love, and he’s on the ground fighting with the rebels while Peeta suffers in The Capitol as Snow’s propaganda pawn.

These are two of the crew filming Katniss’s work in The Capitol.

Katniss kisses Gale twice in Mockingjay, but Gale is never into it. The first time they rehash their first kiss, in Katniss’s house. Gale relives the attack on Twelve as a moment when couldn’t save them. He suffers with the memory. Katniss kisses him. He tells Katniss that she only shows him attention when he’s in pain, and Katniss acts as if she never considered that.

Peeta, meanwhile, appears first on TV and later in the flesh. Snow’s tortured him enough that he wants to murder Katniss. Still, Katniss loves him, because she knows the real Peeta. “That’s not Peeta,” is her favorite saying when he’s claiming Katniss will kill everyone.

Coin/Everdeen 2020!

Mockingjay is a war movie without the war. Katniss, never on the front lines until the finale, is a pawn of her elders. She’s a teenager, and the teenaged audience is never ignored in the film. As the rebels advance through The Capitol, Katniss avoids the front, doing her own thing, first shooting propos and later sneaking around to assassinate Snow.

Katniss never leads an attack. Instead she pleads for mercy. Lawrence’s best scene occurs after a successful strike on District Two. The rebels allow civilians to flee a Capitol base inside a mountain.

Katniss is there, along with hundreds of armed rebels, surrounding a train as it stops and civilians, many loyal to Snow, alight. One carries a gun and won’t put it down. Katniss approaches him, and he puts the gun to her throat. He demands Katniss give him a reason why he shouldn’t kill her.

“I can’t,” she says. “We have every reason to kill each other. I’m tired of killing his slaves for him.” No scene in any Hunger Games movie shows her rage toward Snow better than this one. Lawrence lets herself bleed onto the screen. Fatigue, anger, and suffering fill her every movement. Lawrence is the world’s highest-paid actress, and Mockingjay makes it clear why.

Villain (6/10)

Donald Sutherland as President Snow molds his entire person into a sneer. We see more of Snow than before in Mockingjay, behind and before the cameras he uses to project his power across Panem.

Snow informs us of his oldest rule. “Never let them see you bleed.” He refuses to call the rebels rebels, and claims that the 75+ years of Hunger Games have been during an “unprecedented era of peace.”

Snow lays out the important politics behind the rebellion. “Each district supplies The Capitol, in return The Capitol provides order and security.” When you put it that way, Snow doesn’t seem so bad.

Snow has an interesting brand of order. He runs the Hunger Games, and might be old enough that he started it. (Folks live a long time in The Capitol, I’d bet.) The old man, dying from an unnamed disease that makes him cough blood from time to time (but never in front of others), occasionally pops up on the TV for Mandatory Viewing. In a late message, he lays out some mean thoughts.

President Snow might be dying, but he won’t show anyone.

“Our enemy,” Snow says, “They do not share our values. They have never known our comfort and our sophistication.” Yikes. On second thought, who wouldn’t want to kill that guy?

Snow, ever the showman, laces his city with hundreds of pods, motion-triggered weapons designed to make The Capitol into a giant Hunger Games arena. This act proves what Snow truly values: spectacle.

It’s Snow’s final appearances, in the flesh, that are most shocking. Shut in his greenhouse like a caged lion, Snow never begs Katniss for forgiveness nor to spare his life. He knows the game is over. He tells her that Coin wants to replace him as dictator.

A sly final move, which Katniss believes. Snow loses the game but outlives his adversary, Coin.

Action/Effects (5/10)

Katniss is Mockingjay‘s hero and Panem’s but she’s not its military leader. Most of the fighting action occurs in background or offscreen.

Consider the attack on The Capitol stronghold deep underground in District Two. A handful of jets pelt the mountains with missiles, crushing the fort beneath it. This attack occurs far in the distance, as the camera focuses on Katniss and Gale arguing the personal toll of killing in war.

Katniss sits quietly in military meetings. She listens to adults speak of how they will “use her” as propaganda. They send her to the back lines once the rebels reach The Capitol. We don’t see a single skirmish between rebels and peacekeepers in that city until very late in Part 2. Even then Katniss does not feature in the battle.

I found the lack of action scenes refreshing. Better to focus on Katniss and her struggle to fit into the new world she’s helping build than see a bunch of Hoo Ra charges at enemy fixed positions. The rebels seem to win the war only because they have superior numbers. Most of their attacks are the run-at-the-enemy-until-they-run-out-of-bullets type.

Mockingjay does stage one gratuitous fight scene for Katniss and her friends. Beneath The Capitol extends a network of enormous tunnels that carry water, sewage, and trains across the city. One member of Katniss’s party leads them through these tunnels, himself a former resident.

Snow figures out she’s underground and dispatches some unholy creatures straight off the set of The Descent. I didn’t catch what they were called, but they have no eyes, large mouths, long arms and legs, and skin like a nuclear winter.

Dozens of these things strike and separate the team into two squads. Katniss, Peeta, Gale, and the silent guy run through thigh-high water to a larger chamber with a ladder. They want to climb up but first must kill the creatures.

Katniss fires two explosive arrows into each tunnel leading to the chamber. Then she kills four straight creatures with regular arrows, including one she stabs in the neck with the arrow still on the bowstring.

Peeta, who earlier tried to kill Katniss, reverses course and drags away a creature attacking her. Another creature comes in to throw Katniss into a metal I-beam that could have killed her, but only knocks her out for seconds. Her body sounds like it strikes an anvil.

Gale shoots a few creatures with his crossbow and pistol. Why start with the crossbow when you have a pistol? Makes no sense. Katniss recovers in time to knife a creature in the brain.

Finnick arrives with his trusty trident and whacks down several baddies. The other squad separated earlier arrives and shoots many more, allowing people to climb the ladder. Katniss is next to last up the ladder. She’s grabbed. Finnick saves her. Finnick is overwhelmed by the creatures, who seem to fill the chamber with their persons. Katniss, crying, turns the pod-sniffing holo into a grenade and drops it onto Finnick, saving him from a brutal death and taking dozens of creatures with him.

Katniss kills Finnick just as she killed Cato in The Hunger Games. Mercy killings they both were, but for different reasons.

Immediately the survivors enter a subway station and find peacekeepers inaccurately shooting at them. Katniss uses an explosive arrow to kill two soldiers standing at the foot of an escalator.

The subway station’s lights randomly turn you to glass shards. I didn’t expect that. Katniss and company run through and around the light beams as the floor rumbles and turns to metal spikes. What kind of sick subway stations are these?

As the team leaps to momentary safety, Peeta breaks down. Katniss kisses him for the first time in the movie. “Stay with me,” she begs.

A slick action sequence, the underground fight took too long to get there. The buildup was one of a few times I wanted the movie to speed up. Breaking Mockingjay into two parts shows in some places, this is one of them.

Sidekicks (6/8)

Katniss has plenty of help in Mockingjay. Maybe too much. People can’t stop helping her.

Gale: Pity young Gale. He loves Katniss as much as, perhaps more than, Peeta. He knows Katniss doesn’t want him. She loves to care for him, and that’s it. Hard to build a relationship on pity. They might have made it work had Peeta died, but their values differ in war. For Gale, killing is never personal. For Katniss, killing is always personal.

Katniss and Gale

Poor Gale has to listen to everyone talk about how much Katniss and Peeta love each other. That’s tough to watch, but Gale handles it with aplomb and professionalism, watching Katniss’s and Peeta’s back all day.

Peeta: Pity Peeta also. Captured by Snow after the Quarter Quell, Peeta appears first in some TV announcements viewed throughout Panem. He begs for a cease fire, and is branded a traitor by the rebels. Katniss knows better. “He’s still playing the game,” she says.

In later broadcasts Katniss notes how much Peeta has changed. Gaunt and bruised, Peeta says he’s over Katniss and she’s ruining Panem, but Katniss never buys it. After Katniss breaks into The Capitol’s communications and Peeta sees her, he warns them that District Thirteen is moments from attack. “No one is safe now,” he says.

The Capitol left Peeta in bad shape, so he must be strapped down.

After a rescue mission brings Peeta and the other tributes to Thirteen, Katniss meets her beloved. Peeta tries to choke her to death in a brutal, terrifying scene.

After Katniss enters The Capitol to film more propos, Coin sends Peeta to join. More victors means better propaganda. Peeta, mentally tortured to forget reality, spends much of his time with Katniss asking what’s real and what’s not real.

Katniss calls Peeta a mutt, and the boy can’t handle listening to her. One scene finds Peeta quoting words Katniss has used to describe him, and displays the confusion scarring his mind. “Friend, lover, victor, fiancé,” the enmity builds in his voice, “enemy, target, mutt, and now ally.”

Peeta attacks and saves Katniss in The Capitol. He parts ways with Katniss before the final walk to the mansion, and we don’t see him again until the conflict ends.

The old guard: Plutarch, Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), Effie (Elizabeth Banks) and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) are sidelined. That’s fine; there are too many characters for them, and we know them.

She’s a human, not a tiger.

The young kids: Cressida (Natalie Dormer) leads the directorial team that includes three others, including a tongueless guy who leads Katniss through the tunnels beneath The Capitol. Finnick (Sam Claflin) is another victor on Katniss’s side. He plays a major role in a battle beneath the city.

Boggs: Chief of security in District Thirteen/Katniss’s bodyguard, Boggs finds himself torn between loyalty to Coin and loyalty to the cause. In the end he finds the choice easy. Carrying the device that tracks pod locations in The Capitol, Boggs transfers operational power to Katniss, not his second-in-command.

Boggs, security chief.

Henchmen (3/8)

Snow works mostly alone. His best support comes from the masked, white-clad troops called peacekeepers. These troops are lean and lethal, and their uniforms make them appear as a cleanup crew. They are highly intimidating.

President Coin is a tough nut to crack. She craves Snow’s death, like Katniss, but her motives are unclear.

We think Coin wants peace and freedom, or maybe it’s what we hope. She’s a capable leader: consider the air attack launched on Thirteen halfway through Mockingjay. Coin figures out in seconds that the bombs falling indicate Snow does not know their underground position.

Peacekeepers + black masks = creepy

“We are going to wait this out,” Coin says as the bombs fall. “This is what we’re built for.”

Coin’s amassed the largest arsenal outside The Capitol, but she’s not using it. Until, that is, the end.

As Katniss nears Snow’s mansion she sees her sister Prim rushing to aid wounded civilians outside Snow’s gates. A jet sporting The Capitol’s logo flies over them and drops parachute aid (Hunger Games style). As the canisters fall they explode and kill hundreds.

Snow accuses Coin of dropping the bombs, the final straw that broke Snow’s guards. Mockingjay never answers the charge. But Katniss believes it, and that’s all that matters.

Stunts (1/6)

The first two Hunger Games movies were battles royal in combat arenas. Mockingjay elevates the combat to war level. The story, however, is Katniss’s, and she’s not a battle commander, so she stays on the sidelines.

Nevertheless, we still get some cool stunts. The best occurred outside Snow’s mansion, when a missile explodes a truck and flips it over.

Look at this truck get lit!

A cutaway scene in a lumber district shows the lengths the people will go to overthrow Snow. Escorted by peacekeepers, lumberjacks carry heavy tools into a forest. With the sound of a mockingjay whistle, hundreds of lumberjacks sprint forward and up trees like monkeys. Yes, those closest to the peacekeepers are immediately shot, but most survive.

When they reach the tree tops, one calls out, “If we burn, you burn with us.” and the ground explodes. When did the locals find the time to mine the ground? This and many other questions are not answered. Just go with it.

Climax (5/6)

Maybe, like me, you didn’t read the Hunger Games series and thought the story would end with a big, climactic battle in which Katniss would lead her forces to overwhelm Snow’s mansion, chasing him through its halls, shooting him dead in the garden amongst his precious white roses.

I wasn’t watching closely. The final battle has nothing to do Katniss. Katniss barely fights at all after she’s rescued from the Quarter Quell. Why would this final fight be different?

After the parachute bombs explode, killing Prim and making Katniss literally a girl on fire, Katniss wakes again, for the fifth time or so, in a hospital bed. Is she inside the mansion? Will Snow torture her?

Nope. Haymitch stands watch as Katniss’s mother swabs her burns. The bombs were the final touch. All the peacekeepers turned on Snow. Katniss looks as her mother. Does she know about Prim? Katniss doesn’t need to speak.

Trinket escorts Katniss into Snow’s mansion. The rebels control it, The Capitol, all Panem. The mansion is as spotless as it is empty. Katniss quickly loses interest and walks outside to the greenhouse. Some guards bar her entrance, but a rebel leader tells them that Katniss has earned an entrance.

White roses, of course, are the lone plant grown in the greenhouse. And, ah, here’s Snow to welcome her. I didn’t expect that. I thought he had escaped the mansion and was hiding, and Katniss would lead a final assault. Still, I wasn’t watching closely.

Snow tells Katniss that he didn’t order the bombing; in fact, he was moments from declaring a surrender. Snow accuses Coin of dropping the bombs. A masterstroke, the war crime convinced everyone to turn on Snow.

Katniss doesn’t believe the future ex-President Snow, who asks, “Haven’t we promised to never lie to each other?” *** Snow says that Coin wants to take his place.

Coin calls the surviving victors to a meeting. She’s going to be interim president, until new elections can be held after things calm down. Ain’t that neat? Congratualtions. Also, and this will be put to vote, Coin will hold a “symbolic” Hunger Games, to help slake the general bloodlust. “It balances the need for revenge with the least loss of human life.”

The motion passes, with Katniss taking Snow’s final claims to heart. She votes yes “for Prim,” and she demands to kill Snow. Coin agrees.

The Capitol receives a makeover. Rebel banners line the Tribute’s ___ *** , and thousands of rebels stand along its edge. Katniss, resplendent in all black, walks its length to a thundering drumbeat.

At the avenue’s other end stand the remaining victors, Snow (tied to a post), and Coin, standing above, addressing the crowd. She calls on Katniss to “fire the shot that will end all wars. May your aim be as true as your heart is pure.”

Now I know what’s coming, and this time I was right. Katniss nocks an arrow, draws the bow, aims at Snow. Snow, for his part, is taking this well. Perhaps he resigned himself to death when he started coughing blood. He smirks at Katniss.

The Girl on Fire, Mockingjay, Katniss Everdeen, lifts her bow up a few inches, and looses an arrow that pierces Coin’s left breast. The now ex-President Coin falls as ex-President Snow laughs. Even he didn’t expect that.

The end of a brief dictatorship.

An angry mob (is a mob ever not angry?) rushes and crushes Snow as guards drag Katniss away and throw her in a cell. She doesn’t wait long, however, for release. Haymitch reads her a letter from Heavensbee. The district leaders call for an election, and it will likely be Commander Paylor from District Eight.

Katniss saves her best outburst for the end. After Snow dies. After the war. After she thinks her sister is dead for the first couple of times.

Katniss returns to her house in District Twelve, for the third time in the movie. As empty as ever, she can’t bring herself to sleep in a bed. Suddenly, a noise wakes her. Nervous, Katniss stumbles to the kitchen.

It’s the cat Buttercup. He’s hungry. He meows. Katniss won’t have it. She’s pissed. Katniss throws dinnerware at the cat and almost hits him. Very scary!

No surprise there. The entire Hunger Games series started when Katniss raised her hand and shouted “I volunteer!” to take her sister’s place. In the end, Prim died anyway. Try accepting that as fact. Katniss fought a war to protect her sister and failed. The poor cat heard the worst of it.

Jokes (0/4)

Mockingjay is as grim as its settings and themes. Narry a joke is heard, not when people are dying in the streets, above the streets, and below the streets.

Setting (2/4)

Mockingjay visits the most districts of the series. District Five sports a big lake behind a dam that provides electricity to the elites of The Capitol. District Seven provides lumber, and in one sequence the lumberjacks monkey up the trees and bomb some peacekeepers. Districts Twelve and Eight are mostly rubble.

Some swank digs in The Capitol.

The Capitol receives its debut in the second half of Mockingjay. What’s supposed to be a beautiful town of gaudy display, much like its residents, instead resembles a brutalist, Soviet era megalopolis. Multi-story towers line every block, sometimes surrounding minimalist sculpture in a plaza. All concrete all the time. Where are the parks and trees? The only images allowed in the city are posters seeking Katniss and her crew.

District Thirteen is an underground expanse of dull green paint and floodlights. Bad combination. Dozens of stories underground, Thirteen houses thousands of residents, refugees, and rebels. Its hospital works well, because Katniss visits it about four times.

Commentary (1/2)

Mockingjay changes course right at the end. I expected Coin to be a benevolent leader, to hang some medals around Katniss’s neck a la Star Wars.

Snow’s meeting with Katniss changes the ending greatly. Long Katniss’s enemy, Snow recedes to a background nuisance and vaults Coin to Public Enemy No. 1 in the space of one scene. It’s a terrific move that added much to the film. Perhaps leaders in wars aren’t as different as they would have us believe. Perhaps they crave power more than freedom or victory.

Offensiveness (-1/-2)

Hollywood still has a whiteness problem, and it’s on display in Mockingjay. Background characters better represent the milieu of the American–excuse me, Panem–tapestry, but the lead players in the rebellion are still white folk. Boring. We need new people fronting our movies, movie industry!

Others

  • Katniss and I share the same favorite color (green).

Summary (35/68): 51%

Mockingjay is a less exciting but more interesting film than its predecessors. Two battles in the arena make for edge-of-your-seat entertainment, but Katniss dealing with powerful adults makes intrigue.