Since I began watching The Hunger Games movies a month ago, I’ve been struggling to put my finger on why it is that I have found myself simultaneously intrigued and frustrated. Even when it’s been objectively good, I haven’t been able to find that investment. But after watching the conclusion in Mockingjay Part 2, I think I can finally put my finger on it. This franchise had two main threads…almost two different stories, if you will.
One was an insular and intimate exploration of the effect such an unjust, violent, and oppressive world has on its more marginalized citizens, and how in light of this, two survivors of trauma managed to find mutual support and some semblance of peace with one another. Katniss and Peeta’s relationship really took off for me in Catching Fire, and to see them end with a quiet life after so much suffering was just…nice. In some ways it makes me uncomfortable that this romance is the clearest part of Katniss’s character arc I can point to, but the fact is, her growing to be able to care for someone past survival instinct and the protection of her family was rather significant. And perhaps the point? It wasn’t perfect, but this aspect worked; it played out in a meaningful way.
However, the other story was that of the revolution. Of Panem’s political system; the way we see this cat-and-mouse dynamic first established with the hunger games ultimately play out on a larger scale, complete with Katniss blowing up its foundation yet again. That sounds deep, doesn’t it? There is something poetic about how Katniss’s final arrow in Catching Fire so beautifully parallels her murder of Coin. Add to that Snow and Plutarch (I looked up his name for you this time) with their pithy bits of wisdom, and the fact that the climactic showdown was a nuanced conversation, and you’d think this would be something I’d love.
Except…it wasn’t executed well at all. And kind of didn’t make any sense. Not to mention, the revolutionary plotline was the “excitement” and the external “stuff that happens,” so it necessitated a large focus. That’s fine, except for the fact that I would argue it ended up competing with, and ultimately eclipsing, Katniss’s internal journey. Maybe a large part of this is due to the visual medium? It’s a bit challenging to get a handle on her headspace when she’s being attacked by sewer boogers.
To discuss what didn’t work in this film, I think I have to start with President Coin. Maybe I had this coming…I rather liked her in Mockingjay: Part 1 because she seemed pretty dang reasonable. Not perfect, not charismatic for sure, but reasonable. I’m worried that I might have projected too much competency onto her? Or logic? Except, no, I don’t think I did. We know she was the elected President of District 13, and we get a quick sense that her leadership was characterized by pragmatism, an ability to make tough calls (the whole “wait this out and don’t update their intelligence” thing springs to mind), and a tendency to present blunt truths with no thought to politics or image, if her non-Plutarch speech is anything to go by.
Someone in the comment section made the comparison that she was a Stannis, with Plutarch becoming her Davos; an apt analogy given how Plutarch’s influence by the end of Mockingjay: Part 1 helped her seem more likeable…a legitimate quality needed when launching a revolution.
However, perhaps this comparison was a bit too on the nose, because what happened to Coin this in this film was quite reminiscent of Game of Thrones’s treatment of “Stannis,” where he illogically burns his heir in the most recent season.
Seriously, I have spent quite some time thinking about this, and I really don’t believe it’s unfair to point out that Coin just randomly grew a moustache to twirl during this movie.
Out of the gate, Coin agrees with Gale’s “wolves in the den” strategy, but insisted that the rails be left open for civilians to escape, which seemed kind of like the only call to make? But we’re clearly supposed to be on Katniss’s side and sympathize with her horrified face, even though the entire time I was shouting at my screen, “what did you think a revolution would entail?” And all of this led to Katniss getting shot, in a situation where of course she’d get fucking shot; why was anyone letting her walk near that?
After this incident, Coin reasonably objects to Katniss heading to the front lines given her injury and importance, and when Katniss disobeys, Coin calls it “insubordination.” Plutarch’s reaction to that is clearly supposed to be skepticism, but given how District 13 is a military district where people follow orders, it kinda makes sense, right?
Except then the next thing we know, Coin decides to airdrop Peeta into Katniss’s revolutionary band, and Boggs, who had been presented as nothing but a dutiful soldier, is suddenly all “Coin is trying to kill you because you might not publicly endorse her in an election.” What.
In fact, Boggs is so mistrustful of Coin that he turns over possession of the hologram thingy to Katniss as he’s dying (I thought it was because she was right there, but whatever), leading to a random showdown with Katniss and that lady who I think was their new commanding officer? And Natalie Dormer decided to lie because no one is Team Coin anymore?? And then Commanding Officer Lady goes with it too because of Boggs???
I’m sorry, it’s just that in the span of what seemed like ten minutes, Coin goes from making a few calls that are worth questioning, but reasonable given the revolutionary context, to deciding that it’s a grand ol’ idea to rather blatantly risk Katniss’s life, despite the fact that Katniss had almost no strong feelings about the woman. Is paranoia a character flaw of Coin’s that they just forgot to seed? How is it worth “inflaming” the rebels at this point when the districts are united? And how is it that her own soldiers are all suspicious of her in an instant?
Then we need to talk about Coin’s brill strategy to bomb the Capitol’s children. Keep in mind, most of this movie takes place after all the districts have been “liberated” or joined the rebel cause, or however you want to put it. I’m actually not sure why every single rebel didn’t just point out the fact that “hey we control all of the resources, so let’s just hold up and wait out the Capitol’s inevitable surrender.” Seriously, this wasn’t even suggested, and this is a universe that lived through our history, so it’s not as though a blockade is something they wouldn’t have heard of.
But whatever, apparently the best play for Snow was to booby trap the entirety of the Capitol and televise gruesome deaths of rebel soldiers while he hides in his mansion. And the best play for Coin was to send troops marching through, but have Katniss and the Rebels of Moderate Importance follow in their wake to film more propaganda. Propaganda for who? Doesn’t matter. Need more, or else they can’t take the Capitol, because reasons.
Oh and let’s have Finnick lampshade that this is the “76 Hunger Games” because it’s getting apparent that this author might be a one-trick pony.
Anyway, once the rebel forces get close, Snow orders a mandatory evacuation to his mansion for citizens “more than a half mile outside the city’s center.” Who somehow were unaffected by his massive amounts of booby traps, or something. (Also, this is neither here nor there, but I really thought he had ordered an evacuation earlier in the movie, which only added to the “what” factor.) So all these children and families and stuff make their way towards the mansion’s gates, because Snow promised safe haven and pointed out that the rebels are coming to “destroy their way of life.” Which…yeah, actually.
But here’s Coin’s amazing plan: she’s gonna have a “Capitol” airship drop “supplies” onto the crowd of innocent Capitol civilians, except hold up: they’re actually bombs.
Then she’s going to send in her own medical crews…oh wait! There were more bombs that had a delayed fuse, which blew up even more innocents, along with a bunch of her own people. This results in Snow’s “people turning against him,” allowing the rebels to take the Capitol and win.
Except…how were they in danger of losing exactly? Coin was just that impatient? Or is it that she has a taste for blood of her own?
Like, it makes no sense, on a fundamental level. The rebels were at the gates at this point, and as Snow put it, “it was only a matter of time.” It made so little sense that for a second that I assumed Snow was lying to Katniss in their rose garden conversation, except his words were more or less confirmed with Gale’s admission about the bomb and Coin’s Stalin impression for the remainder of the film. We can try and be generous and say that Coin just didn’t want to raise the body-count of her own forces any more, except that she sent in her own fucking medics (unless Prim randomly switched sides), knowing they’d blow up.
To say it was “unmotivated” is putting it mildly. But I guess after that, why not declare yourself interim president (even though as the President of District 13 she probably would have been able to give orders without arousing suspicion anyway, and likely would have won an election) and propose more hunger games? Just fuck it, at this point.
And because of how nonsensical it all seemed, “may your aim be as true as your heart is pure” went from being what should have been a clever and impactful parallel to a groan-worthy anvil to the head.
There’s also the fact that the large majority of Snow’s conversation with Katniss made little to no sense, but was clearly written by someone who thought it was very clever. I guess in fairness, it did start out that way? If nothing else, I loved the touch that Snow let Katniss see him bleed; symbolism is fun sometimes.
But the thing is, throughout this entire franchise none of Snow’s actions made a whole lot of sense either, and this conversation only served to highlight that. I mean, yes, we can chalk a lot of that up to his Katniss-obsession. However, he then blamed that on Coin with his “I was watching you while you were watching me while she was actually grabbing power.” And just…no. You began directly fucking with Katniss in Catching Fire, and pissed her and everyone off with your terrible, terrible quarter-quell idea, while Coin, I don’t know, brewed non-caffeinated tea underground.
The assertion that “she pitted the Capitol against the districts” so that she could “take control of District 13’s arsenal” is equally meaningless, because she was the district’s President and kinda already had that control. And this is also literally the definition of what a revolution is.
The only sense I can make of this at all is that maybe it was Plutarch who secretly won the long game? He definitely manipulated Snow during the events of Catching Fire, and then I guess the argument could be made that he used Coin as needed, somehow ensured that Katniss was let into talk to Snow so that she’d want to assassinate her, and ended up winning by supporting a “Commander Paylor” candidacy? Which honestly, sounds more like the “Palpatine controlled everything” honeypot of the Star Wars prequels than anything actually in evidence within this franchise. Also what did he get out of it? A sweet Chief of Staff position? Cause Leo McGarry seemed so happy all the time.
This isn’t made better by the fact that Philip Seymour Hoffman died in the middle of this movie’s production, so I’m guessing there were supposed to be other scenes showing his “moves.” Like, I’m quite certain Haymitch doesn’t turn up with a letter from Plutarch when Katniss is in jail, though I’ll certainly give it a pass.
The worst part is that I could go on. Why did Snow order an evacuation of his citizens if he was about to surrender? Was it just to demonstrate how ruthless Coin was to Katniss because he knew she’d bomb the kids magically? Was it because he truly believed he had food for everyone? Is this evidence that he was actually the one lying and it was just quite lucky for him that Coin began not-subtly grabbing power and turned Katniss against her? (Though his actual manner of death was far worse than an arrow to the heart in my opinion.)
And for the love of god, will someone seriously tell me how it is that the Capitol even sustained itself without the districts? Like, forget rigging every street and putting on a massive television show for a handful of people… Where was their food coming from?
I feel bad hammering on just the politics, but I truly don’t know what else to make of a franchise whose plotline revolved around toppling a dystopian government. This isn’t aided by the fact that aside from
Theon’s Peeta’s recovery arc and Jennifer Lawrence’s acting, there is barely anything left to recommend this movie. I think we were supposed to be emotional about a wedding between two people we saw hug once. We were supposed to be scared when literal boogeymen chased everyone through the sewers. We were, god I have no clue, supposed to feel the tension(?) when Gale and Peeta talk about the love triangle five feet away from Katniss. And we were supposed to buy that Nat Dormer and her smirk was more equipped to survive a war-zone than what was it? 5 seasoned soldiers who all ate it?
I don’t think this will be the last I write on Mockingjay Part 2. In many ways it cries out for a snarky recap, but in others, there is something very legitimate and deep to talk about with some of interpersonal relationships. Some of them.
However, overall it was impossible to ignore the illogical politics, inconsistent characterizations, and random ‘splosions that characterized this film. It was very flash over substance, complete with a pseudo-intellectual bow on top. At least the final few scenes focused on the one narrative thread that worked.