From the earliest days, movie producers saw the potential profit in sequels, series, and franchises: Tarzan, Nancy Drew, Frankenstein, etc. Some were designed as a series from the start while others spawned sequels only after the success of a stand-alone film (e.g. The Thin Man). Then there are the serials so popular in the 1930s and ‘40s that played before the main feature: short films with cliffhanger endings and a continuous story arc such as Flash Gordon, Batman, Green Hornet, and the late entry (1952) Commando Cody. George Lucas famously was inspired by these for his Star Wars series. Star Wars coincided with the arrival of home video players, which made discretionary home binge-watching possible for ordinary folks. The home-binge option has made serials more prevalent than ever. High among the sources to which Hollywood has looked for scripts have been comic books and Young Adult fiction.
This year three series based on YA books (Divergent, Maze Runner, and Hunger Games) with broad similarities have installments in theaters. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is the monster hit of the three and the final installment of its series. Though she certainly has made her mark in other films, Jennifer Lawrence became a superstar in The Hunger Games. I try to keep up with at least some pop-culture phenomena, so Monday night I went to a nearby multiplex to see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2. (I noticed only when I got home that the Millennial cashier had, unasked, given me a senior discount: sigh.)
For those who have read the books, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 follows the plot pretty faithfully, with only such simplifications as are sensible to maintain cinematic pacing. Nonetheless, like the other installments, it is a remarkable visualization of the novels and worth seeing for that reason alone. Those who haven’t read the books but who have seen the previous three films know basically what to expect, and shouldn’t be disappointed. Anyone who hasn’t seen the first three, however, (a caveat for most series) will be completely lost. Recommendation for newbies: binge-watch the first three before stepping foot in the theater.
On one level The Hunger Games series is a teen-oriented adventure, but it really is more. It is deeply cynical on many levels, the political being just one of them. Katniss is not a typical heroine. She owes her hero-status to media-hype and she knows it. She is not a very nice person and she knows it. She is humanly inconsistent: she is willing to sacrifice for others, yet also is willing to sacrifice others for herself. She does self-reflect enough, however, to question her own moral choices and those of her friends. Should we conveniently excuse ourselves and our allies for acting the same way as our enemies just because it is a means to an end? What are the limits of loyalty and what is betrayal? At what point is victory too costly? It is unusual for a YA-based series to ask such questions and more unusual to offer the answers this one does.
Contrary to popular opinion we do not live in cynical times. These are partisan times, and partisans are true believers. It is not cynical to believe the worst of one’s opponents. That’s just toeing the party line as a true believer. Cynicism in the good sense involves recognizing unsavory natures and motives in oneself and one’s allies while seeing the goodness in one’s opponents – yet still making an informed choice among the shades of gray. So, the success of The Hunger Games with its more complex world view is surprising and encouraging.
Thumbs up, but not as a stand-alone movie: See the others first.
Essence of The Hunger Games world view: