In my reviews of The Twilight Saga and how I mention the late ‘00s and early ‘10s trend of Hollywood taking young adult novels and turning it into films, you might know my position on studios and how they take the final book, split it into two movies, and milk the series for as much as they can.
Quite simply, this has always seemed like a cash grab. Some novels arguably only have enough material for one slightly long but really good movie. Instead, we get two movies with plenty of fillers that could have been dropped and still have a good movie if we cram them into one. Sometimes we get good movies like Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. But other times, we also get movies like Allegiant that is so spread thinly with the source material that it performed so badly critically and in the box office that its supposed part two, Ascendant, was cancelled.
The Hunger Games film series was supposed to end with a third and final film based on author Suzanne Collins’ third book in her series of the same name. However, to mirror the tactics of Harry Potter and The Twilight Saga, the third film was split into two films: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 and Part 2.
I think the difficult part of getting this trick right is finding out where the two movies split. After all, if a novel is structured in the traditional dramatic structure, it will be difficult for a studio to take the book and find the best way to split the book into two. If they split the novel before the climax, there really isn’t a reason for people to watch the first movie if it only features exposition to prepare them for the final one. And if they split the novel after the climax, no one really wants to watch a second movie that’s basically just the winding down of the last one.
So the obvious solution is to create a second climax in the plot. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, it was Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s quest to find Horcruxes and learning about the Deathly Hallows. In Twilight, it was Bella’s pregnancy.
In The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, however, it was an interesting choice to focus on Katniss’ new career as a brand ambassador for the rebellion. But did the film pull it off?
Introducing District 13
The film starts with Katniss finding herself in the underground District 13 along with Hunger Games victors Beetee and Finnick Odair. According to the books, District 13 used to be known for producing graphic mining, but in truth, they did a lot more nuclear weapons and technology. During the first rebellion 75 years ago, District 13 was the leader of the rebellion and, when they realized launching nuclear attacks can hurt both the Capitol and themselves, they decided to take another approach.
District 13 struck a secret deal with the Capitol: the Capitol was allowed to bomb the area over District 13 and claim that all its citizens were dead (which thus led to the decline and failure of the rebellion), but in exchange, District 13 would not launch nuclear attacks and would be allowed to live quietly underground.
Naturally, this doesn’t sit well with Katniss and a lot of other people from outside districts as District 13 had the means to stop the Capitol from 75 years of hosting the Hunger Games but chose to let everything happen. However, it had actually been building a new plan for a second rebellion and has since chosen Katniss to be the face of the rebellion, or the “Mockingjay” to inspire the districts to join them.
District 13’s president, Alma Coin, explains this to Katniss. She asks Katniss to be their Mockingjay, but she refuses since they weren’t able to save Peeta, who is still in the Capitol. However, after a discussion with Prim and after seeing Peeta used by Capitol television to convince the rebels to stand down, Katniss agrees under certain conditions, including a pardon for Peeta and all the other victors who may have been coerced by the Capitol to act against the rebellion.
The Mockingjay Rises
After seeing the aftermath of the District 12 bombings, Katniss is inspired to work with the rebels. The rebels try to get Katniss to make propaganda videos using special effects while hiding in the safety of the underground headquarters, but it looks too fake and uninspiring to rile up the rebels. Haymitch convinces the District 13 heads and Plutarch that Katniss needs to be spontaneous with her reactions, so they send her, a film team, and Gale as her bodyguard to visit a hospital in District 8.
However, the Capitol finds out about Katniss’ whereabouts and bombs the hospital filled with injured men, women, and children. Katniss fires down one of the hovercrafts and sends a message to the Capitol, saying her new catchphrase: “if we burn, you burn with us.”
Her speech is so passionate that it inspires the citizens of District 7 to revolt, killing a huge number of Peacekeepers despite some losses on their side.
Next, Katniss and her team travel to the District 12 ruins. With Katniss unable to speak while looking at the remains of the buildings and its people, Gale recounts the day it was destroyed. Apparently, after Katniss’ stunt in the arena, people were forced to return home and stay indoors. They saw all the Peacekeepers evacuated and, shortly after, hovercrafts started arriving. Gale managed to lead a few hundred citizens out of the carnage, but thousands more died.
While taking a break near a lake, Katniss is filmed singing “The Hanging Tree.” In the books, the song is about two lovers who choose to commit suicide to escape the suffering of life (this might have been a song related to the first rebellion) so that they’d both be free. The footage makes its way to District 5 and, like District 7, inspires the district to revolt. They attack and bomb the hydroelectric dam, depriving the Capitol of its main source of electricity.
One night, the Capitol releases a live interview between Peeta and Caesar Flickerman. District 13 tries to hijack the interview by airing clips of Katniss. Peeta sees the footage and is driven to warn her about an incoming attack on District 13. Thanks to Peeta’s warning, no District 13 suffers no casualties. However, when Katniss sees the damage above ground, she finds white roses as a message from President Snow. She breaks down and refuses to cooperate in the filming, realizing Peeta will be punished for trying to help them.
The Rescue Mission
Since Peeta’s warning had provided District 13 with additional time that was crucial to evacuating everyone, President Coin dispatches a team to infiltrate the Capitol to rescue all the imprisoned victors. While Beetee is hijacking Capitol’s defenses, they cause a distraction by letting Finnick talk non-stop.
Finnick, who has always been portrayed as a flirt with plenty of lovers in the Capitol, begins to reveal all the dirty secrets of everyone in the Capitol. After he won his first Hunger Games at the age of 14, Finnick was deemed as desirable and was prostituted by President Snow to wealthy and powerful people in the Capitol under the threat of killing all of Finnick’s loved ones. He was given money and expensive gifts from his customers, but he found that Capitol secrets were much more valuable and traded in that. In the books, he lists down people and their depraved secrets, and while Katniss doesn’t recognize a lot of those names, her prep team is visibly shocked by it. In the film, however, he focuses primarily on President Snow’s secrets.
During this time, the team (including Gale) infiltrate the Capitol successfully and rescue all the victors. However, President Snow cuts off their broadcast to talk directly to Katniss, who implies that he knows what they’re doing. He cuts off their connection to the extraction team, but we see that the Capitol reduced their security on purpose and are letting the team leave.
When the team arrives back at the headquarters, Finnick reunites with his true love, victor Annie Cresta. Johanna is also there, although shaved and badly tortured. Katniss tries to approach Peeta, but he suddenly goes wild and nearly strangles her to death before getting restrained.
Katniss wakes up in the infirmary where she is informed Peeta had been brainwashed into thinking Katniss is evil. While they are trying to reverse the effects of it, there’s no assurance that Peeta will return to normal.
As Katniss wanders the infirmary and quietly stares at Peeta struggling in his bindings in solitary confinement, President Coin announces the growing success of their rebellion and how only District 2’s military stronghold is the only power the Capitol has left.
This is only half of Mockingjay’s source material, but you can see how the movie was expanded to increase the runtime and make it an acceptable movie fans would watch. You don’t see a lot of the things that happened in the movie happen in the book because Katniss only briefly mentions it. And the fact that we see the infiltration happen (aside from just reading about Katniss worry about Gale in the books, or the actual rebellion Katniss’ propos inspire show that there is a way to expand from the source material without just adding fillers.
However, instead of creating an independent plot on its own, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 tackles the first part of the book and getting everything important out of the way to make room for the actual Capitol invasion. While it’s difficult to map out a solid plot with any resolution on this movie (you’ll need to watch Part 2 to have to appreciate the movie as a whole), it was an interesting watch that didn’t feel bloated and could leave audiences ready to witness the conclusion of this much beloved series.