The first teaser trailer for Francis Lawrence’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015) is up now, scheduled for a November 20 release date. There’s no new footage of Jennifer Lawrence, just a CGI mockingjay emblem catching fire (that wasn’t supposed to be punny, I promise), but fans are sure to rejoice as the grand finale to the series becomes more and more of a reality.
As for myself, I have very mixed feelings toward The Hunger Games. There’s so much to love about it, the cast in particular, but it suffers from poor timing. As a young adult book-to-film adaptation in the early twenty-first century, comparisons are inevitably drawn between itself, Harry Potter, and The Twilight Saga, and, though it’s far and away superior to Twilight, it is not the next Harry Potter.
Sorry, not sorry.
J.K. Rowling (miraculously) kept the momentum going for seven books, and Stephenie Meyer never could get that momentum started at all, but Suzanne Collins ran out of steam by the second book, and the weak ending to The Hunger Games Trilogy is unworthy of her storytelling talents. I had a hard time getting into the books because I saw the first movie before I started reading them, so the element of suspense was lost for me, but, when my family talked me into watching that thing in theaters for the first time, I thought it was the most intense ever. Unfortunately, in a post-Harry Potter world, where Twilight failed to fill the void left behind by Rowling’s multimedia juggernaut, people are desperate to find the next “big” thing, and, since The Hunger Games came closer than anything else, “angsty-teenagers-versus-a-postapocalyptic-dystopia” is what Hollywood latched onto.
Between Neil Burger’s Divergent (2014) and Wes Ball’s The Maze Runner (2014), the film industry has already made a cliché out of the barely-three-years-old Hunger Games. Check out the brilliant parody Twitter account, @DystopianYA – it’s pretty on point. Alas, like anything else that becomes popular, The Hunger Games is a victim of the milk-it-for-all-it’s-worth business model in the hypercompetitive landscape of post-conglomeration show business, where hoteliers own movie studios and the almighty dollar trumps artistic principle.
What could’ve been a clever (and relevant) commentary on the aestheticization of violence in modern American culture (where the government has the power to send our eighteen-year-olds off to die overseas “just because,” but people are too busy live-tweeting reality TV marathons to notice or care), has instead degenerated into a dime-a-dozen love triangle that continues through one book too many (even Twilight would’ve been salvageable if it had stopped at Eclipse). That being said, at least Collins’s love triangle is secondary to the socio-political import of the story (the woman sure does know how to work with what she’s given), and Katniss Everdeen isn’t a “Mary Sue,” like Bella Swan, who’s universally desirable for no discernable reason (so don’t compare Jennifer Lawrence to Kristen Stewart ever again, Internet). Even though I’m not a foaming-at-the-mouth superfan, I can still acknowledge that it’s unfair to compare The Hunger Games with Harry Potter, because I don’t think it’s meant to be another Harry Potter, but it’s still a “respectable,” if not “flawless,” series; that’s like comparing Harry Potter and William Shakespeare – it’s not that Harry Potter is bad, it’s just that it’s better when it stands on its own, and, in a perfect world, The Hunger Games would be a standalone work.
Congratulations for sitting through my long-winded introduction. Here are the Hunger Games films (thus far), ranked from worst to best.
- Francis Lawrence’s The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)
The second entry in the series is almost unwatchable for me. Admittedly, part of it has to do with personal reasons – it came out at a time when I was deathly depressed, so there are bad memories associated with it – but it’s also a very “second movie.” The second movie in a trilogy usually exists only to serve as a grafted-in sequel to the first movie and an overlong prologue for the third, not as good as the one we fell in love with in the first place and not as good as the one that ties up all the loose ends (David Yates’s Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) comes to mind, even though it’s the sixth installment; maybe it’s more of a “second-to-last-movie” thing).
The abrupt cut to black at the end from a close-up of Jennifer Lawrence’s face reacting to some “Really Important News” is all but identical to the closing shot of Kristen Stewart in Chris Weitz’s The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009), and it’s never a good thing when something reminds you of Twilight. As for the rest of the film leading up to that ending, there are only so many training montages and “Hunger Games” sequences that I can sit through before they grow tiresome, and the first movie has enough of those already. At least they got rid of that damn shaky cam.
- Francis Lawrence’s The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014)
With the lowest critical percentage rating out of the three films on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes (sixty-six percent for Mockingjay, eighty-four percent for The Hunger Games, AN ASTONISHING EIGHTY-NINE PERCENT FOR Catching Fire), the third Hunger Games movie has garnered hate where the first two garnered praise, and I still don’t understand why. I thought it was a major improvement over Catching Fire. Yes, it’s a shameless cash-in on the Harry Potter and Twilight strategy – split the last book into two movies and charge moviegoers two tickets for what should’ve been one film – so it tries oh so very hard to turn the first half of the novel into a feature-length picture; and, yes, there are random bouts of shaky cam.
Notwithstanding, at least it takes the plot in a new direction. Catching Fire is pointless because we already have The Hunger Games, but Mockingjay is a truer follow-up to the first movie, since it’s a “continuation” rather than a “copy,” and it’s the most exciting thing to come out of the series so far since the first one. Audiences probably felt deceived because “the Hunger Games” appears in the title but not in the film itself, but that’s just out-of-touch corporate Hollywood marketing their four movies as a “brand” for fear of one film performing worse than the others.
- Gary Ross’s The Hunger Games (2012)
This is where my Jennifer Lawrence worship began. The handheld camera is a big problem, but that’s not the director’s fault – in the age of Paranormal Activity, a movie isn’t “cool” or “edgy” enough until it looks “homemade” (i.e. “unprofessional”). Regardless, The Hunger Games had me on the edge of my seat when I first saw it, and movies never have that effect on me.
But that was only the first time. The Hunger Games Trilogy isn’t overrated, but it’s definitely overexposed. The first movie was spirited and creative (if not necessarily original, i.e. Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale (2000)) and it had one hell of an ending, but it has since then bloated itself into three sequels, not to mention God knows how many derivative series.
Here’s hoping that Mockingjay – Part 2 lands somewhere in between David Yates’s epic Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2011) and Bill Condon’s The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 (2012, with its lame-ass fake-out ending to help beef up the “nothing happens” happily ever after to Edward and Bella’s romance).
My apologies for all the hyphenations. Must be one of them days, ya feel? At least I didn’t bitch about how the movies are different from the books.