‘Mockingjay’ is great … except for the one part that $#%@s up the big picture

Katniss takes a moment with Gale.

Katniss takes on the mantle of revolutionary.

(There will be spoilers. Seems I shouldn’t have to warn anyone about that, but there you go.)

I entered the first of the Mockingjay films with a bit of trepidation. The snippets of reviews I had read were good, not great, tending to note that it felt like everything was being dragged out so that book three could be made into movies three and four. Anytime one book gets split into more than one movie, there’s the potential for that issue, and it was a concern I had when the split was announced.

I’m not sure what film the reviewers were watching, but apparently they were talking about another Mockingjay. I thought Catching Fire felt rushed and left too much out, nullifying some of the emotional impact of the story. As far as scope goes, Mockingjay is a much larger story with a much more delicate balance with what’s playing out internally for Katniss and for all of Panem. The foundation of that larger story is threefold: First, Katniss stepping up from just being the face of revolution and becoming the Che Guevara of Panem; second, the lengths both political heavyweights – President Snow and President Coin – will go to manipulate Everdeen for their own ends; third, the Katniss-Peeta dynamic. For the most part, Mockingjay Part I nails all of that.

For the most part. Until the filmmakers went and fucked up the political game in one foolish stroke.

One of the central conundrums in the Mockingjay book isn’t if evil President Snow will get his, but if President Coin might not be just as evil as Snow. Some of that plays out in her interactions with Katniss, some of it plays out in Coin’s larger decisions in the fight against Snow. But some of it comes down to some very specific moments in the third book. Is Coin the one who drops the bombs on the healers and children in the square of the Capital City? Is she responsible for Prim’s death? In the book, Snow insinuates that is the case, and Katniss at some level believes him, not so much because of Snow’s promise that he will always be honest with her, but because of what Katniss knows about the military capabilities of District 13 and the flaws she already has perceived in Coin’s character. But in the book, it doesn’t all ride on Katniss having to buy into the events surrounding that one moment. There are other hints regarding Coin’s duplicity, including the implication that, when the Capital attacks during Katniss’s first visit to a field hospital, it isn’t the Snow’s forces at all, but District 13 soldiers in stolen Capital jets, killing their own in an effort to push Katniss over the brink and into the role of revolutionary leader. At the very least, the suggestion is made that Coin may have leaked the information about where and when Katniss would be to draw the attention of Snow and the Capital forces.

That’s essential to Mockingjay. It’s vital. It’s importance cannot be underestimated. As readers put Coin on trial in their minds, that’s a key piece of evidence against the president of District 13. And in one quick, unnecessary scene, the filmmakers blow that. They actually show Snow ordering the strike on the hospital, and show that he received the information via his own surveillance network. The ambiguity is snuffed out. In the context of that part of the movie, it’s a small thing. In the larger context of the series, it undercuts a huge chunk of what author Suzanne Collins is attempting to accomplish. One of the major themes of the Hunger Games trilogy is use and abuse of power, how even the good guys can make bad choices, even if for very good reasons, and what that says about the good guys’ character. In the book, there’s uncertainty about Snow’s allegations, but the eye test makes Coin look very fishy, at least. Now, that’s been undone. If the filmmakers are going to make Coin look bad, there’s no longer a list of evidence that exists to makes that case. Now it will all really fall on one moment, that attack in the Capital square near the end of the book.

Will that be enough? Will it work for the movie, even if they’re not following the book’s template? Stay tuned …

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