No lies, I have been incredibly excited about the release of the final Hunger Games instalment. As adaptations go, I think these have been some of the best to stay within the film format and not move into TV series territory. Obviously, a film can be good without being faithful to its source material, but since this is a book blog, I am going to focus on its relationship to the original work!
This continued the strong record of the previous few films in being a great adaptation. My post will be completely full of spoilers, so if you haven’t read the book, don’t want to know how the film compares or any combination thereof, please proceed with caution!
I was expecting the adaptation to stick to the book, and that expectation was met. While some things went in different directions, I completely understand why – usually just for the sake of brevity and clarity.
One change which has given me a lot of thought, because while the plot continues unchanged, the implications that shift from it are really interesting. Katniss and Johanna’s training in District 13 is omitted entirely – instead, Johanna simply covers for Katniss, who slips away from Finnick and Annie’s wedding, hops on a plane taking medical supplies and food to the Capitol after Coin told her that her job was done. Once she’s been seen by the rebels already there though, and the image has been shared, Coin has little option but to let her stay there – the alternative being to fly her back to 13 and have it known that she can’t control the Mockingjay.
This adjustment means we get less Johanna, and to a certain extent miss out on the friendship Katniss and Johanna develop as they go through physical rehabilitation together, share a compartment and try to be passed competent enough to participate in the final tight. The film works hard to compensate for this though with a few conversations between them, and I still adore Jena Malone as Johanna Mason – she stepped straight out of those pages. I did also like in the book that this training period draws a line under the difference between the Hunger Games they’ve both participated in and being a soldier in a war. Katniss has to work hard and learn not just a lot of physical skills but how to take orders – as she is known to follow her own agenda.
The alternative light that the change casts on things is very interesting though. Instead of Katniss working hard to accommodate Coin’s rules, we have Coin having to scramble with Plutarch’s help to explain her Mockingjay’s actions and appear in control. Given the adjustment needed in viewers attitudes to Coin throughout the film, this helps to introduce that shift – we directly see how concerned Coin is about the following Katniss commands. While I feel like this is less a right of passage for Katniss as a citizen of 13 in the film, it still works very well and probably the better setup for visual storytelling.
The thing that made the whole film – to be honest, has made the whole series – delightful to watch, is still the characterisation. I’ve already talked about how perfectly Jena Malone plays Johanna Mason, but the casting is just as strong across the board – Elizabeth Banks is a spectacular Effie, Woody Harrelson the perfect Haymitch, Julianne Moore (and her hair) make a perfect Alma Coin.
There are a few whose on-screen characterisation made me especially happy. First of all, Commander Boggs is absolutely spectacular – I’ve never had a clear image in my head for the character, but Mahershala Ali plays the role precisely, and his death was incredibly well done. His belief in Katniss’s ability to end the war and his concern for her position once it is over were wonderfully played. Patina Miller as Paylor and Gwendoline Christie as Lyme are fantastic – though I’m disappointed we didn’t get to see more of Commander Lyme! I don’t think it even comes up in the film that she is also a past victor of the Games, and her only scene felt quite rushed – especially given that in the book, we’re told these conversations have been going on for weeks.
I’m ecstatic about the strength of characterisation given to secondary characters – that the central protagonists aren’t allowed to soak up all the limelight. I’m still sad not to have Katniss’ prep team (Flavius, Octavia and Venia) still around, especially since with the skill they managed a large cast, I’m sure it would have been do-able. Pollux and Castor especially are played so amazingly by Elden Henson and Wes Chatham, and Pollux’s grief over losing his brother was awful to watch. This is also why I’m not too bothered by Leeg 1 and Leeg 2 both dying together in the house where they escape the pods – two sibling grief scenes on each other’s heels might have been too much.
Things I wasn’t in love with? Well, personally I feel that Coin’s self-satisfaction was a bit too heavy handed by the time it came to Snow’s execution. I know that the audience needs bringing round to view her as a villain, but honestly even the implication that she dropped those parachutes and her suggestion of a final ceremonial Games is more than enough to me to hate her, and I think it should be for anyone. The parallels between her and Snow are apparent – while their ideals might be different, her fear of losing power when she’s grown used to it in 13, her coldly logical ‘balancing’ of a need for retribution with how much life should be lost are all a bit too familiar. I think Julianne Moore could have played her triumph a little cooler.
The only other criticisms I have of the film are based very strongly on what I would like more of – more introduction of Annie Cresta, the presence of Greasy Sae and her granddaughter when Katniss moves back to District 12. The previous films made no effort to introduce Greasy Sae, so her presence in this final film wasn’t possible, but I certainly missed her part in Katniss finding herself again. I’m very aware though, these are things that I would have liked, but they weren’t necessary.
I was surprised by how true to the book this film stayed in places – for instance, I wasn’t expecting Mitchell’s death to be kept precisely as it was in the book, but it is, and fair warning, it is pretty grim, but still well done*. Well enough that you know precisely what has happened, but not glorying in the violence of it.
I was completely unsettled by how well both the sewer mutts and Tigris are done. First, the mutts – their appearance is terrifying, how they move is horrible. The film skips the idea that they smell of the roses that Snow keeps leaving everywhere for Katniss, which I think is reasonable – they’re scary enough anyway. The scene fighting with the mutts seemed to go on for a very long time, but I honestly can’t tell if the filmmakers were just glad to finally have some genuine action (since previously in the film there has mostly been negotiation and the stand-off in District 2) and therefore did keep it going a long while, or whether it just was so horrible that it felt long to me. Or perhaps my brain dragged it out for ages because I knew what was about to happen and who was about to die.
At that point of the film, knowing exactly what was coming, with the tiny glimpse the trailer gave, made it incredibly tense – every time the thin beam of torchlight scanned across another tunnel, I was certain a mutt was about to make me jump. The design of the mutts is creepily good.
But I think Tigris almost beats them for best character design. She is so strange and uncomfortable to observe, but that is precisely the impression the book gives of her. In fact, this character works fantastically on screen because you can’t opt out of imagining her fully – in the books I registered she was a bit off in appearance, the surgery-a-step-too-far look, and moved on to the other details. She lends a fantastic weight to the people of the Capitol who have also been violenced by it – in very different ways to those in the districts, but still important in the context of why Snow’s government must be dismantled. This time Katniss’ spends in the Capitol, from visiting Tigris’ shop to walking through streets full of refugees, make very clearly the point – while these people are of the Capitol, they have not been complicit deliberately in its ways. They have been indoctrinated, brought up on its cruelty, and never taught any better. They are scared, but killing them does not weaken Snow’s regime.
My absolute favourite scene though was one taken verbatim from the book – while Squad 451 adjusts to Peeta’s presence, and Katniss struggles to figure out how to interact with a Peeta who is in recovery, her speech reminding him of who is he was perfectly done. A film doesn’t have the luxury of reflective explanation like a book, but I really admire how clearly Jennifer Lawrence manages to convey the complexity of Katniss’ feelings towards him. Katniss is scared by a Peeta who asks her the hard questions, but she is trying, trying not to shirk any connection with him because of it, trying to remind herself that this is more difficult for him.
I’m sure it’s abundantly clear from the essay of thoughts I have on it, but I’ll say it anyway – I’m really happy with the final film in this franchise. It’s brilliantly done both as a film and as an adaptation.
Have you seen the film yet? How do you think it compares? I’d love to hear from you in comments!
*In case you’ve forgotten, in the book Mitchell pulls Peeta off Katniss when the combat zone becomes too much for him as they’re escaping the second pod flooding the street with sticky black oil. Peeta fights him, kicking out and he falls into another pod, which hoists his body into the air inside a net of spiked wire. His body then ends up coated in the black oil.