Is “The Hunger Games” losing its magic?

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First Posted: 11/24/2014

What is this? Huh? What is this?

Did I just pay fifteen dollars and something cents for this? Fifteen dollars?! In money! Not doll hairs!

What is this thing that calls itself “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1?” Because it’s clearly not a movie. Movies typically have a three act structure, not a first act that stretches on interminably for more than two hours. Movies also have endings, not a certain point where the closing credits abruptly appear as if I just lost the second boss battle in “Final Fight” and Mayor Mike Haggar will get blown up if I don’t insert another 50 cents in the next 10 seconds. What exactly was so intricate and complicated about Suzanne Collins’ original novel that forced the producers to break it up into a pair of 120 minute movies? I mean, this isn’t “Infinite Jest”, this is a story about how a bunch of arrows stopped a league of Victorian dandy-fops and their hungry goings-on.

If I have to sit through some kind of quasi, half-movie, I should, at the very least receive a special little gift. Something like a “Hunger Games” Trapper Keeper or a soft, huggable Phillip Seymour Hoffman plushie with combable flaxen locks. I should have these items in my hands right now, so I can shake them defiantly at the computer from which I should have downloaded this movie illegally.

Now, before I go any further, can I please ask why these films don’t open with a brief recap of the previous movie? Not everybody is a “Hunger Games” super-fan. What’s wrong with having the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman emerge sheepishly from behind a pair of ruby red stage curtains, bring us up to speed and then pull at his face revealing he was really Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen the entire time.

She can then wink and give us a very sarcastic thumbs up (as this is happening, the words ‘In Loving Memory of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’ are superimposed on the screen). But no, the film begins with the events of “Mockingjay” already in progress. “The Hunger Games” are over. A war of propaganda is upon us. Katniss is very sad. She’s forced to hide in an undisclosed location where evil president Donald Sutherland and other people who look like they just fell out of the Thin White Duke’s scrawny, pale ass will never find her.

Former ally and clingy, dystopian ‘nice guy’ Peeta (Josh Hutcherson whose character should be forced to wear a post-apocalyptic “Hunger Games” inspired fedora made out of aluminum and the remnants of a swan’s ass just to underline how thoroughly unappealing he is) has been brainwashed and is talking smack about Katniss on national television right in front of Stanley Tucci’s enormous fake teeth.

Additionally, well, actually, there is no additionally. That’s basically it. Sure, on occasion, Katniss will emerge from the bunker and go outside so that she can look sad in a new location. And yes, there is that scene where she hides a cat in her purse. And, fine. There was that moment where a bunch of lumberjacks scaled a tree and whipped cherry bombs at people. But, apart from those quick little bits, there’s really nothing to see here. For something that’s hopefully a little more than a glacially paced preamble, you’re just going to have to wait until “Mockingjay Part 2” comes out later next year.

While watching “Mockingjay” a question kept popping up in my head, “What if the cast of “Twilight” was swapped with the cast of “The Hunger Games?” Would “The Hunger Games” still be held in such high regard? Would critics and fans still feel the same way about the series if Lawrence and Woody Harrelson’s characters were now played by Kristin Stewart and that one guy from “Revolution” who wasn’t the Los Pollos Hermanos guy from “Breaking Bad?” My guess is that it probably wouldn’t be. “The Hunger Games” series has always suffered from a number of flaws (it’s sometimes toothless, frequently humorless and the love triangle between Lawrence, Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth is basically unnecessary) but those flaws have always been slightly obfuscated by the veritable murderer’s row of character actors that populate these films. But good acting can only take a story so far. Especially when there’s barely any story to speak of. “Mockingjay’s” flaws are too glaring to overlook. The sight of Lawrence quietly weeping in a cervical collar may look impressive, but it definitely doesn’t move the story forward.