Friday 17 November 2023

From the archive: "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2"

So here we are, then: after nine hours of leaden franchise nontertainment, Katniss Everdeen - glassy-eyed, slow-on-the-uptake stooge of a drably oppressive dystopian regime - has finally clocked the grim state of things, and been primed to use her talents, such as they are, to bring down the regime's top brass. The Harry Potter and Twilight franchises only lost me in their home straights, when they retreated inside their own worlds to the detriment of basic storytelling. The Hunger Games never pulled me in, chiefly because of what it so plainly was: a grind of a formative text for a generation being schooled for a moment when the real world would mesh with our imagined dystopias, and all American event movies would be joyless and plodding. The dullness at least permits the switched-on viewer to spot how a notionally anti-capitalist text has been refashioned - made over, as with Katniss and that red dress - in such a way as to become a tool of the status quo. With the release of Mockingjay - Part 2, this series has now generated four films that have offered no escape, no relief, no nothing, really - and still tempted young adults to hand over their allowance every one or two years. Late capitalism is getting us to pay for our own oppression.

Anyway, this is the wrap-up (or footnote): Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss bursting out of the underground where she's been deprogrammed and refocused on the regime led by Donald Sutherland's ideologue President Snow. Again, everyone is terse, harried and terribly serious, the minor levity Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson lent to earlier instalments finally purged in favour of yet more internal politics; again, we're invited to invest in a YA love triangle that was sunk two films back by the thinnest characters known to man. From the perspective of a few years, what's striking is how white it all is, not just in its laser-tag-in-a-carpark aesthetic, but also in its insistence that the only alternative to a world overseen by a pale stale male is one led by an almost entirely personality-free white woman. After finally labouring through all four films, I've seen no indication that a world led by Katniss Everdeen would be any livelier; the vision of this new world that Part 2 arrives at is so bland you realise we've essentially been asked to cheer the YA equivalent of David Cameron being succeeded by Theresa May. It makes for perverse spectacle: the sight of exceptional actors (and a minor Hemsworth) attempting to free themselves from a structure that feels very nearly as deadening as the Snow administration itself - to get out of this series alive. This is the kind of childish thing Lawrence had to put away as R-Pattz and K-Stew did post-Twilight; the gap between these films and the star's next worst project is cavernous. More poignant is the fact this should have been Philip Seymour Hoffman's final film before his premature demise. There is much that is tragic about that passing, not least that a remarkable body of work - encompassing several inarguable modern classics - should have concluded with a project as rotely nondescript as this. But that's what capitalism does, even to the most gifted among us: it grinds you down.

(April 2022)

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 is available to stream via NOW TV, to rent via Prime Video and YouTube, and on DVD through Lionsgate Home Entertainment; a prequel, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, opens in cinemas nationwide today.

No comments:

Post a Comment