Before going into the film I’d studiously skipped reading or listening to any reviews. That edition of Empire is unread, the Empire Podcast unheard, and I stopped listening to that episode of Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s Film Review. I wasn’t too worried about spoilers per se, but I felt pretty confident that I could guess the tone of their reviews and I didn’t want to let their thoughts influence my experience of the film, which I was pretty sure wouldn’t surprise me in any major plot points. Just so you’re aware reading this, I spoil the shit out of this film. At a guess, all worthy and notable critics will come out and say that the film didn’t quite hang together, lacking the elegance and focus of (particularly) the first film. The verdict will be that there are some wonderful set pieces, but that the running time is flabby – “it should have been one movie” will mesh uncomfortably with discussions of how the trip into the subterranean areas felt like a different film. It’s a fair bet that most people will talk about how the “love triangle” is finally resolved. And I guess all of that is hard to completely refute on purely intellectual grounds, but it doesn’t reflect my experience of watching the film that closely.
My experience was watching a character who had been the main figure of interest become a protagonist, someone able to influence their own life and the lives of others. Katniss began the films as a martyr, sacrificing herself for her little sister in the first of many reactionary activities. It wasn’t really until Mockingjay Part 1 that Katniss began to act on her own initiative and start to direct the story, and it’s not until Part 2 that she is genuinely a factor in deciding what happens in the story. It is her insistence on being in the front lines which drives the action in the second half, and which ends the tyranny of Coin before it can really begin. The fragmentary action in the film at least partially reflects the inexperience of a new protagonist, and partially reflects the complexity of events unfolding in the wide canvas of Panem as a whole. I actually liked that the narrative unspooled from the close focus of the first two films, because it felt more like the aleatory world we all experience, rather than the hyper-fictional construct of the first two films.
The best expression of Katniss’ growing protagonism was in her interactions with Peeta, which have always been a little, again, reactive. She is able at the film’s conclusion to approach him, to acknowledge their relationship. This is another thing which I think may be considered problematic by some people – because the traditional prize for winning is that you get the girl, and here Peeta does eventually get Katniss and it could be seen as the default ending, particularly with the super-sacharine final scene of happy couple + babies. The concern might be about why she ends up with either, because as a self-sufficient woman who’s changed the course of history, surely she can be content to be by herself – self sufficient. There’s also Peeta’s method of winning her in the first place, which is that he unilaterally invented their relationship as a publicity ploy; eventually resolving them as a couple could be seen to legitimise that strategy, which I don’t think is the surface intention of the film. We know where good intentions lead though, and we should always be at least mindful of the counter-textual structures of a drama. I think the films dodge this particular bullet by making it clear that Peeta is a kind and gentle soul, inasmuch as anyone can be in his society, and that he amplified his genuine emotions for effect – he took advantage of what was already nascent, rather than manufactured it for advantage. It’s still a slightly delicate balance, and it wouldn’t be too hard to support the cynical view of the gender politics in play. More likely, I think, is that we can regard Peeta as Katniss’ reward for being the victorious protagonist. This in some senses is only slightly less problematic, because it maintains the essential love-as-reward structure. And again, I wouldn’t read the details of the film as making that the strongest interpretation of what’s going on in the relationship.
For me, I think the relationship between Peeta and Katniss was the most complex and interesting part of the story – the political and war stuff was all perfectly adequate, but it wouldn’t have engaged me by itself, I don’t think. For whatever reason, I really bought into that relationship and its drama, and the way it played out on screen felt very satisfying.