No, Mockingjay is Not a Super Hero Comic Book. Yes, It Will Still Make Great Movies

Amongst the generally positive reaction to the Mockingjay Part 1 teaser this week, was MTV’s backhanded compliment of an article about the teaser. I’m not going to link to it, because I don’t want to help the post with any more traffic, but it was titled ‘Mockingjay’ Teaser Proves The Movie Will Be Better Than The Book. The writer liked the tone of the teaser and has high hopes for the movies based off this 1 minute piece of propaganda. So in terms of movie marketing, a job well done at converting a naysayer to the movie, I suppose.

But what really irked us about the article was how the book was described.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the “Hunger Games” books. I’m a dyed-in-wool Tribute, through and through. But the book “Mockingjay” is a bizarre ending for the trilogy, spending the majority of its running time with a near catatonic Katniss refusing to step up and be the hero we want her to be.

She gets addicted to drugs, mostly engages in publicity ops rather than action and only does anything remotely heroic at the very end of the book; though even her eventual call to action is a move that feels very much like giving up.

Not the greatest fodder for a movie, let alone two movies…

 

We’ve got A LOT of problems with basically all of these statements. It’s “fodder” for several posts, actually. He’s way off base to summarize Mockingjay as Katniss being some doped up drug fiend who does nothing throughout the story due to some weakness of character. But this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this type of shallow synopsis of the story, either. There are definitely people out there who just DON’T GET Mockingjay.

Through the past several years, we’ve seen a creative resurgence in comic book movies. From Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy to Joss Whedon’s Avengers, and a lot of other movies from the Marvel and DC universes. Many of these movies have been fantastic. Good story, characters, special effects, humor. Thanks to these movies, we’ve enjoyed lots and lots of heroic journeys for the past several years. And most of these movies have been hugely successful at the box office.

Brave. Talented. But not a super-hero, and we like it that way.

Brave. Talented. But not a super hero, and we like it that way.

So in this world of big comic book super hero movies comes the Hunger Games movies. Movies based on a book series about a corrupt society with vast wealth disparity. And a girl who does something brave to save her sister which sets off a chain of events that she never expected and by no means was prepared to deal with.  While Katniss Everdeen’s journey does share some thematic elements with those of comic book super heroes, SHE IS NOT A SUPER HERO. She has a big heart, great survival skills, and she’s good with a bow and arrow, but it is grossly unfair to judge her through a super-hero lens. I think a lot of people who view Mockingjay negatively do so because they were expecting Katniss to just dust off the trauma of Catching Fire and enthusiastically lead the rebels herself. Cause, you know, that’s what heroes do, evidently. Step aside Coin and Plutarch, this 17 year old introverted girl is ready to lead a rebellion!  How unrealistic is that? And even if you insist on judging her next to super-heroes, let’s remember that Nolan’s Batman got so depressed that he hid away in his mansion for 8 YEARS. Let’s let Katniss hide in some closets for a month or two and deal with the grief and guilt of losing Peeta. If she didn’t show such a level of despair over Peeta, Mockingjay’s critics would probably label her a cold bitch, so the girl just can’t win.

Yes, Katniss suffers from PTSD and it's a big part of Mockingjay. But it would be unrealistic to gloss over her trauma.

Yes, Katniss suffers from PTSD and it’s a big part of Mockingjay. But it would be unrealistic to gloss over her trauma.

To be clear, even though Katniss Everdeen is not a super hero, it doesn’t mean she’s not a hero. It means she’s not some larger-than-life character. Sure, Capitol propaganda in Catching Fire tries to make her seem that way, and the District 13 rebels try a similar approach in Mockingjay. But the REAL Katniss Everdeen, she doesn’t have any special powers or technology or money to make her super-humanly strong or powerful in other ways. SHE’S A GIRL WITH A BIG HEART WHO IS ALSO GOOD WITH A BOW AND ARROW. Her realness and relatability is what so many fans love about her.  It’s because of her heart that she undertakes the heroic journey that leads her to the events of Mockingjay.

What is Mockingjay? It’s dark, it’s challenging. It’s a psychological drama, political thriller, a story of war and sacrifice and death. It says that war is ugly and unfair and the damage done doesn’t get miraculously repaired at the end but takes years to heal.

Suzanne Collins did not write Mockingjay to become a super hero action movie. No one should go into either of the Mockingjay movies expecting to see a super hero action movie. But the plot, the characters, the dialogue, the depth of the themes DO INDEED make it fodder for two great movies.

Two movies with powerful themes that stay with you long after the credits roll.

JJ

Advertisements

9 comments

  1. I think that F Law will be good at balancing action and drama. I’m very hopeful he will do a good job in portraying Katniss’ character without being too much annoying.

  2. I agree. There are lots of people who don’t like Mockingjay, and its ok that its not for everybody. It is very dark and complex, and some people prefer simpler stories with happier endings. It is my favorite. While entire trilogy is of course fiction, and is set in a possible distopian future, it doesn’t have any element of fantasy, magic, or superpowers. Katniss is only extraordinary because she has a unique combination of skills and character to defy the capitol with success where so many had failed, or were too afraid to try, and that makes her heroic. She never loses sight of her purpose, even when her world gets very, very morally complex and the “right thing to do” is hard to see. The principal theme of the trilogy is to show the horrible cost of war, on both sides, and explore the reasons why, as humans, we continue to engage in it anyway. It would not be a fitting ending, in my view, to have a protaganist, and a society, that come through war without horrible, permanent scars. And I think that’s the point.

    1. I agree with you and I actually like it better this way. I can see people who haven’t read the books expecting something different from what we already know that happened. They probably will be very disappointed. But at the same time, people that underestimated the franchise will see this is not a super-hero movie and how surprisingly things are going to unfold. If it’s done properly, by the end, we may get to see the recognition and praise these books/movies deserve. (You know, it’s such a shame I don’t see people talking about Trish Summerville work in Catching Fire!) ps: English is not my first language.

  3. Okay, I admit, I think that Mockingjay DOES have flaws as a work, mostly because popular fan interpretations of two, likely three, plot points seem SO out of whack with what SC likely intended, that I do think we can argue that it’s a flaw in the writing. Though I don’t think “setting Katniss up as a superhero and failing to deliver” is one. SC does NOT have her character saving the world on her own, yes Katniss does make a difference but in a much more realistic way.

    Now, if the “move that feels very much like giving up” comment, refers to Katniss trying to commit suicide I’d say that considering what seems to be SOP for political prisoners in Panem on BOTH sides includes imprisonment, torture, and execution, committing suicide after assassinating a President, is hardly “giving up”. After all, the nightlock pill was actually standard issue for D13 soilders.

    And if it’s referring to the “Coin’s Games” vote, then that reviewer is totally missing the point. Yes, SC wants to reader to think, at that point, that Katniss gave up, to set up what she does later and shock us all. That being said, I think there are enough fans who thought even after Coin died that Katniss’s “yes” WAS sincere, that perhaps SC could have clarified this. I recall a very long and draining debate I had a couple years ago with a fan who insisted Katniss was a near-sociopath who only cared about her own “kin”, and of course was capable of sacrificing Capitol kids to sate her needs for revenge.

    Also, the fact that 99% of all post-MJ fanfic includes a Katniss-Gale reconciliation scene of some sort, makes me think SC did NOT do a good job in making the breakdown of that relationship believable to the core audience. I myself understood it, and I also understood why Katniss eventually winds up (presumably) married with kids despite rejecting the possibility earlier. But I’m past 30 years old, and it seems that many younger readers who assume teenage BFFs will actually remain BFFs, or who themselves don’t want kids and assume they’ll never change their minds, didn’t get it. And since the books were marketed primarily to that audience, I think not getting through to her core audience DOES count against SC.

    Quite tellingly, while I haven’t been to amazon.com’s Mockingjay page recently, the top 5-star review of the work was NOT from a teenager, but from a reader who, much like SC, came from a military family and knew RL soldiers who suffered from PTSD. Other comments from the reviewer made it clear she was closer to SC’s generation than the Millenial one. But SC even stated herself that she wanted younger people, specifically, to think about the costs of war. Not people her age who already have had personal or family experience.

    To sum up; do I agree with this particular MJ critique? No, but I also wouldn’t say I think MJ is above criticism, or that I can’t be a true fan of the series if I critique it. I also consider myself a Potterhead and I think JKR did NOT do a good job of convincing me Harry/Ginny were a good match.

    1. It also occurred to me that perhaps the reviewer actually thought Katniss giving up on Coin as a leader and deciding she had to go and couldn’t be redeemed, was the same as “giving up” on the revolution itself? Now that is interesting, I have certainly seen some readers interpret MJ as an extreme pacifist work suggesting that peaceful tyranny is a lesser evil than outright war — essentially, agreeing with Snow! Even in RL, some people argue that at least in certain parts of the world, tyranny is so ingrained into their culture that any “revolution” is only fleeting, that all “freedom fighters” will eventually turn into tyrants themselves, and so accepting the status quo makes for less suffering. But from the rest of the article, I doubt such deep thoughts were in play.

    2. For the case of Katniss-Gale reconciliation, it could be that the vast majority of writers write such a thing with the purpose that you mention in mind.
      However, as one who who DID think SC handled the breakdown of their relationship properly, I see it in a different way; that it’s part of the healing process that represents Panem’s healing overall.

      In other words, I like to think that Gale does come to terms with the fact that he became a jerkass with a sense of entitlement who, if presented with the Geneva Convention, would have used it as toilet paper. Getting a job in Two, of all places, should have signaled a step in the right direction (unless he immediately quit or, alternately, decided to issue a reign of terror pacify the region).

      Ultimately part of that coming-to-terms would be establishing dialogue with Katniss. In fact, unless the headcanon is that he ultimately does stay in denial of his actions and dies a bitter man (which is also valid), I personally can’t see any healing on Gale’s side not including an olive branch extended to Katniss.
      Would they have their friendship as before? Probably not.
      Would it happen overnight or even within one or two years? DEFINITELY not.
      Is this all on the overly idealistic side where one assumes that many people are ultimately decent human beings? Yeah, but hey.

      On another note, part of my does think SC leaves so much open because she ultimately wants the reader to think past what’s written.
      Just my take.

    3. I don’t know about that. Some of the people who exemplify the reading you mention that I’ve encountered online are middle-aged, or at least claim to be (such as one of the posters on Amazon.com forums who is very anti-Katniss, who is supposed to be 47). On the other hand, you have young Isabelle Fuhrman saying in interviews that Mockingjay is her favorite book in the trilogy, that Katniss is great in it and a real hero and that she loves Katniss/Peeta relationship in MJ, so I assume she doesn’t interpret any of those plot points that way,

      Then again, maybe they’re both just rare exceptions.

      Overall, you may be right, but OTOH… I’ve seen so many completely different, sometimes downright bizarre interpretations of fictional works, that I’m not sure if people misinterpreting plot points is really a sign of the failure of the work. Perhaps it all comes down to what percentage of the audience misinterpreted plot points.

  4. I just hope the HG and CF handled Katniss’ character enough to justify the way Katniss acts in MJ like the books did.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s