If the new trailer is anything to go by, the final instalments will need Arena-style tech to overcome the source material
Francis Lawrence should be thanking his lucky stars he can count on namesake Jennifer as we head into the final instalments of the Hunger Games saga. The Oscar-winning 24-year-old is an actor capable of genuine big screen alchemy; she’s fabulous when handed classy material, but equally impressive when working on leaden fare.
Mystique, the shape-shifting comic book supervillain portrayed by Lawrence in the X-Men films, was once a figure of so little consequence that director Bryan Singer hired a model with no previous acting experience (Rebecca Romijn) to play the part in 2000’s X-Men. In the hands of Lawrence, the scantily-clad mutant became the tour de force who drove this year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past to become the first genuinely superb instalment of the interminable Marvel Comics saga.
It’s a superpower Lawrence may need to use once again if The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, the first full-length trailer for which hit the web this week, is to perform similarly miraculous feats. If it were not bad enough that studio Lionsgate has been forced to base the latest instalment on the final, middling-at-best novel in Suzanne Collins’ bestselling young adult trilogy, someone decided a while back to shoot only half of the far-from-epic tome at a time in order to squeeze every last drop of profit from the hit saga about a cruel dystopian future America.
The new trailer shows Katniss Everdeen Skyping Donald Sutherland’s snake-eyed President Snow, looking on in horror as poor Peeta Mellark is used as an instrument of propaganda by the fascistic rulers of Panem, and taking advantage of some significant archery weapon upgrades to give the enemy what for. But the creative team had better hope audiences are heavily invested in Katniss’s personal journey and the wider struggles of Panem by now, because the absence of thrillingly nefarious Arena gimmickry is keenly felt.
This, of course, is the book’s fault. While parts of Mockingjay do at least feature some rather shoehorned-in examples of Arena-style weaponry and traps – the good stuff – as Everdeen mounts a last-ditch attack on the Capitol, the first few chapters are mostly about our heroine struggling to cope with the psychologically tortuous fallout from her two previous brushes with death and destruction. This is not exactly territory designed to get pulses racing and fingers dipping into popcorn buckets, though fortunately it is where Lawrence often does her very best work.
Let’s hope the film-makers do find a way to carry the saga’s fondness for ingenious video game-style gadgetry into the new instalment, because all that pulpy cruel science is what made the saga worth watching in the first place. The first two movies thrived in the appallingly claustrophobic micro-climate of the Arena, a hellish spawning ground for cunningly evil future tech which was in many ways far more fascinating than either Katniss herself, her pseudo-romantic dalliances or any of her myriad nemeses. Give us Tracker Jackers, Mutts and Jabberjays and the imminent prospect of sudden, horrifying death over rubbish love triangles and epic battles for the future of the future nation any day of the week.
There is hope. Previous instalment Catching Fire was way better than its source novel, and Mockingjay – Part 1 will give us more of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Plutarch Heavensbee, as well as debuts for Julianne Moore’s District 13 president Alma Coin and Natalie Dormer’s hipster-tressed Cressida. It’s just possible the film-makers might succeed where the book failed this November.
But without all the fun of the Arena to look forward to, it’s equally possible we’ll see the saga jumping the shark into radically more expansive, yet considerably more prosaic territory. If so, Lawrence will need to show a knack for triumph in the face of adversity that would cast even Katniss into the shadows.
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