The installments of The Hunger Games film franchise directed by Francis Lawrence (which is all of them except the first film) have been greeted, for the most part, positively. That was especially true of Catching Fire, and the reviews for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 have been very good so far. The outlier is Mockingjay — Part 1, which received a comparatively more lukewarm reception – with the film being criticized for being mostly setup for Part 2. Francis Lawrence has read the criticism, but doesn’t quite see it that way and defends Part 1, “I still stand behind it. I really do think it was sort of a cynical perspective on splitting a book into two movies. And the people who thought it was a cash-grab didn’t like it, and other people really got the idea and themes and really grabbed onto it.”
Regardless, if you do still think the first half of Mockingjay was setup, the second half, which hits theaters this week, is your payoff – a movie that involves much more action, an underground zombie fight, and payoff scenes that the whole series has been leading us towards. Unfortunately, some of these scenes had to be filmed without the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays Plutarch, a central character in this last film. Ahead, Francis Lawrence explains what he wanted to accomplish with this last chapter of The Hunger Games story and just how he worked around losing one of his beloved stars.
You’ve mentioned before how you were inspired by Breaking Bad in the way you do cliffhangers for these movies. Mockingjay Part 2 definitely has the Breaking Bad beginning. It jumps right in.
It assumes you’re up to speed.
Absolutely. I like it when you can do that. I think it was pretty easy. And the interesting thing, in the making of the two movies, for awhile, Part 1 was going to end with Peeta [Josh Hutcherson] getting knocked out while he was choking Katniss [Jennifer Lawrence]. And it was going to cut to black and that was going to be it.
People would have loved that.
I think it would have made people angry.
I was being sarcastic.
[Laughs.] Okay, good.
People would not have liked that.
And that was my fear. And while we were shooting and starting to cut it together, we had already shot what was supposed to be the beginning of Part 2: Katniss waking up in a hospital bed, and then the speech that Coin gives to District 13 about unification of the districts and now we’re going to go after the capital, then Katniss goes and sees Peeta strapped to the table. That was originally going to be the open for Part 2. So, when we moved that to become the end of Part 1 – which happened while we were still shooting – it became very clear that, oh, Part 2 is going to open, rip, that collar comes off, and we see the damage Peeta did and Katniss is trying to get her voice back. It became very clear and it stuck that way.