The Best Sequel of 2014: ’22 Jump Street’ vs ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1’
Ah, the year in review. Those snuggly two weeks in December when entertainment sites get to label things the best this or that, before beginning to cover the dozen award show opportunities that Hollywood has given itself to pat itself on the back for their best work of the year. But the 2014 year in review week got hijacked. So let’s review the week before we review the best this and that from 2014. It all will come full circle, don’t worry.
At the beginning of the week, Mark Harris wrote a great piece about the upcoming slate of movies from 2015 to 2020. 67 films that are either already completed or greenlit are sequels, and that’s not including the 32 films that are setting up their own interconnected storytelling universes during that same time. That’s 99 films. Take one down, pass it around, 98 more franchise films on the wall. The commentary that Hollywood lacks any originality isn’t anything new – many of our best directors have been lamenting the current state of movies for a few years now – but Harris’ piece did provide some handy infographics (like the two below) to make sure we are all aware of what Hollywood is cranking up for us.
I appreciate the approach that Harris took with his write-up, because he focused on the shift of changes in the studio head atmosphere. It’s all people who’ve had successful business backgrounds outside of the film industry. Corporate consumer businesses just need to make small adjustments on their products in order to persuade people to keep buying the upgrades. We’re a sequel culture: Iron Man 3, brought you by the iPhone 6. But, any person who has a corporate business background that gets into the movie business will always want to get some recognition at the end of the year. So they do greenlight a few Oscar movie attempts. The movie industry is different from all the other global corporate models because that red carpet event reminds everyone that they have the potential to be artists.
But the problem with their 2015 – 2020 map is that they expect everyone to want to watch the same type of films for a decade. And that is unprecedented, uncharted, and expensive territory. It might not be groundbreaking, but it’s certainly bullish. Remember how you feel this year, because the studios are banking that you won’t change at all in the next six years.
The Real Interconnected Universe:
The other, bigger story from this week was that the Sony hack escalated from abusive emails from people in power, to a threat of war, to shelving one of the few original-scripted studio movies of the year, The Interview. The hack initially exposed that people in power in Hollywood say really mean things to each other, and about their brethren, but also that they say demeaning things about audiences. (Hint: Hollywood isn’t nearly as liberal as they broadcast that they are, but you’d already know that if you saw how few women are hired to direct films, and how little they cater to non-white audiences; make no mistake, if minority actors were given more roles in mainstream/Hollywood adjacent movies, and women were behind the camera more frequently our day to day relations with each other would advance at least slightly.)
But now that the FBI has pin-pointed that North Korea was behind the cyber-attack, many are arguing that The Interview, and its quashing (and subsequent dropping of a Steve Carrell picture that was to be set in North Korea), is now representative of the spineless nature of studios and America. There have been countless think-pieces on what that all means for our American society (read ours!).
Substitute “America” with corporations in that “spineless” sentence. Studios involve so many different companies in different parts of the world. If someone wants to strike “the Sony” (Sony Pictures is in Culver City, California, but their corporate all-things-Sony headquarters are in Japan; and Tokyo is only 800 miles from the North Korean border), many other areas are at risk. Additionally, the theaters that pulled the film were all the largest national theater chains. There is no way to be “America, fuck yeah!” about this. Every large entity that represents multiple entities across the US and the world washed their hands clean of the potential of any of their entities being attacked. Even Paramount won‘t allow their decade-old Team America: World Police to substitute for the vacant Interview screens this week.
What the 2015-onward release schedule, and the Sony hack actually reveal is that studios aren’t only making movies that take place in an inter-connected universe. As business, they are an interconnected (global) universe already. And as such, you can’t look to corporations for groundbreaking examples of freedom of speech: all of the studios are part of this bigger corporate universe. We just go to the movies.
So now that we’ve looked forward, let’s get back on track, and take a look back. It is December, after all. There were 30 sequels released in 2014. Which was the best? And why?
Marvel has gone to such lengths to describe their plan as the “Marvel Cinematic Universe,” so it is my thinking that Captain America isn’t really applicable because the events in that film affect the events in multiple other films and franchises. The two sequels that used the sequel medium with most originality this year were 22 Jump Street and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1.
The Case for 22 Jump Street:
22 Jump Street attacks the sequel. The co-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller also made LEGO: The Movie, in 2014. Their Jump Street sequel, could’ve been called Sequel-itis: The Movie.
22 Jump Street the actual movie had only just started when detectives Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) walk past the construction site for a new building: 23 Jump Street. Their superior, Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) gives them a new assignment, but informs them that it’s the same as the last one and that they should just do the same thing. They impressed the people higher up on their first undercover case, so this time they have a much larger budget to work with. Later, however, Dickson informs them that they’ve been too reckless and that the department is running out of money and can’t afford any more explosions and potential lawsuits just to complete a job that’s so easy.
22 Jump Street is packed with jokes. It’s very smart in the wink-wink, nudge-nudge sort of way. It’s the only film I’ve seen where the movie is actually yelling at the audience, “What the fuck are you doing here?! You seriously want more of this?!”
Okay, I guess Michael Haneke’s Funny Games did that, too. But that was a small-budgeted film from an Austrian provocateur, using film as a thesis on American audiences’ ability to sit through violence and still eat their popcorn because they were promised an ending. 22 Jump Street is a big, meta-movie with big grenades tossed at the ridiculousness of sequels. It’s an expensive explosion. But the reason why it actually maintains momentum is because, although 22 Jump Street repeats itself, it kicks into a gear that inserts new jokes and situations to reference that repetition.
The Case for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1:
This sequel is a bestselling book that was broken in half to double the money. That precedent was already set by Harry Potter. Why should Mockingjay – Part 1 be included in such an article if it’s so obviously one half of a film? Because this section of The Hunger Games was very different from the previous two films.
This time around, there are no Hunger Games. For me, that’s a relief. Though the spectacle of the Games were lush in previous films, they always felt… weird, and overwrought. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and President Snow (Donald Sutherland) were able to make up rules as the games went along. Those new rules never made much sense other than the cat-and-mouse approach was able to make a book and movie series out of the Katniss-Snow tit-for-tatness. But Mockingjay – Part 1 isn’t about the games, it’s about making Katniss a presentable hero. It’s a propaganda crew (Natalie Dormer, Elden Henson, Mahershala Ali, Wes Chatham) following her to battle zones so that she can ad-lib a speech of horror at those sights. That speech will be broadcast. So to will that moment she sings a song by a lake will be remixed. Sound bites and soundtracks. That’s the call to arms.
The society that the rebels (led by Julianne Moore and Philip Seymour Hoffman) want to build has a socialist feel to it: equal distribution of goods. But they need a hero, and she’s gotta be strong, she’s gotta be fast, and she’s gotta be fresh from the fight. Where are all the gods? You have to make them.
The 2014 Verdict:
I’m a sucker for propaganda films that are inserted into blockbusters. I’m also a sucker for endings. While Mockingjay – Part 1 doesn’t have an ending, it’s at least on its way to an ending. That itself feels revolutionary for sequels. Especially when you consider that one of those Sony hacked emails floated the idea of the next Jump Street being a crossover with Men in Black, most likely because those two are currently the most successful Sony franchises. And so they could spin off some new Men in Black (Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones ain’t gettin’ any younger).
Jump Street jumping into another universe is modern movie graduation, I suppose, but man it makes my head spin. I could take being laughed at for watching 22 Jump Street because I felt in on the joke. But will I be the same person when 23 Jump Street comes around?
I tell you what, with all the dusty faces, war-cry shouts, and sacrifices of bodies in Mockingjay, at least it looks like they’re ready to overthrow the people in charge. Even if Part 1 just makes it a filibuster.