The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 Review
A LACKLUSTER PART 1 ENDEAVOR
Suzanne Collin’s The Hungers Games series haves been proven to be a lucrative franchise, selling millions of books worldwide and opening the floodgates to similar dystopian titles to readers everywhere. Along with the success of the books, its movie adaption franchise has grown with popularity and profit with the first film (The Hunger Games) grossing slightly shy of 700 million at the box office and its sequel (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) grossing over 850 million the following year. Now, Lionsgate Entertainment, debuts their next installment in the adventures of Katniss Everdeen with the film The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. Does the film “catch fire” like its predecessor or is it a pointless part 1of 2 finale feature endeavor?
Taking place a little bit after the events of the previous film, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has been whisked underground to the hidden labyrinth of District 13 and asked to become the “Mockingjay” (The symbol / face for the rebellion against the Capital) by the tactician Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and District 13’s leader President Coin (Julianne Moore). At first, Katniss is reluctant to do so, but the events of war become increasingly impossible to ignore with the tyrannical President Snow (Donald Sutherland) using the now captive Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) as propaganda bait, serving to break Katniss’s fragile spirit and cease the violent unrest across the districts of Panem. With old and new allies, close friends, and family by her side, Katniss strikes a deal to save to Peeta and slowly becomes the “Mockingjay”, a beacon of hope to the rebellion. Yet, despite all this, the violence of war continues to swell, leaving Katniss in a delicate state of powerlessness and tormented by video images of a gradually deteriorating Peeta.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Recently, several adapted books-to-film movie franchises have made the decision to relegate the final book of their literary saga into a two part movie experience. By doing this dual feature approach, the filmmakers are allowed breathing room, exploring the far edges of their source material and incorporating things (people, places, events, etc.) that could not be done in the confines of a singular film. The duality of this double dipping is that the movie could suffer greatly from stretching out the cinematic tale with frivolous nuances, elongated and / or bloated sequences, and considerable pacing problems. Why do the studios this? Is it for the fans, servicing them with every detail morsel from the book to be displayed on-screen or is it for themselves, seizing and capitalizing on their product to the masses that will surely bring in the big bucks? The answer is just as ambiguous and elusive as ever, but remember its Hollywood. Harry Potter did this when adapting the final book, so did Twilight, and now The Hunger Games has followed in their footsteps. The result is a film that’s decent, but far from greatness.
Pace is the main culprit in Mockingjay Part 1. The movie, which runs a little bit over than two hours, feels in general like a chore that you begrudgingly must complete before doing something fun. It lacks the enticing excitement and action oriented premise that its previous features had, focusing more on the dramatic dynamics of political chess and power plays. It moves from scene to scene at a snail’s pace with a few interjected sequences that add a voltage of tension to the movie, but nothing captivating or enthralling enough to sustain it. The movie also can’t find its footing to stand on its own, acting more subservient to its number 2 counterpart and making viewers feel that the movie they are watching is just a “gathering storm” prelude to next year’s man attraction. Even the film’s cliffhanger-ish ending isn’t as dramatic as previous ones and comes across as an incomplete send-off rather than a satisfying pay-off. While the intent from the filmmakers is there and the emotional drama from the actors is conveyed, the bottom line is that the feature film is left hallow, sluggish, and little boring.
Francis Lawrence, who directed the previous film The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, returns as director and does a commendable job in continuing to make the overall scope of this cinematic world grand and big. Such scenes are devoted to what’s going on elsewhere (off-stage) and away from Katniss and company that are some of the film’s highlights, showing district residents taking stance against the Capitals’ soldiers from the treetops and sapping the power supply to the Capital by storming a dam. Coinciding with that, Lawrence showcases more dramatic poise to the picture with a sense of gravitas and a looming threat that could annihilate every district. The movie also doesn’t shy away from its body count, which is extensive, as seeing when Katniss visits her now decimated home of District 12 or in a hospital entrance that’s lined with recently deceased in District 8. It’s definitely a change of tone from the last two movies, but in a good way. It keeps it a little fresh and different with a sense of foreboding that everything is going to come to a head really soon.
Perhaps the best part of Mockingjay Part 1 is in its characters or rather the actors and actresses that play these characters. Jennifer Lawrence continues to lead the charge as Katniss, projecting the weight of becoming a symbol of hope for a rebellion, while dealing with her own personal dilemmas of saving Peeta. As for Peeta himself, Josh Hutcherson is in the movie, but only in a few scenes via Capital propaganda videos. With Peeta not there, Katniss starts to warm up to her childhood friend Gayle played by Liam Hemsworth, who gets more screen time this time around. There’s a fleeting glimpse of romance with the two of them, but seems more platonic than chemistry and gets quickly swept under rug. As a side-note, the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gayle in the movies is sort of one-sided and it’s obvious who Ms. Everdeen really cares about.
Even though he’s a minor character, Phillip Seymour Hoffman brings a great performance in his character of Plutarch Heavensbee, which is sad considering he recently passed away. He works great alongside Lawrence (I’m talking about the actress, not the director) and with Julianne Moore’s Coin, who also does a good job as District 13’s stuffy pragmatic leader. Returning to their post is Woody Harrelson as Katniss’s now sober mentor / guide Haymitch Abernathy, Elizabeth Banks as the now glamour-free Effie Trinket (she brings a lot of comic relief to this movie), Jeffery Wright as the knowledgeable genius Beetee, and Donald Sutherland as the grim face Capital leader President Snow. It is worth mentioning that Sam Claflin gets show a different side to his character of Finnick Odair than just a smarmy ego-driven individual from Catching Fire. Lastly, Game of Thrones star Natalie Dormer also joins the cast as Cressida, a film director who helps Katniss with rebellion propaganda videos. While her character is not destined for an award, she is still amazing to look at (great job for her make-up work).
With all the pomp and anticipated hype that has been placed on this movie, I personally wanted to be “blown away” by the time the credits began to roll. In actuality, however, I was mildly entertained, but muddled with disappointment. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 delivers the scope that director Francis Lawrence wants to project as well as great performances from its cast. The flip side to that is that the film feels incomplete, mundane, and acts more like a precursor (a bridge of sorts) towards the next film and its inevitable conclusion. In short, this first installment begins the end of The Hunger Games cinematic saga with a muted whimper rather than a rambunctious roar. Here’s to hoping that Mockingjay Part 2 (due out next year) fares far better this one.