Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1

Directed by Francis Lawrence.
2014. Rated PG-13, 123 minutes.
Jennifer Lawrence
Josh Hutcherson
Julianne Moore
Elizabeth Banks
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Liam Hemsworth
Woody Harrelson
Donald Sutherland
Stanley Tucci
Jeffrey Wright
Willow Shields

After having already been adopted by the people as a symbol of hope in their battle against The Empire The Capitol, Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) finds herself underground as part of the rebellion. The leaders, Pres. Alma Coin (Moore) and game maker Plutarch Heavensbee (Hoffman), want her to become the official spokesperson by filming a few spots demonstrating the evil of said Capitol. She agrees on the condition that Peeta (Hutcherson) be rescued and granted full immunity should they be successful. Peeta's been deemed a traitor for the things he's been saying on TV, but Coin agrees because Katniss insists he's been held against his will and been forced to say those things. In-fighting while trying to perform a coup ensues.

Now that we're three movies deep in the plight of Katniss Everdeen, the gravity of the situation anchors us to her. Just in case our interest has started to slip the movie does a great job reminding us. It does this by having other characters remind her and themselves why people have gravitated to her. They speak of events from the first two movies in reverential tones and get reflective looks from Katniss. It's a well done rehash of the character's mythology. Jennifer Lawrence is instrumental in making this work. She gives us a Katniss that's as defiant as ever, regardless of who she's dealing with. The reminders of the great things she's done are not mere ego-stroking, but serve as a way to reign her in by reiterating that her actions have greater meaning beyond her own life. Lawrence really sells both sides of it. We get that she really does care about what happens to the masses, but like most of us, she cares even more about those close to her. She's not afraid to let you know this and she's going to do this with attitude.

Like earlier franchises culled from Young Adult literature, the Hunger Games franchise is a slave to its bottom line and Mockingjay - Part 1 is a lesser work of art because of it. The trend of maximizing box office receipts by splitting the third and final book of a trilogy into two movies is continued. As certainly was the case in the Twilight series (I haven't watched a Harry Potter movie) there just isn't enough material to justify it, at least not in installments that run over two hours each. To fill up that time we get a lot of scenes that feel repetitive because they are trying to accomplish the same thing. Where one or two scenes would achieve a particular goal, we get three or four. It makes things drag and feel bloated. These effects could have been lessened by developing other characters aside from Katniss. The first two movies did an excellent job of this. Here, there are ample opportunities to do so, but the film fails to take advantage of them. The biggest miss is with Effie Trinket, played by Elizabeth Banks. She's clearly meant to be more humanized than she's ever been and starts down that path. In showing this, Banks gives her best performance in the series, thus far. However, instead of truly letting the character flourish, she's relegated to taking over for Lenny Kravitz as Kat's stylist. In place of spending more time with this fascinating woman who is at a crossroads in her own life, we're subjected to multiple scenes of Peeta blankly staring at Caesar Flickerman (Tucci) while robotically calling for Katniss to turn herself in. I'm not fond of Hutcherson as an actor, but this is no slight to him. He's supposed to be that way. We just don't need it more than a couple of times. Another miss is with the leaders of the revolution. We don't get to know any of them enough to care. They feel less like real people and more like entities who only exist to say what Katniss needs to hear at a given moment. This keeps us vested in her, but only her.

Mockingjay - Part 1 manages to snatch us from the brink of boredom on those few occasions when it puts that big budget to use and gives us action. We get plenty of things to dazzle the eyes. They are fun scenes to watch, if a bit generic. Gone is the tension between competitors in the actual Hunger Games, but we do have the spectacle of our heroine fighting directly against an evil institution. They take up just enough time to keep us from hating the movie, but they aren't particularly memorable. What sticks with us is Katniss, herself. She's made an indelible mark on the pop culture landscape, and for good reason. She's a wonderful character. Unfortunately, the movie around her isn't constructed nearly as well as she. It could stand to be at least a half-hour shorter, if not forty-five minutes. Better yet, keep the runtime, trim all the unnecessary fat, and replace it with whatever the essential parts are from the upcoming Mockingjay - Part 2.


  1. If it comes on TV, I'll see it just to be a completist though I'm aware that my darling Jena is barely in the film and her character has more of an impact in the second half of the book. Yet, I do agree with you that all of these ideas of splitting the last book into two films thing is pretty fucking stupid.

    1. Very stupid from an artistic standpoint. Brilliant from a financial one, I'll admit. And yeah, Malone is barely in the movie.

  2. I actually quite liked this, and despite my personal reservations about the split (and, like you, felt it was all for financial gain), I wound up finishing the first half feeling like they filled it pretty well and that the split felt justified...but that's just me. This is probably my favorite of the three so far.

    1. I thought it could have been better filled getting to know other characters. Catching Fire is my favorite so far.

  3. I 100% agree that this should not have been split into two movies. The book was so boring for the first 1/3 of it, I wish they had put more thought into it outside of "$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$"

  4. Here's my take from this one, by far my least favorite of the adaptations: if you can make a masterpiece out of a nearly as long book in Catching Fire, running at about 2:25:00, then why not "trim the fat," as you say, and cut together something about 2:45:00 and give us the whole story? Money is certainly a thing. Studios like to milk this kind of stuff, but they're doing themselves a disservice by making two movies that could be better, instead of one much tighter epic.

    I certainly did like this movie though, despite its dragging. You're right on about Lawrence's Katniss. She makes everything worth it. Such a perfect piece of casting.

    1. Totally with you on how they should approach this, but they would argue the merits of having two worldwide box office behemoths instead of one. Thankfully for them Katniss is a magnetic character.