A few years ago, Warner Brothers started the trend of taking the final volume of an adaptation and splitting it into two films. That film/adaptation was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Lionsgate has continued this questionable trend with the final volume of the Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay. Harry Potter was 759 pages, while Mockingjay was 400. The former probably deserved the split film treatment, while the latter just feels like it’s milking the audience.
Set immediately following the events of Catching Fire, Mockingjay Part 1 finds Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) embedded with the rebels underground in the destroyed District 13. Led by President Coin (Julianne Moore), the rebels intend to use Katniss as a propaganda tool to unite the other districts to topple the Capitol. At the same time, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) uses Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) to denounce the rebels. Katniss agrees to help the rebels once she secures a promise that they will try and free Peeta from the Capitol. While all that’s going on, she tries to figure out—still—whether she loves Gale (Liam Hemsworth) or Peeta.
And that’s basically it. Mockingjay Part 1 is the perfect example of what’s wrong with Hollywood adaptations these days. A lot seems to happen on the screen, but when you sum it all up, nothing really happens. Of course, plenty would happen in the film if the producers adapted the whole novel as opposed to just half of it. So, because the studio wants to milk the consumer, there’s a lot of padding in this film—unnecessary scenes that probably worked better in the book, but get dragged out here to reach the two hour running time. This also leads the film to drag a bit in parts. It also isn’t helped by the ridiculously dark picture that almost came across as muddy. There were times I couldn’t tell what I was looking at, but it might have just been the screen I saw it on.
However, all these demerits don’t mean that Mockingjay Part 1 is all bad. It feels like the start to a compelling story, but it’s only a start. It’s certainly different from the last two films, as the action moves away from the games and into the “real world.” You really get the sense of the dystopia the film’s set in here. I felt it was much more sci-fi than the last two films. Yes, in those films, there is definitely technology at play, but ultimately, the majority of the action takes place in very naturalistic settings—a forest and a lagoon. In Mockingjay, everything is concrete and subterranean. Unfortunately, this dour setting leads to a mostly dour atmosphere. I remember Stanley Tucci’s Caesar being a breath of fresh air in the two previous films, but here he plays Barbara Walters to Peeta’s…whatever celebrity Walters is trying to make cry. At the same time, this Panem feels much more lived-in than in the past and the push of the politics to the forefront was a welcome shift for me, as that was my favorite aspect of the other films. It was nice to see that the rebels were really no better than the Capitol. Sadly though, there’s still a heavy reliance on the dull love triangle. It’s depressing that the films have made Katniss a great independent role model for young girls, but her biggest problem is still, “Which boy should I choose?” It’s all so boring and pedestrian, but Katniss frets about it like it’s the greatest issue of the century. She wants to rescue Peeta, so that automatically means she’s in love with him? It’s flawed logic.
Here’s a good riddle—how do you make Katniss Everdeen? Take Jennifer Lawrence and suck the life out of her. And that’s a compliment to Lawrence’s acting in this film. She plays so against type, you can’t do anything but praise her performance. One performance you can’t praise, though, is Liam Hemsworth’s. As per usual, he’s completely wooden as Gale. Thor definitely got the wealth of the acting talent in that family. Philip Seymour Hoffman is great in his scenes as Plutarch Heavensbee, but if you want to see the best of his final performances, check out A Most Wanted Man. The rest of the cast does a fine job here—Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks were welcome in their appearances—and I’m looking forward to seeing them in the final entry, especially Julianne Moore. I just know her President Coin is going to stab Katniss in the back at some point—and that’s not a spoiler, as I haven’t read the novel; it’s just speculation.
Overall, Mockingjay Part 1 is a decent entry in the Hunger Games series, but I almost want to say you’re better off waiting until next year so you can see the complete story all at once.