Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

hunger-games-mockingjay-part-1-poster

One thing I’ve never been able to articulate about The Hunger Games franchise is that the actual Hunger Games are the least interesting part about them, at least to me. Fair or not, the Games themselves read a little too close to a less violent, less intense version of Battle Royale, and thus while they can be kind of cool, they’ve never been as interesting to me as some of the other aspects, like the politics, the crowd manipulation stuff, that’s all pretty interesting, but they’ve never been able to give it the breathing room it needs. Which, since the actual Games are dropped for this installment, I was pretty on board.

The plot, continued off of Catching Fire‘s incredibly disappointing cliffhanger, is still based around Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence). Last time, after winning the 74th Hunger Games with her fake-boyfriend Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), Katniss was forced to reenter the 75th Hunger Games because shut up. She was pulled out by the brewing rebellion, and the evil Capitol responds by bombing her home district and kidnapping Peeta.

The film picks up with the rebellion led by Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and managed by Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). They have decided that the only way to organize the unrest in the Districts into a proper rebellion is to use Katniss as a symbol of rebellion, making her a superhero-esque figure called the Mockingjay, with the help of director Cressida (Natalie Dormer). To counter her, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) wheels out her brainwashed platonic buddy/love triangle hypotenuse Peeta to use as a propaganda check against her.

"Katniss." "President Coin?" "Love me!"

“Katniss.”
“President Coin?”
“Love me!”

As I said, I was pretty psyched about this being the plot. The Games are a fun concept, but the movie’s status as a big budget blockbuster means it can never be as gory or intense as it needs to be, and certainly not as much as…some other movie, that I should probably stop bringing up, and I always felt the franchise was doing itself a disservice by not focusing on the reality show/media aspect. By moving the media aspect front and center, it allows the good aspects of the franchise to shine through.

The propaganda stuff from the revolution is easily the most interesting part of the franchise thus far. Contrasting the revoltion’s stage managing of Katniss with similar stuff from the pageants in the first 2 films is a unique way to present it, especially once Peeta shows up to be her dark counterpart. The action is sparse and the character work solid, and by the time we get to stuff like the on-the-ground revolutionaries executing their attacks, you feel invested. It’s just the movie takes too long to get there.

I’m not a huge fan of the splitting book adaptations into multiple movies, but here it seems to have actually done some damage, as a lot of the material is stretched pretty thin. The final action beat and a late second act evacuation scene take FOREVER, because the movie is clearly trying to keep itself going to movie length with what could have easily been been the first half of a slightly longer movie. It’s not a deal breaker, but it does dull the impact of some scenes when they keep dragging on.

This is a pretty good approximation of my face when I found out how much screentime Joanna had.

This is a pretty good approximation of my face when I found out how much screentime Johanna had.

Still, the good bits are worth it, especially a brauva scene towards the middle in the ruins of District 12, that I won’t spoil. The sequence where Katniss essentially becomes the Mockingjay for real and gives a big speech is pretty solid as well, and has one of the franchise’s best action sequences. The writing is pretty solid and the score is excellent, so it’s all pretty well presented and effective.

A lot of this is could be sunk by bad acting, which is why it’s good that they’re all on board. Jennifer Lawrence is still a good actress, overexposed or not, and she’s good here, which is good since the movie is relying on her to sell Katniss’ emotional journey. The veteran actors like Moore and the (deeply missed) Hoffman are pretty engaged and engaging, especially Hoffman whose dark comedic performance is one of my favorites. And while she doesn’t get much screentime, Natalie Dormer is really good too, even if it’s weird to see Margery Tyrell show up with a punk haircut and an American accent.

"Eh, no matter how bad it gets here, it's still better than having to marry Joffery."

“Eh, no matter how bad it gets here, it’s still better than having to marry Joffery.”

If this review seems a little listless, it’s because it is. I support The Hunger Games, both in theory and in practice, but I’ve always felt my support is somewhat superfluous. I’m not the target audience, and the target audience is so engaged that my opinion doesn’t seem to matter much. The last movie had the highest domestic gross of any movie in 2013, so I can’t really sway people one way or another. Still, for what it’s worth, I liked this one and am pretty excited to see how it concludes.

Elessar is a 24 year old Alaskan born cinephile and between Johanna Mason and Hawkeye, he’d like one major franchise where his favorite character gets SOME screentime.

Pros:

– great score and direction

– solid script

– good acting

Cons:

– the material is stretched pretty thin

– not enough screentime for Johanna

– ends on ANOTHER freaking cliffhanger

Rating: 4/5

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Elessar

Elessar is a 25 year old Alaskan born cinephile with an obsession with Nicolas Cage and a god complex. His favorite movie is Blade Runner and his least favorite is The Condemned...which probably says more about him than he wants it to.

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Elessar

Elessar is a 25 year old Alaskan born cinephile with an obsession with Nicolas Cage and a god complex. His favorite movie is Blade Runner and his least favorite is The Condemned...which probably says more about him than he wants it to.

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