Watching this movie, I was painfully made aware of how I wasn’t exactly the target demographic for this movie, judging by the immense horde of women of all ages crowding around me, eager to view the next installment of Katniss Everdeen. It was one of the more packed theater experiences that I’ve had recently, judging as this was a film that already has an immense fanbase, causing the place to allocate four separate rooms to accommodate the immense crowds. Thankfully, they stayed quiet for most of the movie, and considering the size of the crowd that was actually quite impressive.
So, Mockingjay Part 1 is the third movie in the Hunger Games saga which comprises roughly about half of the book series’ final novel. What most fans of The Hunger Games can collectively attest is that Mockingjay was perhaps the worst novel of the three because it trivialized several important aspects and had several pacing problems that eventually resorted to a “tell, not show” aspect instead of the other way around. The fact that the book got the two-part treatment is also a head scratcher. Ever since Harry Potter, it has been the industry standard to split up the final book in a popular series into two parts, thereby appropriate spacing the events out of a bloated novel in order to make the movies more palatable to casual audiences. This approach has never worked outright, in my opinion. From what past history has shown, the Part 1s are always plagued by slow pacing, tired characterization, and the ultimate sensation that you’re watching an incomplete movie (Harry Potter, Twilight). I can confirm that the Mockingjay does not avoid this trend, sadly enough.
Mockingjay Part 1 picks up right where Catching Fire left off, where Katniss is transported to the supposedly destroyed District 13 after escaping from the Quarter Quell in the last movie. Rebellion is in full swing across the districts, and the Capitol is using footage of Peeta (who had been captured and is now being brainwashed) to taunt Katniss from afar as part of a political scheme. This is particularly effective on their end because Katniss has become slightly unstable because she loved Peeta and would have rather become a martyr in order for him to be safe. In response, District 13 uses the image of Katniss as the “Mockingjay” as part of a propaganda movement, inciting further rebellion and unrest by making her appear to be a fearless warrior who is unafraid to stand up to their oppressors, thus causing more and more fighting.
The problems with this film are particularly rife, sad to say. For one, even though we are told in the movie that all districts are rioting against the Capitol due to Katniss’ defiant act from the previous movie, most of the time the story is told from the bunker of District 13, keeping things relatively confined and claustrophobic. When the few images of rebellion are shown, they are few and far between. Hell, the one action scene that lasts longer than a minute was practically all spoiled in the trailer, keeping the “wow” factor down to a minimum. So, yeah. There is a noticeable reduction in action this time around, which might cause some to raise eyebrows. It’s pretty much like Godzilla (2014) without any of the payoff. And the entire climax of the film (that goes into Zero Dark Thirty territory) is interspaced with several cuts of other scenes that it completely ruins the mood that the film is trying to create. Even more egregious is the fact that the final part of the tense scene all happens off screen and spoils what could have been a dramatic finish to an otherwise mediocre movie at that point. Dammit.
A film doesn’t need action to thrive unless it’s got a good story to back it up, though. Unfortunately, Mockingjay Part 1 also struggles in this regard. Clocking in at a little over two hours, you get the sensation that most of the movie comprises people just talking or giving speeches, and you’d be right. The majority of the film just transitions from scene to scene, trying to slowly build up the anticipation for the next movie while just desperately trying to justify its own existence. Several scenes could have been cut and the overall effect could have been maintained, but it just seems like this movie’s whole existence was to bleed as much money as possible from our already lightened wallets. The whole time, I just felt manipulated.
Another source of scorn has to be from the characters in this film. Many of them that grew on you in the last few movies have been reduced to bit parts. Effie, Finnick, Haymitch, Beetee, Peeta, and others have their roles noticeably reduced, unnaturally pushed aside when they were some of the more interesting personalities of the series (and the movie also does a good job in reminding you that Philip Seymour Hoffman is in fact, dead). The few newcomers to the fold are either bland or woefully underdeveloped. Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones, Sherlock) sports a half-shaved head as part of Katniss’ propaganda film crew, but mostly all she does is stand around and look tough without ever actually doing anything tough. For someone with Dormer’s ability, you’d think that she would get more meatier roles in this day and age. Julianne Moore plays the leader of District 13, President Coin, and she’s just your average, stubborn leader that clashes with Katniss’ personality to create tension early on in the film. Coin has potential to develop further as a character…just don’t expect anything to be happening in this film.
Jennifer Lawrence seems to be operating in auto-pilot mode this time as Katniss. Sure, she’s a great actress and she does demonstrate that she can handy heavy emotional scenes, but there’s just been an aspect of her character’s personality that has grated on me all this time. For being such a highly praised character for her individuality, she sure is stubborn to the point where it’s enraging, sometimes illogically refusing assistance when all she does is seem to burn every bridge she builds. There’s nothing particularly interesting added to her development in this flick, no twist or change at all. It’s all so very…disappointing.
James Newton Howard returns to score Mockingjay Part 1 and immediately upon exiting the theater, I could not remember a single standout piece from that movie. This is very frustrating because you’d think that the Hunger Games series would do well with a recognizable main theme and some leitmotifs, but Howard just plows along, scoring the film scene by scene without any harmonious connection whatsoever. It’s not like he can do themes, Howard has shown that he is very capable at such dense orchestration from films like Batman Begins and Maleficent, but here it seems like his decisions were all studio-mandated, restricting a capable composer from crafting a memorable score. Maybe the folks at Lionsgate wanted more money to go to the album packed with songs inspired by the film, with only the barest connection to the film itself. (The existance of such albums continues to be a source of annoyance and indignation for me but I’ve gone off topic by now.)
This film is probably going to make a lot of money. It will also probably make a lot of people angry. I’d have to say that Mockingjay Part 1 is pretty much another example of how splitting up a final book into two movies is precisely the wrong thing to do. Sure, Part 2 might be strengthened all the more because of its existence, but that means that we, the audience, have to wade through a movie with the shadow of the finale hanging over its head, enduring what amounts to an enormous tease. If you’re planning on seeing the last movie in the series, you might as well watch this one because you’ll be confused as hell if you haven’t (hence the emphasis on Part 1). If you’re new to this series, I don’t think that Mockingjay Part 1 brings anything to the table that could convince you to get started in the first place. The Hunger Games is a solid series, but overcoming this speed bump was an inevitability at this point and we might as well drive over it as fast as possible.
Final Score: 62/100