I love the Hunger Games book trilogy and think the movies have been fairly true to the source material. However, I wish Mockingjay had not been split into two separate films. The review contains incredibly mild spoilers, though if you have read the book none of it should be surprising.
Synopsis: When Katniss destroys the games, she goes to District 13 after District 12 is destroyed. She meets President Coin who convinces her to be the symbol of rebellion, while trying to save Peeta from the Capitol. (Synopsis from IMDb)
Review: The Hunger Games are an interesting set of movies. Based off books inspired by reality television and gladiator fights, the movies provide both social commentary and a warning about societal complacency. For the past couple years television has introduced the public to numerous reality television shows that purported to show how “ordinary” people go about life. None of these shows are really unscripted; they are merely a highly orchestrated parody of normal life distorted to an extreme level. Somewhere behind a camera, a director and producer shout out directions and set up elaborate scenarios to either support or humiliate a reality television “personality”. Suzanne Collins, the author, took reality television to the extreme and combined it with a gladiator style game. Mockingjay is the third book and was split into two movies. Part 1 was released this weekend.
Of all three books, Mockingjay has the thinnest plot. There is little character development as most of the characters were already fleshed out in the last two books. Mockingjay merely ties together all the loose ends left hanging in the previous installments. Part 1 picks up right where Catching Fire stopped, Katniss is recovering after being rescued from the Quarter Quell. Katniss wakes up in an underground bunker, hidden deep within the confines of District 13. Finnick, Katniss, and Beetee were the only three to be taken by the rebels, everyone else was “rescued” by the Capitol. Poor Peeta is subjected to President Snow’s particular version of “rest and relaxation.”
In Mockingjay Katniss has to become something else beside a rebellious teenager, she is now the sole symbol of hope to a discontented nation of enslaved people. While there are several action sequences, most of the film focuses on the importance of viral marketing during a rebellion. Katniss goes from fighting fellow competitors to becoming a highly fashionable rebellious poster girl. Instead of being styled and manipulated by the Capitol, she is molded by the branding team of District 13. Which basically means the Lawrence spends a lot of time wearing couture combat clothing and waving a CGI flag in front of a “green” screen. In the words of Effie Trinket, “everyone is going to want to kiss you, kill you, or be you.” Borderline message: marketing skills will never go out of style. So I hope you know how to create a viral video, you never know when you will need those skills.
When not fighting, Katniss spends most of the movie berating people for rescuing her over Peeta. Especially when Peeta is used in an attempt to influence the rebels to lay down arms and surrender to the benevolent Capitol. And the movie focuses a little too much on the incredibly weak love triangle between Katniss, Gale, and Peeta. We all know Katniss and Gale will never happen, they both want very different things. Besides, Katniss has already been through so much with Peeta that it would be incredibly anti-climactic for her to end up with Gale. However, her anguish over Gale being in danger does add some needed emotional weight to the film. Also, the film fleshes out the relationship between Katniss, Prim, and their Mother.
When not focusing on Katniss, the film showcases the parallels between President Snow and President Alma Coin of District 13. Both sides are battling for airwave dominance and trying to convince the other districts to their respective causes. Can Coin be trusted or is she just as wily as Snow? Julianne Moore (Coin) has some very unfortunate looking hair. Effie put it perfectly: that hair needs a revolution. Moore’s acting is fantastic and she does a great job with little character material. Coin comes across as a cool headed leader and a master crowd manipulator. Sutherland’s President Snow is finally given some more character depth and he does a great job making you believe that Snow is a despicable tyrant on the warpath. Poor white roses really get a bad rap in this franchise, choose red people because white is now for tyrants.
Despite all the plot lines in motion, Part 1 does not have the same depth as the previous two films. Most of the emotional depth is a carryover from Catching Fire, which makes parts of the film incredibly frustrating. There are several allusions built into the film, such as Katniss addressing her public while standing in front of a recently bombed out building. However, the symbolism is never really expanded upon and just floats around in the background. Though I am not really sure how the director could have expanded on this theme while staying within the confines of the story.
Personally, I think the movie would have been much more powerful if it was not a Part 1. The narrative in the book moves incredibly quickly and making two movies really slows down the dramatic pacing. And the film never explains the importance of Finnick’s relationship with Annie. If you have not read the book, this development can seem like it came out of left field. All the scenes with a toned down Effie Trinket were my favorite. Elizabeth Banks does a great job playing a displaced diva. Finally, the cinematography was incredibly dark. While this worked for the most part, there were several scenes where the darkness hindered the viewing experience. A dark setting with characters in dark clothes makes it quite hard to follow some of the action. However, the darkness did help set the right tone for the majority of the film.
Overall, Mockingjay-Part 1 is an engrossing movie, with an emotionally charged cliffhanger ending. It is a strong addition to the Hunger Games cinematic franchise and moves the story along at a decent pace. Everyone does a great job with their characters, no one really stood out due to bad acting. I am looking forward to the last installment.