Katniss Everdeen has returned to the silver screen in the first of a two part Mockingjay finale, and while the first act of the last film is light on action and doesn’t really have a clear beginning, middle, and end, there is plenty of emotion to keep you engaged throughout. This is a credit to a few of the cast members who really help to drive home a few key scenes that allow you as the viewer to feel the pain of the embattled members of the Districts, as they face insurmountable odds trying to rebel against the Capitol.
Jennifer Lawrence once again drives the heart of this Hunger Games film, and quite frankly, without her this particular entry would have felt extremely flat thanks to the lack of action and plethora of political maneuvering. This young actress showcases throughout the film why she already has one Oscar statue in her trophy case, and outside of an awkward scene towards the end, her presence and level of commitment to the character is heartfelt and spellbinding to the point where you may well up with tears as you experience Katniss’ pain as she deals with the utter destruction of District 12, and the loss of Peeta to the Capitol.
Speaking of Peeta, Josh Hutcherson also gives a masterful performance in his few limited scenes, and the moments where he and Katniss speak to each other through the Capitol’s TV broadcasts are some of the more emotional ones to behold. Peeta is being used by President Snow as a propaganda tool to affect the way the rebels view him and his relationship with Katniss, who reluctantly becomes the Mockingjay the Rebels need to spark a civil war, and by default their own propaganda tool against the Capitol. The main narrative theme that is woven throughout Mockingjay Part 1 is the power of propaganda during times of human conflict, which drives the pain Katniss feels throughout the film, as well as her motivations for joining the rebels and sparking a revolution.
Without the interactions between Peeta and Katniss this motif would have been lost and not as emotionally powerful, especially for non-book readers like myself, because most of this film’s plot is glazed over as if the director and writers figured everyone that would go to see it would have also have had read the book. This is clear from the start, which features a very mentally frail Katniss living underground with the rest of the presumed dead citizens of District 13. At first it appears as if she’s in a mental asylum, and completely bonkers, but within ten minutes she’s back to being a somewhat stable individual. The pacing just felt off, and her quick transformation from mental case to hero of the Rebels was rushed. It just felt too convenient, and that there could have been more time spent on her transition.
As a non-book reader I would have also appreciated a bit more exposition on District 13 and why they’re the de facto leaders of the Rebels, and how they’ve managed to build up such an impressive military operation while being presumed dead and living underground like a bunch of gophers. In the movie viewers are asked to just buy into the fact that a large group of people could organize a strategic rebellion while not alerting the Capitol to the fact that the District did survive the genocidal attack by their forces. They have also prospered to the point where they have a full on army complete with radical heli-jets and Call of Duty inspired weapon technology even though they’re not supposed to even exist.
I’m a fan of lore and The Hunger Games franchise is obviously full of it, so I feel that certain aspects of this film were too glazed over for people that may not be die hard disciples of Suzanne Collins’ novels. I would have liked to learn more about President Coin, who is played quite competently by Julianne Moore, as well as Plutarch Heavensbee, who is portrayed masterfully by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. The scenes between these two propaganda masters were second only to the scenes that featured an emotionally charged Katniss, and I think as characters they have much more to share about their own motivations than what is showcased in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. We will never know how much Hoffman’s early death played a part in how this film and its second half were cut together, but it felt like he and Coin could have benefited from a few more dialogue heavy scenes, because the two characters really are interesting in their own right.
The pacing of this movie is what prevents it from being fantastic, as well as the fact that it doesn’t really follow the typical arch that most films do. The beginning is shoved in your face and you’re expected to buy into Katniss’ ultra-fast mental recovery blindly, the middle lacks action and suspense, and there really isn’t an end since this movie is just the opening act of a two-part series. A majority of the plot is highly predictable, and outside of a surprise moment at the end (won’t be if you’ve read the books), you’ll never really experience any shock or anticipation over what may come next.
Is The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 a complete waste of your time? Not at all, it is a good movie, it’s just not great and feels a bit shortchanged due to the decision to split the last book into a two part movie. Jennifer Lawrence is phenomenal, and the main reason why Mockingjay does pack some very emotional scenes, but Hutcherson, Moore, and Hoffman also all provide stellar supporting performances. A more even pace paired with a deeper dive into the lore of the book would have been appreciated, especially by someone like me who hasn’t read the novels. Either way, the third official Hunger Games movie is still worth a trip to the movie theater, just don’t expect to be blown away by thick tension and a ton of thrilling action, because Mockingjay Part 1 is really nothing more than a two hour lead in for the conclusive Part 2 due out next year.
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Review Statement: The author of this review paid for a ticket to a screening of this film for the purposes of this review.