At this point, you’re either on board the Hunger Games train or not. As someone who hasn’t read the books, I was able to find a lot of things to appreciate about this franchise. While by no means flawless, I think they are great examples of dystopian sci-fi that manage to ground their concepts with a scathing satirical bite on class, government, media, and war through all too familiar imagery. The fact that these themes are wrapped around a story led by a strong female character that is geared towards a young audience, I think, is commendable. As far as the films themselves are concerned, the first film did a great job at introducing the world and the acting was mostly spectacular, though it did suffer from some questionable creative decisions by director Gary Ross. Fortunately, the second film fixed practically every issue I had with the first and delivered spectacularly thanks to the acting, Francis Lawrence’s directing and a strong script by Michael Arndt and Simon Beaufoy. Francis returns to the directors’ chair for this installment with Peter Craig and Danny Strong brought in for the screenplay.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 picks up right after the end of Catching Fire. Katniss Everdeen (Jenifer Lawrence) finds herself in District 13 where she meets the President of the district, Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) who is one of the masterminds behind the rebellion against The Capitol led by President Snow (Donald Sutherland). While a bit reluctant at first, Katniss agrees to be the symbol of the rebellion, while also doing everything she can to save Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) from the clutches of The Capitol.
Despite enjoying the two films of this franchise thus far, especially Catching Fire, I was a worried that splitting the final film into two films might not have been the best decision. It’s probably one of my biggest pet peeves in film because cutting a story in half and stretching those halves for everything they’re worth can result in a film that’s not only dramatically tedious, but a structural nightmare. With Mockingjay, while there are ultimately a lot of things to like, it is unfortunately weighed down by a dragging script that often feels repetitive, unnecessarily long and, at points, boring.
Really all the problems with the film stem from the fact that it is one film unnecessarily split into two. There’s an incredible 60-70 minutes in this film that would make a great first half of a single film. Instead, what we get is an incomplete story that stretches material far beyond its narrative capabilities. Scenes drag on for way too long; some are downright pointless and would’ve otherwise been included among many other scenes in the Deleted Scenes section on the film’s Blu-ray. Because there is not much plot, what little the film has to work with becomes rather dull very quickly. It’s not that film lacks “action,” but the extended scenes add very little to the drama, themes or characters. It doesn’t necessarily make for a “bad” film, but it does make for a boring one, and it just makes it more obvious that the separation was influenced by greed and not creativity. It’s one problem, but it is a big one that risks destroying a film.
Mockingjay hasn’t necessarily been destroyed by its separation because as I said, there are enough good things in it to make it work, even if it is barely. I really liked the way the film’s themes progress in a natural way. What differs in Mockingjay over the others is that this film is moreso about the idea of selling a revolution to the public through a marketing and PR perspective, in other words propaganda. There are some genuinely smart and well done sequences in which Cressida (Natalie Dormer) essentially directs Katniss as she goes through certain events in order to get the best shots for their propaganda videos. I find propaganda films very fascinating, so this stuff really appealed to me. I also found a bit interesting how the rebel group Katniss gets involved with seems to have qualities of an organization that might also in certain circumstances form their own dictatorship. Everyone dresses in these drab, dark clothes, there’s a single leader, the emphasis on propaganda, the signs of groupthink within the members, etc. It’s not something explored in the film, just something I noticed. I am curious if Part 2 follows up on that aspect in any way.
One thing that I think has been consistently great in the franchise, for the most part, is the acting. There’s enough said about how great Jennifer Lawrence is, so I won’t waste much time on that, she’s just great. Everyone returning from the previous films, for the most part, is just as good as they were before. Though I think Josh Hutcherson is definitely improving as these films go on. Natalie Dormer, Julianne Moore, Robert Knepper and Mahershala Ali are among the many new faces in the film and their performances are really good. Unfortunately, the one weak link in the cast since the first film is just as bad now as he was then. I am talking about Liam Hemsworth. How can someone with the same blood as Chris Hemsworth be so void of charm, charisma, on-screen chemistry and basic human emotion? Poor Jennifer Lawrence is giving everything she has at him and every time it cuts back to Gale it’s like I’m staring at a mannequin. Because of his severe lack of talent it actually manages to make the film not work as a love triangle because there’s never a point where I’m thinking Katniss might be good being with Gale as opposed to Peeta. There’s no competition. One actor is steadily improving over time and actually has some decent chemistry with Jennifer; meanwhile Liam has consistently been as entertaining as it is to sit in a waiting room in a doctor’s office. Feels nice to get that out of my system.
Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is by no means a bad movie, but it is a bit of a disappointment. It doesn’t tell a complete story, and only about half the film contains anything of substance. There’s a lot of interesting subtext, solid direction and great performances. The darker, bleaker tone also feels like a good progression for the franchise. If only the film wasn’t split in two, perhaps this could’ve been a good finish for the series. At least then this could be remembered as the better than expected franchise that left a good trilogy of films. Unless you’re completely captivated by all the characters and the world and you just can’t get enough of it, perhaps there’s more you’ll find in this. Otherwise, the film is best experienced watching just before seeing Part 2 next year.