Does the world (i.e. the Internet) need another review of the latest installment of The Hunger Games series, Mockingjay: Part 1 ? No. But alas, I’ve written one anyway.
I’ll start off by explaining myself: I read the first book in the series when I was a sophomore in high school and read the second and third at my own leisure. I was never enthralled by them–I read to find out what happened and to beat the release of the films like any good bookworm would do. However, I began and finished the series more or less indifferent to the entire franchise. To put it simply, these books were not my livelihood or vital to my adolescence, and it’s been so long since I’ve read them (hardly, I know) that I can’t always spot discrepancies in the screen adaptation unless they’re pointed out to me. No, I’m not a die-hard fan (do Hunger Games fans have a name like Twihards?), but I still have a few things to say about the third film of the four-part trilogy.
Four Films for Three Books?
The reviews for Mockingjay: Part 1 have almost overwhelmingly dismissed or questioned the necessity of breaking the last book into two films. Personally, I don’t mind it. Maybe it’s a profit game, but if I get more time to watch the actors/actresses do their thing, I’m satisfied. They didn’t really need the extra film to cover an excessive amount of action–in fact, I believe a lot of the major action was fabricated altogether for the sake of climax and cinematography. Instead, they used the extra screen time for character development. Some find that boring and even irrelevant, craving intense battle scenes such as those in the first and second installment, but I really enjoyed it. I think, yes, Mockingjay: Part 1 is a set-up for the grand finale, but that’s fine with me because…
Without exception, the cast was spectacular. Though I don’t think I would’ve minded lack of action anyway, it was even more acceptable because of the stellar performances. Now, mind you, I don’t know the first thing about acting, but as a typical moviegoer, I was thoroughly impressed by everyone. Most of the ambivalent or critical reviews have cited Jennifer Lawrence as the saving grace of the film and the franchise at large, but I would extend that to include the rest of the talent as well. Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss is undoubtedly compelling and convincing; she’s leaving little to no room for negative commentary. She’s definitely the face of the franchise, and that’s fantastic because she’s doing a great job. However, I was equally as wowed by her cast mates.
Josh Hutcherson, though lacking in screen time due to his imprisonment in The Capitol, took his role to new heights, flawlessly embodying the grisly change that Peeta undergoes in the novel. He and Lawrence don’t spend much time physically with each other this time around, but their sole scene together is one of the most tense and gripping in the entire movie. Liam Hemsworth gets a much more prominent part in Mockingjay, and while he did a fine job, I don’t have much to comment on besides his dreamy demeanor. Sam Claflin is one of my personal favorites, and though he didn’t have a huge role in Part 1, he was commanding yet vulnerable every time he made an appearance.
Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julianne Moore provided a layer of maturity in a predominantly youthful cast and brought out the nuances in their characters exceedingly well. I was more than happy to see Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson again, both changed people without their respective addictions. I was pretty upset that Jena Malone got a total of 0.5 seconds on screen, but I suppose I can wait until next year for more of Johanna Mason. I wouldn’t go so far to say that the acting is the only thing carrying the franchise, but it’s definitely the biggest draw for me.
The Hunger Games series has spurred, or at least highlighted, giant trends in the dystopian genre over the last few years–political corruption, personal stakes in a societal crisis, full-blown revolution led mostly by young, attractive people–and while these themes were more prominent in Catching Fire than the first movie, they are front and center in Mockingjay: Part 1. Even though the Games are over, what follows is darker than anything viewers have been given until now. One of the very first lines in the movie (delivered by Finnick) refers to the captured tributes in the Capitol: “I wish they were all dead and we were, too.” Shortly after, Katniss returns to District 12 and finds the skeletal remnants of the mass genocide that occurred at the hands of the Capitol. Things get downright gruesome and much more blatantly political in the latest film of the series, and I can only assume that it will be outdone by the finale next November.
From a technical and narrative point of view, I found that Mockingjay: Part 1 was a definite step up from the previous two films. The shots that cut back and forth between Snow and “radicals” in the districts, between Katniss and Peeta, or between Finnick’s well-lit, broadcasted confessional and the tribute-rescue mission were aesthetically very interesting, providing a heightened sense of tension and drama for the film. The main events take place in underground District 13 and are consequently pretty colorless, but that perfectly befits the mood of the piece. What was an especially nice touch was the way the “radicals” became mockingjays themselves, repeating the phrases they hear Katniss say or the haunting song she sings on the “propos” (I demand that you listen to this now). Clearly, the directors/higher-ups have a distinct artistic vision, and I hope that the finale includes more like this.
Though I’m not the biggest fan of the series, I enjoyed Mockingjay: Part 1. The cast was fantastic and the filmmakers are doing great in capturing the very different tone present in the last novel of the series. Can it stand alone as a movie in its own right? I’m not sure. But since it doesn’t have to, does it really matter?