The Hunger Games: Mockingjay–Part 1 (2014)

21 Nov


Smith’s Verdict: ***
Reviewed by Tanner Smith

The best is yet to come, and until then, we have a lead-in that ends with To Be Continued.” “The Hunger Games,” based on the Suzanne Collins novels, is the third popular book-to-film-adaptation franchise (following “Harry Potter” and “Twilight”) to split its final story in two films. I suppose they do this because otherwise, they’d be adapting a long novel into a 4+-hour movie that they’re afraid no one would want to sit through. But let’s be honest—they mainly do this to make the studios more money.

However, my problem with this way of building up the final chapter is that the “part 1” leaves an incomplete film that is hard to criticize except to say it’s not a complete film. I’m rating “Mockingjay Part 1” three stars, with it amounting to an optimistic “incomplete” status. It’s just a film leading us into “Part 2,” which will come this summer, and as it is, it’s worthwhile for audiences and fans of the original source material. It moves the story forward with interesting developments, particularly with the character arcs, and it just builds up to what I hope will be a strong film for “Part 2.”

“Mockingjay Part 1” is the weakest film in the series because of this, though my opinion could change once I see “Part 2” and view both parts as a whole, in which case I may change my rating.

Jennifer Lawrence again returns as Katniss Everdeen, who along with Finnick (Sam Claflin) has been rescued from the Quarter Quell by a band of rebels who live in a secret military bunker known as District 13, run by President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore). Katniss learns her home district has been bombed by order of President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and that her partner and love interest, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), is held by the Capitol and ordered to warn the rebels on TV to stand down and stop fighting or else worse things will happen to Panem. President Coin decides to use this as reason for Katniss for propaganda reasons and have a TV crew document her reasons for everyone to stand up and fight for the rebellion.

One major problem I have with this entry in the franchise is that Katniss is mostly an overblown “reluctant heroine” type. She’s a little too unwilling to participate and is kind of an emotional wreck, even when seeing firsthand how coldblooded Snow can be. It’s especially disappointing because the previous film, “Catching Fire,” ended with a haunting visual of Katniss staring at the camera, looking angry and vengeful after going through so much hell. It was an ending that got us (or at least, those who haven’t read the final Hunger Games book) hyped for the next film to see what Katniss would do to help the rebels in taking down this corrupt dictatorship led by the despicable President Snow. And then this film starts and the first shot is of her crying. She spends most of the film lethargic, withdrawn, and often worried. I realize the best way to characterize a heroine is to make her more human and let us see/feel what she’s feeling, but let’s also see more of the Katniss we thought we were going to get.

But to the film’s credit, she has reason to be this way. For this new entry is easily the darkest in the franchise (“Empire Strikes Back” territory, if you will). There are hardly any soft moments, the film focuses on the consequences of actions (hell, President Snow even orders for the destruction of a building full of people, including children, to prove a point that’s pro-Capitol), and the ending provides a shocking twist centered on one of the major characters. It does make me curious about how “Part 2” will turn out to be.

Something I hope continues with this series is the way the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale (Liam Hemsworth), who shows up for more moments of protection and broodiness, is downplayed, because God knows I’m tired of love triangles in these young-adult stories. Though, even so, it’s the least interesting aspect of the series for me because I really don’t see Gale as anything other than a buddy-type; he hardly has any personality or development as anyone else. And that’s another problem with the film—Katniss and Peeta are separated for a good chunk of the story, leaving plenty of moments involving Katniss and Gale; and yet, when they kiss, there’s still hardly any emotion because there still isn’t much we know about Gale.

“Mockingjay Part 2” has the potential to be great, and “Mockingjay Part 1” is a worthy lead-in in that case. It is worth recommending for a big screen, particularly for the superb production design, first-rate effects, and a suspenseful raid sequence late in the film. But a part of me wants to say wait for DVD and watch it around the time “Part 2” is released. That might help give a more complete experience.

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