The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part One

Unrelentingly bleak, brutal and somber, this first part of the final installment of the Hunger Games series benefits from a larger budget, an amazing cast, and a good director, but suffers from the lack of a real ending.

Now I sound like every other critic out there. I wish I could say I was totally happy with this. But the reason for my problem with this movie is pretty simple. It shouldn't have been split up. The content in this movie, although well done, just wasn't substantial enough to warrant the split. I would've preferred one very long movie, instead of a padded out first part that was basically all set up.

Of course I had the same problem with Harry Potter's final installment as well. Oddly enough, not so much with Twilight, because the book lent itself to two parts. Anyway, Mockingjay, Part One doesn't fully work as standalone feature. The flow feels abruptly shut down at a crucial moment, and now we have to wait a year for the resolution. That's a pretty tall demand of the audience, not that we have a choice. I really wonder if fans of the movies who haven't read the books are going to be upset by this ending.

As for everything else, I'm really not kidding here, my first sentence captures this one in a nutshell. The revolution is explored, not just with guns and bombs, but with propaganda and psychological warfare. In a lot of ways, the war is between President Snow and Katniss, with Donald Sutherland going out of his way to be both creepy as all hell and incredibly evil. At one point he orders... I won't spoil you guys.

Everyone was on board this time too; the acting was all really well done. Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss was amazing as usual, and she even sang (pretty well too). We got some great stuff with Effie (Elizabeth Banks) and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson). I liked Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who are definitely the weakest elements of the franchise. Even the smaller roles like Prim (Willow Shields), Finnick (Sam Claflin), Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), and Plutarch (the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman ) were memorable, as was a rather strange and effective turn by Julianne Moore as President Coin.

But it wasn't just the acting. The world, although mostly grey, was also expanded rather well. It wasn't as lush and gorgeous as Catching Fire, but that wasn't the point. This was a story about a dystopian rebellion, and that's exactly what we got. From the faceless white armored soldiers mowing down drab looking people with automatic rifles, to bombed out towns with blackened skeletal corpses, the imagery was all stark and powerful.

This almost colorless palette somehow added life to the performances, a crumbling backdrop for the drama to play out, a stage where the emotions can come through, and we can understand the anger and devastation they are feeling. This was the first time I felt the books come to life, both in emotion and in visuals. This was the gut punch I had hoped for, and I can't imagine how much harder the next installment will be.

Other than the abrupt ending and the lack of resolution, this was otherwise a very well made, well acted, and engaging movie with a ton to like about it. The visuals were crisp and appropriately heart-wrenching, Jennifer Lawrence jumped off the screen again, and the world was broadened with more time spent in the districts. Essentially this was the best movie in the franchise so far. But wow, was it dark.

3 out of 4 Districts destroyed by the Capitol

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related. He reviews Arrow and Farscape and cool new movies that strike his fancy.

3 comments:

Annie_A said...

I think I'm in the minority, but I absolutely loved Mockingjay and I'm not bothered by the split. (Aside from the fact that we have to wait a year to see part 2!)

If this story had been told in a single movie, most of the "setup" done here would have been rushed; context explanations would have been only superficial, if there at all. I found that by having ample time to set things up for the final act, we got a good portrayal of the "second degree" that made all 3 books such a great read: the oppression and control of the Capitol, the media manipulation in a war context, Katniss' ambivalence, etc. I found this subtext to be largely missing or superficial in the first 2 movies.

The first half of the last book was kind of a drag; I think the filmmakers did a great job with the movie. I was expecting a complete snooze-fest and was pleasantly suprised with the additions.

Part 2 will be wall-to-wall action, since they did all the setup they needed in part 1; and when we'll be able to watch both parts as a whole, it will be the best movie of the franchise, I'm sure.

Jess Lynde said...

Got to see this one this weekend, and I agree with Annie_A. I like the focus on the psychological fallout and the darkening tone of the final book, and I think many of the things explored here would have been given short shrift if it was all one movie. Of course, I pretty much felt the same way about Part One of The Deathly Hallows, so I'm not too surprised I had a similar reaction here. :)

[Comments on specific points in this movie to follow.] I wanted that deeper exploration of Katniss's PTSD --- I loved the way she just collapsed to the stairs during the retreat to the bomb shelter --- and the propaganda war. (In some respects, I almost like that part of Mockingjay better than the second half, which falls into a more familiar pattern.) I also don't think anything they added felt like padding. It just deepened the world and allowed us to see what was happening outside Katniss's point of view, and I appreciated that. That brief shot of Snow's granddaughter undoing her Katniss braid during his address was a lovely touch, and I really enjoyed the scene between Plutarch and Effie. I particularly loved the two sequences showing the acts of rebellion in Districts 7 and 5 (?). The attack on the dam set to the Hanging Tree song was incredibly powerful. The way the non-Capital citizens threw themselves at the Peacekeepers for an en masse suicide attack, said so, so much about the stakes for the rebelling districts, and actually made me tear up a bit. Fantastic addition.

Having said all that, I definitely wondered how the whole must play for someone that hasn't read the books. I can see that ending feeling very jarring and frustrating. But at least they didn't end it on the fade to black after the attack on Katniss! I was kind of worried that's what they were going to do for a second there.

Marianna said...

I agree with Annie and Jess that the split didn't bother me. I actually haven't read the books, and while it obviously isn't ideal to have to wait a year to find out how it ends, I think it's far preferable to rushing things so there's little character development. I was afraid this would be all prep and no action, but I felt it was well paced with wonderful action scenes but also quieter scenes where you can really see the characters.

I especially liked Katniss's conversation with Finnick in the bunker where Finnick points out Katniss's love for Peeta but acknowledges the complexity of her feeling saying he didn't know in what way she loved him. So often movies and TV shows rush to have characters be thoroughly in love with each other so I think it's nice that they're showing restraint so it's not "Hunger Games: Choosing a Boyfriend." I assume that scene was in the book so most of the credit goes to the author, but kudos to the director for realizing these character developing scenes are important unlike some other movies made from books (*cough* Harry Potter).