Katniss has been through a lot. First, she had to volunteer to fight for her life in the place of her sister. Then, after miraculously winning the Hunger Games, she had to watch a corrupt government torment her loved ones. When the next Hunger Games rolls around, she has to fight once more. Again she manages to survive almost certain death and now has to face her most challenging trial yet – the division of the final story, the weakest of the three, being divided into two arduous parts. I don’t think she’ll make it out of this with her sanity intact.
Mockingjay Part 1 picks up soon after the events in Catching Fire. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is mentally wounded from her last experience in the Hunger Games. She suffers with PTSD and a crippling depression knowing that the capitol could be torturing Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). She is the type of character that could overcome this mental state, if it weren’t that she, and the rest of the rebels, were stuck underground in the mysterious District 13. The leaders of this rebellion, President Coin (Julianne Moore) and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) plan to use Katniss as a propaganda tool so they can create a rallying cry among the rest of the suffering districts.
Katniss is surrounded by many of those who have supported her in the past two years, but doesn’t feel complete without her short love/like interest, Peeta. Gale (Thor’s brother) stands by Katniss and tries to help her get used to a new life, but his mind seems to be on war rather than romance. The events that take place in Part 1 are all meant to lead to a thrilling climactic war which will be seen in Mockingjay Part 2 a full year from now.
The problem here is that you are left waiting. Part 1 is a full two hours, but still feels completely unfinished. It’s one long build-up with no big finish. As movies are divided in increasing numbers, we’re getting collections made for the home-viewing experience rather than the big screen. I’m not opposed to continuation and extensions, but each movie needs to have a compact story that fits into the main arc.
As mentioned above, Mockingjay is arguably the worst of the three Hunger Games novels. If there’s a fault with this movie, it lies in the source material. Director Francis Lawrence didn’t have much to work with and he still does a better than average job. He surprised everyone last year with the adaptation of Catching Fire. He took over the series reins after Gary Ross’s average Hunger Games movie. He turned a semi-watchable movie into a can’t miss franchise. I believe he was the right choice to complete the series, I just wish he had crammed the final experience into one 3 hour movie.
This is clearly the most glum movie in the series. The other movies took you to the capitol to liven the mood. The only levity shown in the movie is brought by the inclusion of a dressed-down Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks). She, along with Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), may be the only likable characters in the movie. And yes, I’m including Katniss among the unlikable characters. It’s as if she never overcame incredible odds. Instead, she is a reactive pawn with too many nightmares.
What Francis Lawrence does well is creating memorable moments. He utilizes a strong score and even the vocals of Katniss to overlay gripping scenes of rebellion. There are several scenes that carry the weight that Rue’s district riot scene did in Catching Fire. These scenes save the movie by adding necessary and needed emotion. Also, I never thought I’d say this, but this movie needed far more Peeta.
Mockingjay Part 1’s theme is about using propaganda to convince people that better things are on their way, if they only fight for them. At the same time, this movie feels like propaganda to convince us, the audience, that a better movie is on its way in November 2015.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is a solid lead-in. It’s a strong adaptation, but is based on weak source material. The director puts a glossy and emotional finish on what is basically a few hundred pages of a monotonous build-up. Fans will see this no doubt and they’ll enjoy it. I give it a B and think it is best watched on Blu-Ray late next year just before you watch Part 2.