Some killer, mostly filler.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014)
After the fairly middling critical reaction to Mockingjay Part 1, I wasn’t in any rush to go and see it, despite being a self-proclaimed fan of the franchise. Part of my reticence was also down to the stupid, but annoyingly cash-savvy decision to split the final book into two films, a practice that I hate with every fibre of my being. I mean, why bother going to see half a film, based on the weakest book in the trilogy, which is undoubtedly going to have as much padding as an insecure schoolgirl’s bra? Still, the notion of being a “proper” critic and forming my own opinion on a film, no matter how crappy the reviews are got the better of me, so here we are.
“They’ll either want to kill you, kiss you, or be you”
Mockingjay Part 1 once again follows our main heroine and two-time games survivor Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) after she was airlifted out of the Quarter Quell Games at the end of Catching Fire. We learn that her act of defiance has sparked pockets of violence and rebellion in the various districts, leading the Capitol to respond in kind with brutal bombing runs, laying waste to all who oppose. Katniss is taken underground, far below the fabled District 13 and the leader of the rebellion, President Coin (Julianne Moore) plans to capitalise on the revolutionary spirit in the air by using Everdeen as a figurehead for the uprising with the former advisor to Donald Sutherland’s President Snow, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Katniss however, has her mind on not-quite beau Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) who was left at the Snow’s mercy when only she was rescued. Things take an interesting turn when Peeta shows up alive and well on Capitol propaganda broadcasts, urging people to lay down their weapons and submit to the Capitol’s rule. The basic narrative thrust of the series is still sound. The film still has its media satire action goggles on and Mockingjay Part 1 focuses on the battle between Katniss’ reluctant postergirlism and Peeta’s strangely glassy-eyed figureheaditude (those are totally words, shut up). There are some really clever, creative flourishes here. I’ve said it (and drawn more than my fair share of ire for it) before but The Hunger Games series is one of the best series out there, giving us a franchise that is smart, dark and enjoyable and not the sort of brain-numbing shit that normally captures a young adult audience’s attention.
A review of Part 1 is always going to put a cap on what you can say about it because it’s simply not a complete film. I’d read many reviews beforehand and they all seemed to make a big deal of splitting the last part in two. I started to wonder whether it was usual critic axe-grinding or a legitimate problem with the film. Sadly, it’s the latter. The film is all set-up and no pay-off. It’s going to leave you with narrative blue balls. We spend a lot of time underground, with characters spinning their wheels until they’re sure enough time has passed to move the plot on without being in danger of running out of story. The pacing is slow and plodding. There’s a few pockets of action here and there, but it becomes clear that the big guns are being saved for next year. This practice really sucks. If you’re going to split a film, makes sure that both parts are satisfying experiences on their own. It’s fine to not rush to the endgame, but when it feels like all you’re doing is delaying the inevitable, it can frustrate and feel like you’ve just slapped down your cash for a feature-length trailer for the next one. Nearly all of the film’s failings can be attributed to the split. It’s baggy compared to the efficient Catching Fire. Various ideas/themes will be brought up in one scene, only to have the same ideas pop up in the next scene, making the drama feel inert. Mockingjay Part 1 feels like a film with the deleted scenes kept in. There’s one moment near the end that would have made a great cliffhanger, but we have to endure a few more low-key scenes reiterating what we already know before the credits finally roll.
This could have been a disaster. Thankfully, the actors just about carry it. Jennifer Lawrence is still great as Katniss. She’s been a reluctant hero from the beginning and the film plays on that. It’s nice that in spite of surviving two games, she’s still human. She’s a badass when she needs to be, but she remains just as vulnerable and relatable as she ever has. In lesser hands, the temptation to turn her into a world-weary invincible warrior may have been too strong, but her continued character development has been skillfully piloted away from those hacky jagged rocks. There’s new blood in the form of Natalie Dormer’s Cressida and her camera team, but they’re not really given much to do. Julianne Moore’s President Coin is the most interesting new addition to the cast. Moore gives a veteran polished turn as Coin and her slow-burn friendship with Katniss is played extremely well. I also liked her constant sparring with PSH’s Plutarch. PSH never turned in a duff performance even if the film was questionable and Mockingjay doesn’t break that streak. The guy was a fantastic actor and I’m gutted all over again that we won’t see anything more from him.
One of the only things that I feel The Hunger Games hasn’t knocked out of the park is Katniss and Peeta’s relationship. I love Katniss as a character, but I just don’t feel the films have justified her obvious love for him. He’s been a comfort during tough times and I suppose that’s enough, but something still doesn’t gel. Being stuck in the Capitol, Peeta doesn’t get much screentime and so the film instead concentrates on Katniss’ relationship with dreamy friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth). Much like in Twilight, I’m rooting for the underdog. Gale seems a much better match for Katniss. They’re equals. The more the films play out, the more I find it difficult to accept that someone as strong as Katniss would be into a beta male like Peeta. The film does occasionally hover around Katniss’ attraction to lame ducks, but I’m still not buying it. Anyway, the film has some nice moments between Katniss and Gale and I just wish they explored their complicated relationship a bit more. I could have done with an extra scene or two between them before Gale leaves District 13 for a good stretch of the film.
“Miss Everdeen, it is the things we love most that destroy us.”
Mockingjay Part 1 is decent enough. There’s an inherent quality to the performances and the script, but it’s a shame a recommendation has to come with so many caveats. I know that once Part 2 comes out I’ll never watch Part 1 on its own again. I would have been completely happy to sit through a three-hour spectacular finale, but nope- money to be made, son. Anyway- the film: 3/5, the business practice: -1000000000/5