Sunday, December 7, 2014
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 Review
"The Hunger Games" franchise has been a weird one, I must say. I was not a fan of the first film at all, as evidenced by my C- review over two years ago. My criticisms largely stemmed from the directing. The movie just didn't feel like a blockbuster, the actual hunger games came across as rather bland, and it was unsettling for me to see the filmmakers gloss over the gruesome nature of kids killing each other.
Thankfully, the producers righted the ship for "Catching Fire" by replacing director Gary Ross with Francis Lawrence. There wasn't as much emphasis on shaky camera movement, the hunger games actually had an interesting look, the characters weren't one-dimensional. Suddenly, it felt as if the world of Panem was finally coming to life. My only issue with the second film was the abrupt ending.
I ended my review of "Catching Fire" by saying the series was "on thin ice" and I really meant it. "Mockingjay - Part 1" was a tough sell for me from the beginning. I hate splitting up one movie into two. I reviewed the first "Hobbit" movie and have never bothered to watch the second one, probably won't see the third. I never reviewed the second "Deathly Hallows" film. I don't like movies that are just one large act 1, that are just a giant setup for the sequel. Movies should work by themselves. Period. This is simply something I won't budge on.
BUT, I will say, "Mockingjay - Part 1" actually satisfied me when it came to its ending. There were just as many instances where the film was confirming my fears concerning the pitfalls of "Part I" movies, but when the credits rolled - I felt relief. This movie has an ending. I want to see Part 2. As it turns out, I am actually quite enjoying this franchise as a whole. It's just a shame the first film was not very good, the second one has no ending, and the third one doesn't really know what it's trying to be until the final 15 minutes.
Katniss was rescued in the previous movie by rebels and in "MJ - Part 1," she's taken to an underground rebel facility - lead by President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) with Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) as her right hand man. It's pretty clear what President Coin wants from Katniss. She's to be the "Mockingjay," the leader of the rebellion. Katniss is hesitant to accept this role and a good part of the movie goes into her initial hesitance, but once she sees what they're doing to Peeta in the Capitol, she ultimately decides to take on the challenge.
Katniss's initial hesitance is palpable, but the movie takes a little too long to get the obvious next step. Of course she'll be the mockingjay otherwise, we have no movie. Since this is part 1 and the book itself is actually a page shorter than Catching Fire (which wasn't broken into two parts) that means much more lingering, much less plot propulsion. It's interesting to see Katniss visit other districts, as the Mockingjay, but it's difficult to get a visual sense of just how effective she is as the symbol other than what we're told.
The Capitol has Peeta. The majority of the rebels think Peeta is a traitor. Katniss wants to save Peeta. It's weird to see just how focused Katniss is on the safe return of Peeta. I have never really bought that Katniss has any emotional connection to Peeta at all, I don't think we were supposed to in the first two films, so her overwhelming emotion and loyalty towards Peeta kinda falls flat for me.
As it is, and I hate to say this, but Jennifer Lawrence is asked to go big on the emotions in this film and the results are a bit mixed. The first two films, she's tough, stoic, angry---these are things that suit Lawrence well. And maybe it's because the overall tone of the film makes the emotional moments feel hollow, but something felt off about Jennifer Lawrence's performance here.
Part of that could also be because of how her character takes a backseat to much of the action. Towards the end, the movie starts to kick into gear when they make it their mission to capture Peeta, but... Katniss is not among those who help capture him. She stays at the facility while the men take care of business and we only see snippets of their plot to take Peeta to District 13. We only know how they captured Peeta because of how they explain it to us. There's just a little too much telling and not showing in this film.
This is basically a movie with no climax. There is one, but we don't see it. You could get away with not showing the capturing of Peeta if this was the first half of the movie, but if his escape from the Capitol is to be the centerpiece of the film, then you better show it!
I kept starting and stopping when it came to writing this review. I don't get excited about writing reviews to "Part 1" films, I just don't. Because, despite the film ultimately satisfying me on a basic level, this is still just half of a movie and I don't like writing about half a movie. I'll give the filmmakers credit for making this feel big and having "Part 1" come to a conclusion we can all be happy with, but they better deliver with "Part 2" or this whole franchise just might turn out to have been one gigantic waste of time.