“This movie is good.”
I don’t usually talk when I’m in a movie theater; I’m a movie snob like that. I guess if my wife and I are watching a film and the theater is pretty empty we will make comments back and forth, dropping trivia knowledge and poking fun at logic holes. Usually though, we try and stay silent and get sucked into the world the filmmakers have created for us. Well, somewhere near the end of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 1 I broke my movie silence, looked over at my wife, and just said it, “this movie is good.”
While not every thing in the film works, once we get past the slow opening the movie becomes its own as a futuristic/sci-fi young adult political thriller. While that may seem like a weird description, it’s really what the movie boils down to. The decision to split this book into two films means that this film takes the slower pace, and I loved it for that. Intriguing political story, a filmmaking allegory, and some serious restraint from a huge franchise picture, Mockingjay- Part 1 might just be the best Hunger Games film and is a breath of fresh air in our bloated blockbuster marketplace.
**This review contains spoilers for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire**
Mockingjay- Part 1 picks up shortly after the events of Catching Fire. Here we find Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in an even more PTSD state than she was in the last film. She has just gone through the games for a second time and found out that there has been a plot to free her from the capitol and have her join the rebellion that has been brewing. While this seems like the next logical step, she has hated the capital and wants to fight them, she is not able to fully commit at this time. The leaders of the rebellion were only able to rescue her and not the other tributes, specifically Peeta. The film follows the uprising of the rebellion, Katniss’ journey to becoming a leader/symbol of hope and succeeds in setting the stage for the final entry in the franchise.
I remember watching the ending of Catching Fire, the rug has been pulled out from our feet, Plutarch (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) is revealed to be against the capital, Katniss (like the audience) doesn’t know what to think of all this, we want to know more and…cut to black. It’s a brilliant cliffhanger ending and creates a desire to know the end of the story. I felt as though there would be a greater sense of momentum going into Mockingjay- Part 1 and sadly there wasn’t. I believe this film to be great, but it does struggle for the first 20 minutes or so. There is a sense of meandering, without the games themselves to thrust the plot forward, the story doesn’t progress until Katniss accepts her leadership role and gets involved in the action. What’s satisfying about her call to arms is that it’s not limited to Katniss getting involved in action, but actually her involvement in the rebellion’s propaganda and decision making (more on that below).
A lot has been said on the decision to turn this book into two films. I understand that a lot of people are upset by this trend in Hollywood. I agree with them, the trend to take the final book in a franchise and split it up into two films is not a good trend. It is almost solely to make more money and usually doesn’t serve the story in any way. That being said, Mockingjay- Part 1 totally worked for me. I felt it told a solid story featuring great characters and it actually benefitted from being split into two films. Maybe I was preparing for the worst and I ended up being pleasantly surprised. The Hobbit films have done that to me. While there are amazing sequences in those films, the overall tone is that of excess, in that case the book is stretched well beyond its limits and the storytelling in the films suffers because of it. With Mockingjay though, I enjoyed the slower pace and I think the decision allowed the filmmakers to tell a much more interesting story than if they had to include it all in one movie.
After its slow opening, the film follows Katniss as she goes to various war-torn locations. While there is a main action scene, the bulk of the movie tells the story of dueling propaganda campaigns. It was weird writing that last sentence, this is one of the largest franchises on film today and the third entry in it is about intriguing political maneuvers. This was extremely interesting and made for a satisfying story.
It has been said elsewhere, but its true that Mockingjay- Part 1 feels like a different franchise from the two films that have come before it, and that is fine. The first two films primarily focused on the games and the rebellion was just mentioned in passing. Catching Fire finally pulled the curtain and revealed the rebellion. With that done, I feel as though the two Mockingjay movies can fully explore this part of the story. Part 1 features the gathering of the troops, while Part 2 will jump into the action. If its not obvious, I haven’t read the books; I’m experiencing this story from the cinematic form only. Mockingjay- Part 1 shows us more of the Hunger Games world and is very successful at immersing us in the struggle presented.
The final third of Mockingjay- Part 1 is beautiful segment of blockbuster filmmaking. The film features glimpses of the various districts rebelling and fighting back against the capital, and all points converge on a rescue mission for certain characters. There is some great techy hacking stuff going on, a recon team is sneaking in to a fortress, there is a political speech voicing the whole scene and we are invested with Katniss as the plot thickens. It was during this scene that I uttered my four-word review in the theater. I understand why some would be disappointed with the ending, but I thought it was wonderful. I think since I had accepted that it was going to be just part 1 of 2, I was able to accept it for what it was and allow myself to get submerged in the story this film was telling. I felt the film both gave us closure and set up the final confrontation we know has been coming. With the way this film ends, I can’t imagine this story being told as the beginning part of a massive Mockingjay movie, I think it totally works as its own movie and it works as a Part 1 as well.
While every other blockbuster franchise is looking to escalate things and make every action scene bigger than the last, I applaud the filmmakers for creating a franchise picture in which the finale features only a handful of people going through the action/drama. I just can’t get over how much I enjoyed this film and how surprised I was by how the one-book-split dynamic worked in favor of this film. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 1 shows us that while the movie business will do anything to make more money, if those decisions are made with certain talent involved then a very satisfying story-telling experience can happen. Yes it is definitely true that I can’t wait for Part 2, but in the meantime Mockingjay-Part 1 is a great film and another great addition in this global phenomenon.
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