Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is now the reluctant face of the rebellion against Panem’s Capitol and its leader, President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Meanwhile, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and the other victors remain prisoners in the Capitol, each of them being tortured into revealing information about the rebellion or speaking out against it. With the help of Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), Effie (Elizabeth Banks), Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and District 13’s President Coin (Julianne Moore), Katniss attempts to get past the horrific events of both Hunger Games, become the leader the rebels and the other districts need her to be, and rescue Peeta and the victors from the Capitol.
Mockingjay was the weakest of Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy, not because its points about post-traumatic stress disorder and propaganda in wartime weren’t interesting, but because it took forever to get to the fall of the Capitol and President Snow. For most of the book, Katniss throws tantrums and is drugged into submission because she’s losing her shit, and rightfully so. After all, she was forced to kill children and be a pawn in the Games, and she’s become a pawn again…just for a new government with equally questionable motives. Then, in the last five or six chapters, we actually get to the assault on the Capitol. This, of course, made me nervous for the film adaptation, especially since it was being divided into two parts.
Besides being a production company money-grab that’s as obvious as splitting The Hobbit into three movies under the guise of “having more time to develop characters and the plot,” Mockingjay doesn’t have a good stopping point. I hate using this as an example, but at least Breaking Dawn, the Twilight Saga’s conclusion, has a very clear Part 1 (Bella’s human life and death) and Part 2 (Bella’s rebirth as a vampire) that made sense for a two-part film.
Mockingjay would’ve worked better as a single film. It might’ve been a three-hour movie, but at least it would’ve had time to develop its character AND conclude the story. Instead, we got two hours of scenery chewing and a cliffhanger that didn’t even feel like a worthwhile cliffhanger. Think about how Catching Fire ended. Sure, it essentially repeated the events of the first story (That’s on Collins, not the film), but it set up the revolution and left us wondering about what a full-on war would mean for our favorite characters.
Part 1 of Mockingjay doesn’t feel like that. It ends after the rebels rescue Peeta, Johanna (Jena Malone), and Finnick (Sam Claflin)’s lover Annie. I mean, there’s a minor cliffhanger because Peeta has been tortured and brainwashed into hating/wanting to kill Katniss. But considering nothing really happened in the plot before that, it’s not an “OH MY GOD” ending. And now we have to wait a year for a real conclusion. By that time, a lot of the momentum will have been killed (Good job, Lionsgate).
Despite being slow, Mockingjay has several good elements that work. Effie Trinket, for one, is always a delight. I’m glad the screenwriters decided to nix Katniss’s captured prep team and use Effie (who’s a fan favorite) in place instead, especially since Elizabeth Banks owns the absolute hell out of her character. Also, Willow Shields’s Prim is perfection. Equal parts innocence and maturity, it’s hard not to love her. We get to meet Katniss’s camera crew, too, led by Cressida (Natalie Dormer). God, I want more of Natalie Dormer in the next film (I love her in Game of Thrones).
But I have to say my favorite moment was when Jennifer Lawrence sings “The Hanging Tree.” It starts with her just singing to Mockingjays outside of District 12, but then she’s joined by a chorus of citizens who are marching to fight Peacekeepers and destroy District 7. Then, the song is overlaid with propaganda footage that causes Peeta to break his composure on camera while he’s talking with Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) about the war.
Overall, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is an okay film, but it suffers from the same problems its source material had. Mainly, it lacks suspense. That’s because Collins relied on heavy character development in the first 75% of the book, so we don’t even get to the assault on the Capitol (which we’ve been dying to see since Katniss Everdeen first defied the Capitol in the first Hunger Games) until the final 25%. In other words, this movie ends way before it actually gets good. I personally think it was stupid to split this book into two films for this very reason. Some of you may disagree, but I’m annoyed that I have to wait a full year for the ball to get rolling.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1: B-
For my radio review of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 on “Pat & JT in the Morning,” visit this link (starts around the 31:07 mark).