The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 never had a chance. It was doomed before the cameras started to roll. It was doomed before they even settled on a director. Hell, it was doomed before the first draft of the script was even turned in. Not even a cast including talents like Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman could save this project from this impending doom.
In July of 2012, Lionsgate announced that the final book in Suzanne Collins’ trilogy would be split into two films. That book, a book that spent it’s first 40% or so going absolutely nowhere, may not have had enough compelling material for one movie, much less two. This decision from Lionsgate was essentially a foregone conclusion for a couple of years leading up to it. The final Harry Potter book was made into two films, and those two films combined to gross well over $2 billion. Peter Jackson/Warner Bros. took The Hobbit, a children’s book best enjoyed in one or two sittings, and turned it into three films that will combine for a runtime of nearly nine hours. The quality of Jackson’s return to Middle Earth can be debated. The commercial appeal cannot. Kiss my ass, Peter Jackson.
So Lionsgate had already seen proof that if you have hot commodity with a loyal fanbase, Collins’ novels certainly fit the bill, those loyal fans are going to flock to the theaters no matter what the hell you do. We, as fans, have shown the studios that we don’t really care about them making the best movies out of the books because we’re fine with more movies. I’m obviously not expecting Hunger Games fans to start a Panem-level uprising and refuse to see the movie (which had an impressive worldwide opening of $275 million), but what is essentially an overlong prologue doing $17 million in midnight advance tickets? Ummmmm….okay. It’s hard to blame the studio, especially considering Lionsgate is a publicly traded company that isn’t under the umbrella of one of the big five media conglomerates. At least we all apparently agreed that Divergent is lame and didn’t go see that.
As for the actual movie I’m supposed to be reviewing here, many of its problems stem directly from the book. So the diehard “see it at midnight” types will likely view it as the best entry yet, just like they failed to recognize that the third book was, frankly, much weaker than the first two.
In some ways, Mockingjay Part 1 is the best entry yet. The loaded cast is as good as ever and benefits from additions such as Juliane Moore, Mahershala Ali, and Natalie Dormer. Lawrence is again something to behold despite not having much to do. She carries the movie. With a lesser young star, and by lesser I mean pretty much anybody else, this movie would’ve fallen apart completely. The scenes of Katniss suffering from PTSD, or living in fear, or being unsure of her role all resonate nicely because Lawrence is a gifted dramatic actress. The late Phillip Seymour Hoffman brought his usual charm to the screen despite also not having anything to do, as did Harrelson.
Back to Lawrence having nothing to do. It’s not hard to understand that an action movie needs its star kicking ass to work. That’s Newton’s third law, I think. In Mockingjay Part 1, Katniss spends the only two scenes that could even be argued as a climax sitting on the sideline. Whether she’s sitting in a bunk-bed or in mission control, Katniss does an awful lot of waiting around in this movie. This doesn’t seem like Katniss, and it seems like a waste of Lawrence’s star power (which is likely what sparked the decision to make this into two movies, suck every dollar you can out of her while you still got her under contract). I get that changing a popular book is tricky, but in this movie, it’s Gale (Thor’s less talented brother Liam Hemsworth) doing all the heroic things.
Another note on the use of actors. Sam Claflin was great as Finnick in Catching Fire, but apparently not great enough to actually get any meaningful scenes in this movie. When a book is flawed, IT’S OKAY TO CHANGE IT A LITTLE BIT. They have the legal rights and creative freedom to do so.
I will give the writers credit for steering away from typical love-triangle conflicts the book relied so heavily on. Instead they use the times when the characters are not doing anything to focus on the very idea of revolution. There is some rather intelligent and intriguing dialogue throughout the film. They’ve done a good job of making this franchise smart enough for adults to enjoy, something Harry Potter never really had a chance at since it was entirely dependent on magic. Francis Lawrence, the director with no relation to Jennifer, does a nice job again as well. It’s not his fault they broke this is into two movies. When he was brought on for Catching Fire, which is by far the best movie and book in the series, he made everything bigger and darker. On top of that there are just some really impressive individual scenes that he must’ve been drooling over while reading the book.
For the most part, the special effects hold up (a major complaint with the first movie). The destruction that happens when Katniss shoots down a bomber was maybe a little too movie-like, but that’s really my only quarrel. There were a couple of phenomenal shots deep underground in District 13 that allowed you to see just how disciplined these people are.
The pacing is strange in this movie. They attempt to shoot so many scenes in a climactic manner (Katniss agreeing to become their symbol, the bombing, the rescue attempt) that all of them end up feeling like filler. The ONE CHANCE I thought this movie had was if it focused entirely on her struggle with becoming, and ultimate decision to become, the Mockingjay. Make it a character piece. They could’ve end the movie with J-Law storming into mission control and saying “I’ll be your Mockingjay”. That would’ve been dope. Instead, the studio is playing the role of mockingjay. And we’re the ones being mocked.
It’s hard to call this movie terrible and I won’t do so. But it wasn’t a good singular film. Maybe the finale will be amazing and we’ll all look back in a few years and call this necessary filler, but probably not. It’s the most financially successful prologue ever. It will hold over the appetite of diehard fans for another year. It will likely lead to even bigger box office numbers for the finale. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is doing exactly what Lionsgate wanted it to do. Unfortunately for us, their wants don’t seem to be making a good movie. And we’re allowing them to do it.