The beginning of the end is here in the form of Mockingjay Part 1, the first half of the conclusion to the cinematic version of Suzanne Collins’ celebrated Hunger Games saga. I saw it later than most people, which is partially due to the fact that I haven’t had time, and that this is a more enjoyable film to see when all the hyperactive fangirls already have.
We return to the futuristic world of Panem where Catching Fire left off. After destroying the Hunger Games arena during the 75th annual game and having her home in District 12 demolished, our heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is taken to the wasteland that is District 13. Her partner in the games, Peeta Mellark (Josh Huthcerson), has already been taken to The Capitol by the sadistic ruler of Panem, President Snow (Donald Sutherland), and is used in propaganda videos to quench the impending rebellion, as well as in interviews with the TV host Ceasar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci, lighting up the mood as always). Katniss meets President Alma (Julianne Moore), the leader of the rebellion, who tells her how her actions in the arena has inspired the other districts to riot and thus propelled the rebellion forward.
Katniss has no choice, she must be the face of the revolution; their “Mockingjay”. There is no going back, no matter how much Katniss wishes she could. A pretty funny moment involves Katniss being forced to star in a propaganda video, in which she gives a terrible performance. That girl’s not winning an Oscar.
Things are overall bleak for our favorite characters, even more so than last time. Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) doesn’t wear nearly as many colorful outfits, Katniss’ old flame and obligatory love triangle fodder Gale (Liam Hemsworth) has basically become a soldier and poor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) doesn’t get to drink any whiskey. There is, however, a surprising amount of comic relief in rebel co-leader Plutarch Heavensbee, who pulled the strings in the last film to get Katniss to District 13 in the first place. He is, of course, played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, to whom the film is lovingly dedicated.
One problem with the film, though, is that it can feel over-crowded in how it brings back old characters on top of adding new ones. Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) and Beetee Latier (Jeffrey Wright) from Catching Fire are all members of the rebellion, Johanna Mason (Jena Malone) is trapped in The Capitol with Peeta, and Katniss’ mother (Paula Malcolmson) and sister (Willow Fields) are of course back. Then there’s Natalie Dormer as the woman who directs the rebellion’s own propaganda films under Plutarch’s supervision, Stef Dawson as Finnick’s girl from District 4, Mahershala Ali as an aide of President Coin, and several more. Some will find it overwhelming, but it shouldn’t be too large an issue if you pay attention.
Some will complain that there’s too much of the character moments and not enough of the action. I myself didn’t mind so much that the film largely left the destruction and chaos to the imagination of the viewer, since this gave more force to the scenes that actually depict the violence, such as a great moment where rebels in District 5 demolish a dam as an eerie song sung by Jennifer Lawrence is played over it. James Newton Howard provides the orchestration, naturally.
After this scene, the film picks up and stops feeling slow, which is a prominent problem mainly in the first half. The film has its moments where it’s genuinely intense, emotional, effectively dark and sometimes funny. It isn’t a bad movie, but it feels very much like what it is: build-up to something bigger. It manages to feel long and short at the same time. Short because it’s only the beginning of a story, and long because that beginning is being stretched out into two films.
And even though I couldn’t give a rodent’s posterior about the love triangle even if I tried, I am genuinely beginning to question why Katniss is so torn between two genuinely bland and uninteresting young men. My dad made a great point when saying that, honestly, neither of them really pass the Plinkett Test, which states that a character qualifies as well-written and succesful if you can manage to describe them without mentioning looks. Not that anything that isn’t looks matters much to tween fangirls.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is, nevertheless, okay. I wanted to give it a 4, if only it had gotten its first half out of the way earlier, but I’m gonna settle for a 3.5 for this one. I still think you should see it, because it will at the very least get you pumped for what’s to come, that much I promise!
In spite of my not too high final rating, I’m glad I’ve had the privilege of following these films since the start. I was never into Harry Potter and so I wasn’t part of the hype surrounding the ending of that franchise, and I don’t even wanna talk about what happened to Lord of The Rings these past three years. Hunger Games, though, is something I can be a part of and I’m looking forward to Mockingjay Part 2 already. *does the whistle*