The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1

mockingjay-part-1-poster

Release: Friday, November 21, 2014

[Theater]

Written by: Peter Craig; Danny Strong

Directed by: Francis Lawrence

Katniss ought to have directed that last arrow at Hollywood’s greedy, deep-pocketed execs. While I will always be a proponent of staying just a little bit longer inside the Hunger Games, it’s hard to ignore the gratuitousness of the decision to split yet another YA novel down the middle as part of a grand send-off of Jennifer Lawrence-sized proportions.

As a watchful and ever-so-slightly marginalized President Snow quietly reminds himself whilst cloaked in sinister shadows, in any game of strategy there are moves and counter-moves. It’s one of those sneeze-and-you-will-miss-it kind of lines in Part 1, but it is curious how poignant a statement that has now become, not just as it relates to the state of the Games but to the (film) franchise itself.

It’s a sentiment that once cruelly downplayed the grotesqueries of young people entering into gladiatorial arenas and killing one another for sport (and for great television). It once served to illuminate how President Snow and the Capitol regarded the people of Panem: movable pawns on a customizable chess board. As the Nazis found, it’s much easier to carry out unspeakable acts upon objects rather than people. Snow reflects upon the move/counter-move theory as he stares out a window into unforgiving bleakness and his disdain for the revolt that is ongoing is entirely too palpable.

Taking it a step further, though: some slick exec in a Hollywood high-rise who stands firmly against the notion that any narrative on film should end as concisely as possible is sure to be doing something similar. He’s combing his hair back, patting a nice white rose into his pocket before drifting off into blissful slumber knowing he’s just made all us lowly Mockingfans pay double for what’s ostensibly going to be one movie. Sure it’s greedy. It’s dirty, filthy greedy. It’s also effective.

Mockingjay — Part 1 opens right before Catching Fire begins. No, I’m just kidding. It follows right on its predecessor’s heels, duh. (Like, seriously — do I need even to include those details at this point?) Katniss is pretty pissed off after the last Quarter Quell, but more so in desperate need of at least one of the two ‘R’s — rest. No relaxation for the impossibly weary, however, as these most uncertain times now demand she rise up and become the beacon of hope her people so need; a physical reminder that Panem is made of more than rubble, stone and materials for the Capitol’s taking. She must manifest as the mockingjay.

The state of Panem can be described with one word: hellish. In the aftermath of Katniss’ most recent act of defiance by taking down the games’ force field, President Snow has retaliated by raining bullets and bombs from the sky upon her District 12, leaving craters and decomposing skeletons where people once stood. Katniss is rescued by a small band of rebels — ah, a reprieve from the horde of faceless sheep heading towards the slaughter — that takes her to a secluded District 13, a sector that the Capitol foolishly believes to have already been wiped from the map.

There, she will be prepped — after she’s convinced by newcomer President Alma Coin, here played by a reliably strong Julianne Moore, that she is the right one to take up their cause and not Peeta, who is now under the direct supervision of Snow in the Capitol — for a new kind of battle. Up until now, young Katniss has had a lot of her youth drained from her thanks to the woes of being in battle against other tributes, all victimized to some degree by President Snow’s desire to see the color red run freely. She’s been fighting within the system. Now, she must fight back against the system, operating entirely outside of structure and class. Under Coin and game-designer-turned-rebel Plutarch Heavensbee (my primary reason for seeing this film)’s wings, Katniss is poised to do some proper growing up. Given her maturity level already, expect exciting things to happen.

Transitional as they may be, these baby steps in the bunker that is District 13 spell out Mockingjay — Part 1‘s raison d’être, and because director Lawrence doesn’t overextend himself in terms of major action set pieces, his latest is every bit as sturdy as what has come before it as we see a major transformation in Katniss’ willpower — both for the better and for the worse. It also may be the darkest of the installments thus far, which, given the totality of the tone heretofore presented, says a certain something about the destination for which we are bound in 2015’s grand finale. It is a much more dialogue-heavy moment in time, a cessation from the brutal onslaught of action Catching Fire offered however, and may take some time to be fully appreciated on those grounds.

Lawrence and Lawrence (sounds like a law firm) are the definite stars of this outing. As director, Francis faces the tall order of coming up with material suitable enough to justify a two-hour film (not an entirely unreasonable runtime even for a stand-alone project) while not revealing his Ace card prematurely. One can’t help but get the feeling this is a slightly padded story at times, though if one also dispenses with the complaints about it not following the formula set up in the previous two films, they are sure to find an enthralling politically-charged war film that sets a pace all its own, and one that refuses to relent.

As for the other Lawrence, Jennifer is on top-form again, and now comes complete with an entirely new get-up in a jet-black Mockingjay uniform, symbolizing heightened tension in her little quarrel with the ideals set forth by Donald Sutherland’s achromatic and totalitarian dictator. Now more than ever, the film rests upon her shoulders, following an already considerably worn-down Katniss into still darker places. A mock-TMZ-like crew of cameras and lighting techs (made up of previous tributes from several other districts) follows her around District 12 and broadcasts their findings to the rest of Panem. The goal? To inspire the populace into action, to ensure the downtrodden that Katniss is the literal and figurative symbol of hope. Once fire has caught, it’s very hard to stop.

And now the fire spreads like never before. What we are presented with here sure appears to be a partial story sandwiched by back-to-back cliffhanger conclusions, but what’s there is more than enough to blaze a furious path to the finish line. For every move there are indeed counter-moves, and if Hollywood suits truly want to milk projects and franchises for all they’re worth, as a global audience we have the responsibility of making our counter-move. I’m not suggesting we protest Part 2. That would be foolish. Rather, I motion for us to continue on living as we have; not so much subservient to the power of Hollywood (as if there was anything we could do to prevent his two-parter, anyway) but rather empowered by our individual choice to indulge in the games once again. At least try to pretend we don’t care that Hollywood ultimately wins every battle. After all, it’d be our loss if we choose not to show up to the theater next November.

Our counter-move should be rising above the silliness of the marketing strategy; it should be not being bothered by the fact we do have to wait another year to see how Katniss takes out that ruthless son-of-a-bitch seated high and mighty in the Capitol. Instead we should find strength in knowing there is still more fight left in her yet.

psh-in-the-hunger-games-mockingjay-part-1

4-0Recommendation: Marking a notable change in tempo from its previous installments, Mockingjay — Part 1 is hardly without purpose. It lays down a lot of ground for what is sure to be a breathtaking and presumably violent finale, while providing even more color and depth to preexisting characters, as well as introducing a few new faces that help round out an ever-more popular cast. A games-less version of The Hunger Games is still a better movie than a great deal of the stuff being forked out in pairs these days. (Horrible Bosses 2; Independence Day: Forever, anyone?)

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 123 mins.

Quoted: “Miss Everdeen, it is the things we love most that destroy us.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

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28 thoughts on “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1

  1. Pingback: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2 | digitalshortbread

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  4. Excellent review here, Tom! Finally, very very very happy to read a review of this movie that points out a major issue – the cash grab of 2014, dividing one book into two films – and yet still praising the movie for being what it is: one good movie this year. I couldn’t agree more. I really enjoyed this movie, despite most people’s complaints that since they divided it into two films, they either couldn’t rate it or thought it was terrible. Great write-up!

  5. Geez. I need to start watching these movies. Cant seem to muster enough enthusiasm to watch them but my daughter loved the books. Good review, Tom! I may start with the first one since it is on Netflix now (And the second one, too, I believe). Thanks for the head’s up!

    • What’s up Mr. Vic, don’t mention it. Glad to have helped you find another solid bit of entertainment. There sure is a lot of blow-back from both fans of the novels/films and just the film franchise alike, bemoaning the fact we have to wait a year between installments. . . .which, yes is a bit of a bummer. I won’t lie by saying this hasn’t made me any less impatient, b/c I can’t wait to see how things go down in Part 2.

      I was surprised I really ever went to see the first film to be honest. I don’t usually go for the YA adaptation trend, but for whatever reason this one stood out to me and I just haven’t looked back. 🙂

  6. Superb review here, my friend. I think we’re on the same page–not as good as Catching Fire, but still pretty darn good. It’s pretty much a set-up movie since not a whole lot happens, but I’d prefer watching this as opposed to reading the first half of the book any day. But I was kind of disappointed by the book so…yeah. Lol. Also, a couple of things: 1) Is that poster legit?? I feel like she barely looks like Lawrence… 2) Independence Day: Forever?? SERIOUSLY?? I just lost all hope.

    • That poster I chose really has become quite the item of discussion, hasn’t it? Lol!!! (Actually not really, I think Mark below is the only one who has said something about it.) But for real. The more I look at it, I’m not sure who thought this was a Jennifer Lawrence in that suit. I’m pretty sure that’s not her. Hm. . .*investigation underway*

      *back from investigation.*

      It has been confirmed that that is actually NOT Katniss (code-alias Jennifer Lawrence) and that this message will self-destruct in 5. . . .4. . . . 3. . . . 2. . . .

  7. LOVE your opening line, Tom – that’s a great whole first paragraph. There’s no freaking need to split these final YA books into two films! Soooo annoying. Nothing beats The Hobbit, though. WTF. Wonderful review – I saw this a week ago but just not had time to review it. I’m glad you did enjoy it – I wasn’t expecting such a high rating after that opening paragraph. I did like this although I really didn’t like the final book. It’s a faithful adaptation so far from what I remember… Am VERY interested in seeing if the final film stays faithful. Just wish I didn’t have to wait another year to find out. 🙂

    • I know, you’re telling me! That’s the biggest issue I have with the splitting up into two movies thing. I may have misled a lot of people here with that opening though. I really actually don’t think this is a lesser product b/c it’s split, I really do think when Mockingjay Part 2 opens up this movie will have ultimately contributed so much more momentum to it that we won’t be able to say thank-you enough to these folks for giving us 4 straight years of amazing YA adaptation-ness!!! Yeah! New word!! Woo! *High five*

      But seriously. The Hobbit adaptation really is ridiculous. That’s as obvious a cash grab as you can present. 😀

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  9. Eh, I definitely thought the film struggled without the Games to enliven the proceedings. But it certainly wasn’t terrible, just not as good as the first two (in my opinion, I don’t know what you gave the first two films).

    • I liked it quite a lot. Not as bombastic and dramatic as Catching Fire but the political ramifications here were brilliantly handled. I say it holds its own against its predecessors

  10. Eh, Eh, I’m sorry Tommy boy. I’m only going to this and paying for this because it is my turn to pay and it is my girlfriend’s turn to pick. Otherwise, I have no interest in giving this half a movie my money. You are right. It will be our loss not showing up in theaters next November. Because that movie will probably be awesome. While this one, eh, it is a build-up to a better show. Such as a weekly filler to hype up next week’s more exciting show in a television series.

    However, I trust you Tom. The 66% on RT isn’t exactly terrible and the bulk of reviews are still positive despite calling the movie dull. Maybe, maybe, I’ll have at least half the fun that you did. But I’m keeping my fingers crossed for three quarters…

  11. At least the final two instalments of Harry Potter justified the split… I’m not that big a fan of Hunger Games series but it did surprise me when I watched it for the first time coz I was expecting a trash… However, I don’t think I’ll be watching this on the big screen. Good review, Tom.

  12. I totally agree with your review here. Yes, it’s fairly shameless to split them into two movies and yes, it’s essentially just the middle of a movie with no real beginning or end, but for all that it’s still pretty good. I think I’d prefer to see this than a shortened version where we don’t get to see as much and they have to rush through all this without any real poignancy.

    • Exactly Jess! I’m not sure how many fans would be willing to sit through a 3+ hour Hunger Games finale. You know that’s what would have happened if this wasn’t split up. People get fidgety, and as evidenced by Interstellar, its most certainly a challenge even for critics. So I think this move, while yes shameless, was fairly ignorable for me. I don’t read a whole lot of YA novels, so the adaptation process here I can’t comment on. I just know what I like, and I loved this experience for sure.

      Thanks for stopping in!

  13. Tom! Shall we carry on like schoolgirls again?! I cannot wait for this weekend so that I can go and see this one. Freaking exams getting in my way and stuff. Pfffffffffff!

    A lot of people seems agitated that it was slower than the other two. Personally, I do not think the film needed to be split into two. However, seeing as it has, the first half is going to be slower – the book was too. I just hope they don’t mess this up, but it seems they are at least fleshing the characters out a bit more.

    Great work. while we’re at it 😛

    • That the studio split the final book into two parts is more than definitely a business move, and it’s kind of tacky for sure. But my argument — which I’m not sure if I presented good enough — is that more Hunger Games is always a good thing! The longer we get to stick around characters like Katniss, Plutarch, Haymitch — heck, even Peeta (who actually kind of irritates me loll!!) then, I’m game. These movies have been awesome and honestly, I think this one, while different from what’s been offered thus far, has it’s place in history for sure.

      I really liked it a lot. This will be well worth the wait and fighting through those exams! Hold on tight Zoe, you’ll be done soon enough!! 😀

      Thank you very much

      • Hmmmmm… we will see. I am just scared this is one of those moments where something great gets ruined because it gets stretched. The reviews are pretty mixed on this. I don’t mind slower pacing when necessary though. Peeta irritates you? HAHAHAHAHA!

        Pesky things. One more… just one… then I am free for a bit. I absolutely cannot wait for that!

        Anytime!

    • No, there’s no denying the shamelessness of big biz Hollywood trying to make bank off of this, but my argument here is more Hunger Games? I’ll eat it all up! It also is a curious question that, had we not been previously force-fed split-film adaptations in recent years, how this move might have played out. (Obviously it would still cause controversy as Collins wrote this as a trilogy, not a quadrilogy, so there is that.) But I’m wondering now if its just more fatigue with that pattern, or what. Because I honestly thought this movie was freaking solid.

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