When I first heard this movie would be split into two parts, I groaned. I didn’t like that they were following a trend that YA novel adaptations have set instead of striving to be a bit more original. And as a fan of the book series, I didn’t really like Mockingjay as a whole in the first place.
Even if they are following the trend, I was pleased to see that The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (man that’s a mouthful!) played into this structure better than most. While still suffering the minor problems a cut usually brings, Mockingjay 1 conforms to a significant and generally intriguing structure. There’s still notable action, the suspense is ever-present, and the ending isn’t as abrupt as expected.
What I liked
The thing Mockingjay 1 does best is its attention to characters. Katniss Everdeen is still the backbone of the story, but characters like Gale, Finnick, Haymitch, and Effie are given some much-needed room to grow amidst the claustrophobic setting. It’s a change of pace that will be viewed by some as slow and by others (like myself) as necessary. Up until now, we’ve really only ever gotten to know Katniss and Peeta. This movie does well to counter its source material by focusing attention more on the people surrounding the two, and that’s a good thing.
The actors who command these characters continue to deliver solid performances. That’s not necessarily a surprise, given the A-List lineup, but it does well to increase audience investment and faith in the franchise. We’ve seen dozens of YA novel adaptations in recent years that have simply fallen flat, and even though the Hunger Games franchise has proven its salt before, some were expecting a weak third installment. The cast of Mockingjay 1 has shown us that (luckily) this franchise will not so easily flop.
Similar to Catching Fire, this movie displays an impressive use of subtlety to add meat to the story. One thing I hate about context and internalizing fear in movies is that a lot of filmmakers will drop a hint, only to then shove the point down your throat moments later to make sure you “got it.” The Hunger Games suffered from this a bit before Francis Lawrence took over the franchise’s directorial duties. I can’t point to specific examples for fear of spoilers, but you’ll get what I mean if you see the movie. Which, if you haven’t gotten it by now, you probably should.
Mockingjay 1’s action scenes find themselves in the midst of that subtlety. They’re few and far between, but when they happen, they’re done with an element of suspense and fear. When people fight in the movie, you feel distraught, not excited. That’s not something you see in movies everyday. For all the times people say that media in today’s society stylizes violence, we need these kinds of action scenes that show the other side of a fight where every move has a consequence.
The movie is also cloaked in political undertones. No, I don’t feel that it promotes rebellion, and I don’t feel like it teaches us the government is evil. What it does is compare and contrast two vastly difference political systems. Mockingjay 1 shows us system A and system B. It shows us how they go head to head with each other, and it points out instances where their policies overlap. It’s not sending a distinct message (yet), but it does give people looking for deeper themes something to talk about when walking out of the theater.
What I didn’t like
It still does the thing. You know: the thing where a YA novel movie franchise puts out a movie each year and splits the last book into two parts because…reasons. Like I said, it does it better than others by providing a story structure instead of a massive information dump that amounts to a long trailer for the last movie, but it still shares other problems. I don’t dislike this trend because it doesn’t conform to the tradition of movie trilogies. I dislike it because it brings us a step closer to making these adaptations less like movies and more like visual recreations of their source material. There’s a value to be found in staying true to source material, but doing so with this trend makes it easier for movie studios to make a quick buck off a devoted audience. That’s not even taking into account the revenue made from the general public that becomes hooked by a first installment and a cliffhanger.
While the movie does find strength in it’s character development, it’s an abrupt shift in tone and structure for the people who don’t follow the books. Going from Catching Fire to Mockingjay 1 can be compared to driving as fast as possible towards the edge of a cliff, only to slam on the brakes just before going over the edge in order to take in the beautiful sights around you.
Besides that, it just dragged on longer than it needed to. I feel like it was stretched into the 2 hour and 15 minute flick it is in order to justify splitting up the book. In some scenes, the only tension you find is the anticipation of the next scene, where surely something more exciting will happen. There are also unique instances where action is happening, but we’re not seeing it. Perhaps this was in order to fit into the whole “don’t stylize violence” theme, but it still made for some boring scenes and invited some unwelcome tension-building clichés.
If you’ve seen the first two movies, you’ll probably want to see this movie. It still falls into the traps set by its split structure, but it presents enough exciting and relevant information to make for an enjoyable installment. I’d usually say something snarky like “let’s hope the final movie isn’t a giant cluster-mess of action,” but this franchise has now proven it can hold its own when put to the test.