So, after my announcement a few days ago of the initiation of my new Deathmatch series, in which fictional characters get ripped from their comfort zones and are forced by me to engage in an ultraviolent fight to the death, it seems only fitting that this would shortly precede my review of the third movie in a franchise in which characters get ripped from their comfort zones and forced by their despotic puppet masters to engage in an ultraviolent fight to the death.
Except, y’know, they’re children, so I have that over Suzanne Collins, morally. For now, at least.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 1
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Produced by: Nina Jacobson, Jon Kilik
Written by: Danny Strong, Peter Craig
Based on: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Genres: Science-fiction, war drama,
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Natalie Dormer, Sam Claflin, Willow Shields, Mahershala Ali
Music by: James Newton Howard
Plot: After the events of Catching Fire, Hunger Games veteran Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is whisked away to District 13, which, contrary to popular knowledge, was not wiped out by the tyrannical regime in the Capitol, and now houses the rebel movement fighting against President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and the jackbooted thugs named”Peacekeepers”. Katniss, along with fellow victor Finnick Odair, her childhood friend, Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), her trainer, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) her family and former Gamesmaster Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) may have been spirited away to the rebellion, but her on-again, off-again sort-of boyfriend Peeta Mellark has been captured by the Capitol, and is being used, seemingly willingly in propaganda videos against the rebellion. With the knowledge that Peeta is in danger, Katniss is torn between her desire to save him, and the duty imposed upon her by the Rebellion of being the Mockingjay, a symbol of hope for the oppressed people of Panem.
So, in the pursuit of making all the money, Lionsgate decided to not only adapt the Hunger Games trilogy to film, but also to divide the final installment, Mockingjay, into two parts, following the trend set by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and The Hobbit. While it’s obviously a sound financial plan, the prior two movies, while none of them bad, per se, did suffer from the undesirable problem of trying to spread too little an amount of subject matter into two hours, or, in the case of The Hobbit, three years. To Mockingjay‘s credit, I didn’t feel like too little material was spread over too much time…Much. There is a scene in the middle of the movie where Gale and Katniss go hunting that looks like it’s building up to something, but doesn’t really go anywhere. Problem is, the movie’s actually too damn short. It’s around twenty minutes shorter than Catching Fire, and cuts off very abruptly, leaving the audience kinda surprised when “Yellow Flicker Beat” starts playing over the end credits. It kind of makes me wonder why they didn’t do something radical like just make one longer third movie. I mean, the people going into it should be expecting a truly epic conclusion to the series, so would it really be that much of a sin to extend it a little?
Whatever. Silly me for wanting trilogies to be actual trilogies, I guess.
By the way, in case you haven’t paid attention during the trailers, don’t expect too much similarities between the newest movie and the previous two in terms of action. While the other two movies were at least moderately action-packed, taking place in an arena full of teenagers murdering each other. Needless to say, there was quite a bit of exciting, brutal violence.
This movie, however, relies much more on subdued political drama than the first two. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like the political elements were non-existent, but they definitely put more of an emphasis on the politics of revolution-mongering than, you know, kids breaking each other’s necks. I thought it was a welcome change, as it moved the plot along and was intense in it’s own way. The lack of action seems to be a major criticism of the movie, but if you don’t mind watching a lot of “moves and countermoves” then I don’t see why you wouldn’t let at least that aspect of the movie suck you into the story. Those of you not conditioned thanks to, say, Game of Thrones, might be a little less receptive, but know that you’re gonna sound really weird when you say that you favoured the jarring shaky-cam in the first Hunger Games over watching Jennifer Lawrence spar verbally with Donald Sutherland and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Of course, to really enjoy the drama, the actors have to show up, and fear not, because, as was the case in the first two movies, the performances are great in Mockingjay. I’ll get to Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss in a bit, but the other actors are definitely worth a mention. Philip Seymour Hoffman is, for the second-last time unfortunately, great, and injects some much needed humour into this very dark, grim movie. Yeah, as progressively dark as the movies in this series have gotten (Because, again, child murder) this movie actually might be the funniest of the three. Oh, don’t get me wrong, it’s not a funny movie as a whole. Not even close. But having Hoffman and Lawrence, as well as Woody Harrelson, who is always good for a few laughs as Haymitch, spout a couple of funny lines helped bring somewhat of a sense of levity to a series in which his happens:
Oh, uh, belated spoiler alert, for all three of you who haven’t seen the first Hunger Games yet.
Anyway, Elizabeth Banks is once again fantastic as Effie, newcomers Julianne Moore and Natalie Dormer are both good as the rebel President Coin and propaganda filmmaker Cressida, and the only weak link in the recurring cast until now has, mercifully been eliminated. Yeah, I really hated Willow Shields as Katniss’s younger sister, Prim. I still cringe every time she delivers her lines. This time though, she’s pretty great by child actor standards. She also has some solid chemistry with Jennifer Lawrence.
Which brings me to Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen. Now, I don’t think anybody buys that she’s a teenager anymore, and I doubt that anyone even bought it when the casting was announced before the first movie. That said, I wouldn’t want anyone else playing Katniss. She’s strong, yet frightened and insecure, she’s occasionally kinda funny, and she gets some great chemistry out of her relationships with Gale and Peeta (Two more great performances, by the way). I guess some people would have a point in saying that it’s kind of annoying that it looks like she wants to save Peeta more than reverse the fortunes of Panem through being the Mockingjay. Yeah, there are some moments that you kinda wanna shake her, but when are humans ever that simple in real life?
Weak, I know, but it’s the best devil’s advocate response I could come up with.
Overall: It’s definitely a different direction for the series to go in, and I’d be lying if I said I was a fan of the halving of the last book, but Mockingjay is still a great installment into the series, getting by mainly on the strength of its performances, and making the audience forget about the notable lack of action.