The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I suffers from two drawbacks: one is that the title is way too long and I get annoyed every time I refer to it, and the other actual complaint is that Mockingjay never should have existed as two movies in the first place. I don’t really remember the books that well, but either way, you can pretty much assume that they decided to split the book into two movies because it will make them more money that way. The worst part about this is that it will totally work. I’m sure this movie is going to make a lot of money, and then we’ll be back next year and Part II will make even more. I can’t imagine that this won’t work out financially, but I’m quite certain that it doesn’t work out artistically.
Mockingjay Part I picks up exactly where Catching Fire left off. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) has been rescued from the arena and transported to District 13 where she is being groomed to be the poster child of the rebellion against the Capitol. Despite the hatred she has for the Capitol, Katniss is unsure she wants to do this, both because of the danger it will bring to Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and the other tributes still stuck there, and the possible psychological and emotional damage it could have to herself. However, she decides to comply with President Coin’s (Juilanne Moore) and Plutarch’s (Philip Seymour Hoffman) poster child plan, and in return they will rescue Peeta and the other tributes. Meanwhile, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) plays mind games, blows things up, and generally makes life miserable.
The most interesting part of the Hunger Games has always been the reality TV aspect, how it deals with image. This film continues that but offers little else (more on that later). It is interesting to see Katniss being “directed” by both Plutarch and Cressida (Natalie Dormer) in the “propos” (basically propaganda ads for the revolution), within a film where Jennifer Lawrence is obviously being directed as an actress. Similarly, for much of the film Katniss watches President Snow or Peeta on Capitol TV. Everyone is constantly concerned with crafting an image; usually one that is false in some way. Of course, this is what movies (and TV) do, so the film seems more self-aware then perhaps any of the others that came before it, mostly because there is little else going on in the way of action.
The weakest aspect of the film is that it mostly exists to set up the next one. It feels more like an extra long episode of a television show than a full length feature film. In no way is Mockingjay Part I self contained; if you’re not already invested in the series then don’t bother seeing this film. It’s not that the film isn’t enjoyable, it makes sense and everything, and it does do a good job of setting up the next film, but when the ending comes it’s a bit of a shock and it’s hard not to feel cheated. Even though I had expected an ending that was completely unsatisfying given that they need people to come back and see the next film, there’s no escaping the fact that they shouldn’t have split the films up in the first place and given us one film with a satisfying beginning, middle, and end. This film can’t stand on its own and therefore is somewhat of a failure, even though that’s exactly what it sets out to do.
However, it is still good to see all the familiar faces. It never ceases to amaze me the talent they get to be in these movies (even though it probably shouldn’t because the films are making so much money and all). The only complaint I have on that front is that Jena Malone was hardly in the film at all, being trapped in the Capitol for basically the whole time. The additions of Natalie Dormer and especially Julianne Moore were welcome (when she shares the screen with Hoffman I kept having flashbacks to PTA films), and it’s always good to see Philip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, and Elizabeth Banks in these movies.
Mockingjay Part I is executed well, but flawed in its conception. It examines interesting ideas about propaganda and image, but has little to offer in the way of action. For the most part, its characters are watching TV. There is literally a scene that has the population of District 13 watching a propaganda video Katniss and the team just made that looks like a trailer for the film. This is interesting but also has the movie feeling like a commercial for itself and the next installment, which will hopefully get the characters out of the bunker and on to fighting some bigger battles.
Long story short: 2.5/4 stars
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