Friday, December 19, 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay part I Review

The first movie series to be based on books that had the final book split into two movies was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. This made a lot of sense because there was a lot of story to cover in that last book. Then the Twilight saga split their last book into two movies. This made no sense at all because nothing had happened in any of the previous movies; it was clearly a marketing ploy to milk the Twilight brand for all the money the studios could. We could also accuse The Hobbit movies of doing this, but that's a discussion for another time. The Hunger Games have been very successful as future dystopian survival stories which a lot of other books and movies have failed to imitate. But did The Hunger Games: Mockingjay part I (2014) really need to be divided into two parts?
Following the destruction of the last Hunger Games event, a few of the tributes managed to escape as the oppressive Capitol tried to intervene. Among the escapees were Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin), and Beetee (Jeffery Wright). They are joined by Katniss's friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) and other refugees from their home in District 12 and end up in the believe-to-be-destroyed District 13. Under the leadership of President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and the advice of her friends, Katniss agrees to become the "Mockingjay," the symbol of the rebellion for the districts of Panem to overthrow The Capitol. Katniss is prepped and made over to inspire others for the rebellion, but her thoughts are with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) and his safety while being trapped by The Capitol.
So, The Hunger Games was a pretty good solid movie with lots of action, some good characters, and an interesting story about a televised death match. Catching Fire did a similar thing and took everything to the next level; bigger action, higher stakes, and more complexity. Mockingjay part I went in a totally different direction; there's no Hunger Games whatsoever. The Hunger Games event is over, but the fight rages on in a different arena. Mockingjay is more about the political battle going on between The Capitol and the rebels. The Capitol is producing televised propaganda ads to belittle and dismiss the rebels as nothing but troublemakers. District 13 has been waiting for an opportunity like this for decades; now they have a symbol of hope in Katniss to bring the Districts together and fight against their oppressors. So they make their own propaganda ads featuring Katniss showing how evil and corrupt The Capitol is. It's like a political chess match played out through the media. We get to see how difficult it is to run a rebellion and the impact that media can have on a nation, for good or bad.
At the same time, it's mostly a movie about shooting television ads. While that is interesting, it gets dull. There is a lot of down time, which slows the pacing of the movie. The action scenes are fantastic! I loved seeing Katniss and Gale fighting Capitol airships, but much of the movie is rather slow paced. On top of that we get a whole bunch of new characters thrown at us, but apart from Katniss few of them are developed enough. There's a great action sequence featuring Gale. It was an exciting and tense scene, but this being the third movie Gale has appeared in and I still don't have much of a feel for who this character is. If I had, it would have made the scene all the more tense and would have made me want Gale to survive even more. As it is, Katniss gets most of the development and depth of character at the expense of the significantly expanded cast.
The Hunger Games books are told from Katniss's perspective, and something the movies have done is show us events that Katniss did not witness and thus was unable to narrate. In Mockingjay, we get to see acts of rebellion among the Districts as a result of the rebels' propaganda. Each District specializes in a particular industry, and we see them use the skills associated with that industry to fight against The Capitol's presence in a given District. We see guerilla war acts in District 7 who specialize in lumber and District 5 whose industry is electrical power. When these scenes start you know the District is about to fight back, but how they actually do it totally blew away my wildest expectations. These extra scenes were outside the canon of the books, but were creative and pertinent to the story.
Since Mockingjay is divided into two parts it doesn't have a satisfactory ending. What we get here is good, but not great, and once things really start getting interesting, the closing credits start rolling. It's like standing in line and anticipating an awesome rollercoaster ride, getting buckled in and ready to go, only to have to be taken out and told to wait for the next train. It's kind of a disappointment and almost feels like a bait-and-switch. Having read the books, I am of the opinion that of all the books the third one had the least amount of storyline, so dividing it up into  two-parts seems silly. But there's not much we can do except wait for Mockingjay part II.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay part I was good. It wasn't as good or exciting as the previous two movies, but it was satisfying enough, given the frustrating fact that we don't have a conclusion at the end. Mockingjay revs up our anticipation for the series' grand finale. It's loaded with outstanding, solid performances from the cast, even those who don't get much screen time; it's packed with intriguing, smart political subtext; but the movie comes up short on the action front, though what action scenes we are privileged to see are excellent. I don't think the story justifies a two-part set of movies, but I'm still psyched to see Mockingjay part II. If you're a fan of The Hunger Games this is worth seeing in theaters. But since this movie revs you up and leaves you hanging, you might want to just wait for this on home video and watch it once part II is in theaters so you aren't waiting around for the rest of the movie.

What are some of your expectations for Mockingjay part II? Comment below and tell me about it (no spoilers, though)!

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