“The Hunger Games: MockingJay Part 1” opens this Friday and will undoubtedly be the Winter’s second blockbuster, -and deservedly so. Despite having two successful films that paved the way for this one, “Mockingjay” comes with many story line challenges in it’s adaption from novel to film. Fans are going to be impressed and find this film if not better than the first two, equally as good.
The films are based on three books, which have been adapted into four films from writer Suzanne Collins. The first two stories take place mostly inside of a controlled world where competitors are pitted against each other in a fight to the death. This third film takes place immediately after Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) awakes from her liberation from The Third Quarter Quell Hunger Games Competition (75 Year Anniversary) to find herself alive and without Peeta. Her home District Twelve has been destroyed and those who survived are living in District Thirteen in an under ground bunker. With Katniss’s show of defiance in the final scenes of the second film, a rebellion is taking shape across Panem.
“MockingJay” takes the “Hunger Games” story in a new, darker direction. The characters are growing up, and living in a completely new reality. One that includes the total destruction of District 12 and the fact that District 13 is alive and preparing for war. All the districts are now facing rebellion but on what side will they end up on?
Machinations from both sides including President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and Thirteen Leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) become an intricate part of the story that drives Katniss’s behavior by manipulating her into becoming a figure head for the rebellion. Her damaged personae and her unstated love for Peeta (Josh Hutchinson) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) play second fiddle to the action in the film (as they do in the source material).
The challenge here is specifically for director Francis Lawrence III, who wisely reorders some of the plot line from Collins’ novel to create a more fulfilling background and the emotional motivations for several characters. In the original work, Collins loses a lot of ground and momentum for her story when she reached this point in her trilogy by glossing over some of the background for key characters to move her story forward. Thankfully screen writers Peter Craig and Daniel Strong (who worked with Collins), were able to recognize this and create a much more fulfilling sense of why the characters are reacting in specific ways (avoiding spoilers here). Director Lawrence effectively utilized these changes to enhance his film version. I am anticipating these changes will continue into the second part and end to the series which is slated for November 20, next year.
No disrespect to Collins who is a very talented writer. Creating from the ground up is no easy challenge, and looking back on her own story and then having screen writers reshape the work subtly to enhance what she created is still an immense compliment. Overall, the revamping and added in scenes that portray more background on the rebel leaders and even Snow, contribute to a much more satisfying story than the original material that even hard-core fans will appreciate. Those unaware of the changes will be seeing a version of the story that is balanced with character gravitas and plot points that keep the story moving at a well balanced pace.
After the story improvements the performances by the extremely well casts crew of actors including Jennifer Lawrence once again take this film from being something that would only appeal to young adults and carries over to all ages. Specifically, Lawrence’s performance is undoubtedly excellent and proving once again that there is nothing this actress cannot do that isn’t stellar. Her commitment level and ability to portray Katniss as an emotional wreck, yet capable of over-coming those weaknesses to be a figure head to the rebellion are believable and spot-on to the source material.
Sutherland as President Snow may not have a tremendous amount of screen time, yet he still delivers this greasy, slimey, no-good character that makes you want to hate him in such a way that I wish a movie like this was capable of earning him a nomination. His performance is that good, but with the way awards are being given out to actors like the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman (who has an even smaller role), may outshine Sutherland. Even so, films like this though well done, don’t usually garner those accolades.
It would be remiss to not mention Julianne Moore as the rebellion leader. Director Lawrence smartly adds some dynamics to her character by throwing in some very small scenes that build upon giving her character more depth and perhaps even instill empathy. Two recent films that are very similar in nature to “The Hunger Games” both failed at this small character enhancement. Namely, “The Givers” Meryl Streep and “Divergent” with Kate Winslet which both played this one-dimensional female leaders who were bent on total control. Moore’s Coin is definitely bent on control but through several short scenes at least we can see that she’s a real person with reasons behind her motivation.
The Bottom Line:
“The Hunger Games: MockingJay Part 1” continues effectively to tell the story of Katniss and her journey from arena survivalist to real world heroine in the on-going fight for deliverance from President Snow’s iron-fisted control of Panem. Avoiding any lovey-dovey stuff between Katniss and her two love interests in favor of following a hard story-line that is both dark and bleak with just the right amount of hope thrown in. Strong story-telling and equally good performances across the board from the cast complete a solid film going experience that deserves a viewing on the big screen. You will definitely be committed to seeing the outcome of the next film Part 2. “MockingJay” is as compelling and well done as the earlier films despite coming from source material that had in some ways lost it’s way. Thanks to solid adaption skills from screen writers and the smart ability of director Francis Lawrence those issues were corrected in this version to deliver a better and more solid story. “MockingJay” may surprise even the most steadfast naysayers that a young-adult film can pull in all audiences by upping the action factor and playing down the teen love stuff. “MockingJay” is a strong stepping stone from arena story to real world battle and has all the components needed to earn a solid score. Don’t stay home and wait, go see it on the big screen.