I will admit, way back in 2012, when the first The Hunger Games came out, my interest was hovering just below minimal. Having not read the books, it went fairly unnoticed on my movie-going radar. But when I did eventually catch it one rainy Sunday afternoon on Netflix, I was instantly hooked.
When the second film, Catching Fire, came out last year, because of my newfound appreciation, I made sure to see it in theaters and was not disappointed. So, needless to say, I have been eagerly awaiting the latest entry, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I.
Mockingjay’s opening is a little jarring. The audience is thrust back into the story with little to no setup. Though one thing is almost instantly noticeable, this is a bleaker and more emotionally dark chapter of The Hunger Games story. And the exposition does eventually come…
After the events of the previous film, District 12 is destroyed by the Capital. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and her family are now living in District 13, a militarized, underground compound with the leaders of the rebel resistance, including President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore). Saved from the Quarter Quell by Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), Katniss is urged to become the face of the rebellion and help give the other oppressed districts hope. Somewhat reluctant, Katniss soon realizes her importance in the coming battle against the tyrannous Capital and President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who has propped up an imprisoned Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) as her propaganda counterpart. With the help of Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Katniss must fight against all odds to save Peeta, her family, and all the districts of Panem.
Taking a similar trajectory as the Harry Potter books and films, The Hunger Games has matured with its audience. The previously mentioned bleak, emotional, and dark tone is not the only new things in Mockingjay – Part I. Besides all the new faces (Moore, Mahershala Ali, and Natalie Dormer), the story shifts to a more openly dystopian war film. But even with this, the film has noticeably less action than the previous installments, but the few action sequences are very well done, including a Zero Dark Thirty-esque raid. Thankfully, the capital’s soldiers, who look like a cross between Stormtroopers and Daft Punk, have the similar poor aim and lack of military prowess as their Star Wars forefathers.
One of the most interesting aspects of the film is Katniss’ inner struggles with her reluctant, but necessary role in the revolution. She went from being a pawn for the bad guys to playing essentially the same role, only this time around, for the good guys. The film is actually a fairly astute dissection of wartime propaganda. Though not done in as quite a tongue-in-cheek manner as other films, like the underrated sci-fi war flick Starship Troopers, it is still effective and adds a welcome layer to the film.
The entire series really lucked out in casting Lawrence before her career exploded and she started racking up Oscar nominations. She is able to convey the necessary fragile, yet stubborn grit that would overwhelm most young actresses. I do not know if it is the brown hair or if Lawrence really is that great of actresses, but she supplies a powerful dose of poignant innocence in her performance that does not always shine through in her other films.
For the most part, I really like Mockingjay – Part I. I found it tense and emotional, but I can also readily recognize its flaws. Even more so than the final Harry Potter and a few other literary adaptations of late, the concluding Hunger Games book should not have been split in two. I get why the studios do it (money), I just wish they wouldn’t. The middle of the film is stretched way too thin and it gets a bit repetitive with its countless speeches and propaganda promos. And on top of that, the story does not even cut off at the most apt moment, but instead, chooses to tack on two extra scenes that ultimately lessen the impact of the big reveal.
But ultimately, I am more than happy to overlook those blemishes in the end because of the overall enjoyable ride the film takes the audience on – and that is more than I can say about most movies today. And still not having read the books, I cannot wait to see how it ends.
* * * * out of 5 stars
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I opens in theaters nationwide on Thursday, November 20.
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