“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1” is the penultimate film installment of “The Hunger Games” book trilogy starring Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen. The film breaks down the first half of the third book, “Mockingjay,” into two hours of anticipation of the final confrontation between Katniss and President Snow (Donald Sutherland). While it was great to see the film take its time in building up this final altercation into two separate films, it was perhaps done with a book that wasn’t as exciting as the previous two. Still, seeing the efforts of the destroyed and rebuilt District 13 trying to usurp the Capitol by unifying all the remaining Panem districts was a great way to showcase the rise of a rebellion in the eyes of the suppressed.
After breaking the arena in the 75th Hunger Games, Katniss has been taken to the once destroyed District 13, which has rebuilt itself in underground shelters. The district, led by Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), is working on a plan of upheaval against Panem’s Capitol, led by President Snow. The main weapon District 13 has in this rebellion is Katniss, who soon and reluctantly becomes the rebellion’s poster child, used as a way to ignite fire in the remaining districts against the Capitol. Similarly, President Snow uses Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson)—who was captured by the Capitol after the disruption of the 75th Hunger Games—to diminish any uprising the rest of Panem may be plotting.
“Mockingjay—Part 1” basically builds up each side in this waging war between the Capitol and the rest of Panem. It stays very true to the book version with minor alterations, which is actually very impressive given the slew of book-to-film projects that change a great amount of the plot. The main change was the inclusion of Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), who was largely absent in the book. Banks has done a wonderful job in the previous films portraying Effie, so it was a pleasured surprise to see her return in this film. Also returning is Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), Katniss’ Hunger Games mentor, who knows the best way to utilize Katniss in a moving way as the rebellion’s poster child.
What the film manages to do is showcase Jennifer Lawrence as the Katniss Everdeen that is inspiring to the people of Panem. We see her in her forte, in the midst of all the commotion, being herself and motivating others to join the rebellion. We see the unfiltered angst against President Snow, while also seeing the heart warming, emotional side to her. Jennifer Lawrence does a wonderful job at showcasing a wide range of emotions, and brings the character of Katniss to life brilliantly on screen. Her shrill cries when she believed Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) to be lost was a great moment, but the best was perhaps her stirring song “The Hanging Tree,” and how it was used as a way to unite the people of Panem, lifting their spirits and moving them in a way of banding together to advance on the Capitol.
Similarly moving—though shown only in scripted and Capitol-led videos against the rebellion—was Josh Hutcherson’s portrayal of his character, Peeta. Each successive video he was showcased in showed despairing emotion hidden behind his scared eyes. When his moment of truth slightly flickers into view during a video in which he sees Katniss, we see a Peeta who is conflicted. On the one hand, he is trying to remain alive at the hands of President Snow, but on the other, we see a desperate hope that he can still make a positive difference and save Katniss, his true love.
These moments of emotion were poignant and important, but few and far between. Unfortunately, the first half of the book just lays the groundwork for the second half, so there wasn’t as much excitement throughout the whole two hours of film. We were given a rather intense look at the rescue mission focused on bringing Peeta and the other captured Hunger Games victors back to District 13, but that in depth moment wasn’t even in the book. The film did right by creating it because it desperately needed some sort of edge-of-your-seat moment. Sadly, that was just about the only one.
Overall, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1” did a good job of creating a visual for “Mockingjay,” but its major misstep, which was perhaps impossible to avoid, was breaking it into two parts. The first part was bound to be less exciting than the second, but it did lay some solid groundwork for building up the second part (due out next fall). There were some great performances by Lawrence and Hutcherson, but given the lack of exciting content, there wasn’t much to latch on to in this part. Perhaps the worst thus far in “The Hunger Games” film installments, but still a solid installment nonetheless given the content of the book, and an excellent way to build excitement for the final chapter in this thrilling trilogy.
Final grade? B