THE HUNGER GAMES:
MOCKINGJAY PART 1
2014, PG-13, 123 mins.
2014, PG-13, 123 mins.
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen / Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark / Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne / Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy / Donald Sutherland as President Snow / Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee / Julianne Moore as President Alma Coin / Willow Shields as Primrose Everdeen / Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair / Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket / Mahershalalhashbaz Ali as Boggs / Robert Knepper as Antonius / Lily Rabe as Commander Lyme / Evan Ross as Messalla / Jeffrey Wright as Beetee / Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman / Toby Jones as Claudius Templesmith / Jena Malone as Johanna Mason
Directed by Francis Lawrence / Written by Peter Craig and Danny Strong / Based on the novel by Suzanne Collins
I was a rather reluctant fan of THE HUNGER GAMES right from the beginning. The first film – based on Suzanne Collins’ massively popular novels - felt like it borrowed a bit too heavily from the standard troupes of other better post-apocalyptic, dystopian sci-fi genre efforts. It also seemed to adhere to the obligatory conventions of young adult fiction.
Yet, I was still
won over by the empowered presence of Jennifer Lawrence in the film, and
its follow-up entry, 2013’s CATCHING
FIRE, was one of the best pure sequels of recent memory in how it
expanded upon the first film’s themes and narrative.
Now comes MOCKINGJAY - PART 1, and even though it represents an
alarmingly frustrating new Hollywood trend (taking what should be one part
and stretching it into two; two films make more money than one, after
all), it nonetheless represents yet another solid and involving entry in
the coming-of-age saga of Katniss Everdeen.
MOCKINGJAY - PART
1, much like CATCHING FIRE, does what good stand-alone sequels should do:
it expands upon and advances the franchise’s storyline and themes while
introducing new characters and elements of intrigue (granted, being part 1
of 2, the resulting film certainly lacks a clear-cut beginning, middle, and
it lacks in overall plot structure it more than makes up for it in
terms of immersion: MOCKINGJAY – PART 1, compellingly enough, does not
actually contain a Hunger Games in it (the gladiatorial contest to the
death pitting young people from the impoverished districts of what remains
of futuristic America for the petty amusement of the affluent people of
the Capital). Instead, the
film takes us deep underground to a vast and elaborate bunker of what
remains of District 13, where a series of insurgents and rebels plot their
next move to wage a revolt against the dictatorial Capital.
At the heart of it all is Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), who faces a
different type of pressure this time: In the past she simply had to survive The
Hunger Games, but now she has to decide whether to become a Che
Guevara-like freedom fighter symbol to lead the charge of her people.
PART 1 returns us to the world of Panem and takes place immediately after
the events of CATCHING FIRE, during which time Katniss had survived her
second games, but was rescued by a bad of rebels that revealed to her
– in a wonderful cliffhanger ending – that her home district had been
bombed to rubble by the nefarious President Snow (a quietly ruthless
Donald Sutherland). Traumatized
by both the games and whether or not her childhood friend Peeta (Josh
Hutcherson) is still alive, Katniss struggles to acclimatize herself to
her new underground surroundings, which is populated by military leaders,
politicians, and what’s left of her fellow district citizens.
Katniss meets the district president Coin (Julianne Moore, a stern
and stoic, and commanding presence here) and her right hand man Plutarch
Heavensbee (the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman), who wishes to recruit Katniss
for the purposes of transforming her into a rallying symbol – “The Mockingjay” -
for her people to convince them of the worthiness of a rebellion against
has no real interest in conceding to Coin and Plutarch’s demands, but
she eventually acquiesces and makes a counter-proposal: She will become
The Mockingjay, but only if the president wages a rescue mission to secure
Peeta – whom is revealed to be alive and is now making pro-Capital news
segments (perhaps under duress or perhaps on his own volition) – and demands
that he receives a full pardon. The
president agrees, but the journey of Katniss to become the de facto leader
of a rebellion is a troubled one, especially considering the limitless
military might that President Snow possesses.
That, and Katniss' affection for Peeta – someone that may or may
not be a traitor – seems to be clouding her judgment along the way.
One of the more
admirable traits about MOCKINGJAY – PART 1 is how little action there is
in it. It’s more of a moody
and contemplative character and thematic driven example of sci-fi than its
predecessors. The most
fascinating aspect of the film is how in hones in on the nature of
propaganda and how it’s envisioned, cultivated, created, and released to
the masses – by both good and evil forces – for the purposes of
quickly swaying public opinion. Both
Snow and Katniss’ forces wage a cerebral war of information and
misinformation throughout MOCKINGJAY – PART 1 and the film’s alluring
undercurrent is how it abandons the first two films’ satirical look at
televised violence and instead engages in a fairly thoughtful exploration
of the nature of political imagery and symbols.
Good sci-fi works as a swift allegory of today’s uneasy concerns
and problems, and MOCKINGJAY – PART 1 is highly effective in this
I also appreciated
the overall change of scenery in this installment.
Back in the director’s chair is Francis Lawrence (who made
CATCHING FIRE and replaced THE HUNGER GAMES’ Gary Ross, a great director
that was frankly overwhelmed by the material) who commands himself nicely
with giving MOCKINGJAY – PART 1 a strong sense of geographical newness.
The first two films were outdoors and captured the primal fears of
jungle combat, whereas this film highlights the dark, dingy, and claustrophobic
interiors of the underground bunker District life, which
helps highlight the bleakness and despair of its denizens attempting to
wage a war on a nearly unstoppable super power.
MOCKINGJAY – PART 1 – perhaps more so than the previous HUNGER
GAMES films and other young adult adaptations in general – is a
decidedly darker and more nihilistic endeavor.
You can sense the demoralized state of the heroes and the
all-powerful clutches of Snow beating them down into near-submission.
Sutherland’s Snow was, early in the series, kind of a vague
abstraction as far as villains go, but now he’s fully emerged as a
sinister figure of genocidal corruption.
PART 1 is, of course, always enthralling on a dramatic level
because of the strapping
and charismatic presence of Jennifer Lawrence at the helm; she’s kind of
the emotional glue by which all of the other performance dominos fall in
place behind her (series regulars Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson
return in brief, but assured supporting turns that compliment the
empowered trifecta of Lawrence, Hoffman, and Moore).
Lawrence seems to effortlessly suggest Katniss as a woman of
headstrong conviction and deep emotional uncertainty throughout this
entire series, which helps ground even some of the more outlandish flights
of fancy the films take. That,
and Katniss occupies a whole other echelon of worthy hero worship when
compared to her other young adult fiction cousins.
Bella Swan in TWILIGHT, for example, was a sullen and moody boy
tease whose biggest dilemma in life was which boy she would end up with.
Katniss, by direct comparison, has to decide whether to live –
and perhaps die as a martyr – to secure the freedom and way of life for
her enslaved people. See the
MOCKINGJAY – PART 1 suffers from the same fate as other recent film franchises that feel the need to break up one part into multiple installments. As stated, the overall plot here lacks a sense organization and, for that matter, seems to just abruptly end in the middle of a scene as opposed to simply having a well conceived third act and sense of closure that leads into the continuation of the story. The love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, Liam Hemsworth’s Gale (arguably the blandest and least interesting character in the entire series) seems even less consequential this go-around. Thankfully, the film never dwells on this for too long, as it wisely knows that the overall story now is more entrenched in the plight of Katniss and her people in staging an improbably difficult uprising. MOCKINGKAY – PART 1, despite some hiccups, fully materializes as another moody, gripping, and resoundingly well acted sequel to a series that, frankly, started on shaky ground.
And how many great science fiction franchises are out there that are held together by the presence of a wonderfully conceived female protagonist?
MY CTV REVIEW: