At this point, you’re either a fan of The Hunger Games or you’re not, and where you fall on that scale will decide whether or not you’ll enjoy it’s newest film, Mockingjay Part 1. For the most part, the movie is a success, as it is able to capably carry many of the franchise’s best ideas forward, but it’s also held back by being only the first half of a two-part climax.
Before I get into my review, however, let me preface by saying that I am not a fan of the third book in The Hunger Games trilogy. I enjoyed the first two, and waited in line to buy the third book on release date and proceeded to start and finish reading it on that very same day. Since then, I haven’t so much as thought about picking it up again.
So as you can imagine, I walked into Mockingjay Part 1 with more than my fair share of doubts. The previous theatrical release, Catching Fire, proved to be a far more enjoyable movie experience than I had expected it to be, and despite my apprehensions, I was hoping to see that trend continue here.
And thankfully, it did. Mockingjay Part 1 still has its flaws, and falls victim to a frustratingly abrupt end and some minor filler material, but it’s able to surpass most of its missteps thanks to some very satisfying character development and bold, dramatic action sequences that perfectly set the stage for next year’s finale.
The story picks up shortly after Catching Fire ended, and reunites us with Katniss Everdeen in the underground base of operations for District 13, which has been steadily building a rebellion against the controlling grasp of the Capitol ever since they were bombed and believed to have been destroyed many years prior.
The Katniss we meet in Mockingjay Part 1 is both very different and very similar to the character we knew from the previous films, and in many ways, that’s what makes the film so successful. For a large chunk of the movie, Katniss is just trying to cope with the many horrific things that have led her to becoming a figurehead for a rebellion she doesn’t even know if she wants to be a part of, and it helps make her character arc all the more believable.
Jennifer Lawrence once again delivers a strong, albeit slightly familiar, performance that anchors the film’s primary conflict in a very real and relatable way. With the world on the verge of collapsing around her, Katniss is forced into a position where she has to either embrace her place as a savior for the people of Panem, or let them perish at the hands of the vicious Capitol.
While I found the events leading up to her eventual acceptance of her role as the Mockingjay to be disorienting and needlessly convoluted in the book, here in the film they unfold smoothly and actually give the audience both the time and space needed to grow and evolve along with Katniss.
This is made all the better by Katniss’ many fantastic co-stars, who all manage to have a meaningful effect on the overall plot no matter how small a role they may actually play in it. While I would have liked to have seen more from characters like Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch and Sam Claflin’s Finnick, they all play their parts very well, and make the absolute best of their limited screen time.
I was also impressed by some of the newcomers to the cast, such as Julianne Moore’s President Coin, the cold and calculating leader of the District 13 rebellion, and Natalie Dormer’s Cressida, who is made responsible for helping Katniss become the symbol she needs to be.
The real standout, however, is the late and great Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee, the mastermind behind Katniss’ extraction from the previous Hunger Games and the closest advisor and strategist for President Coin’s rebellion. Hoffman has such an electrifying presence on screen that he enlivens each and every scene he’s in, and he steals the spotlight at every given opportunity.
However, I once again have a slight problem with the male leads of the film, as neither of them have quite enough depth to jump off the screen the way many of the other characters do. This is never more obvious than in Josh Hutcherson’s Peeta, who gives a solid performance, but still lacks any tangible complexity, which is only made more obvious here, as he’s used as nothing more than a way to progress the plot.
Liam Hemsworth fares better as Gale, and after two movies of an extremely limited amount of screen time, it was nice to finally see his character get some much deserved attention. However, outside of a single, but emotionally memorable, scene, there wasn’t quite enough emphasis placed on his relationship with Katniss to make it feel as genuine as it was supposed to.
For the most part, however, Mockingjay Part 1 is a very successful continuation of the many themes and plot points introduced in the previous films, and some of the liberties the film took with the book’s plot actually made the story even better.
This is best evidenced in the handful of scenes where we get to see the civilians of the many districts under the Capitol’s control actually fight back against their rulers. These moments were brief, but packed with so much intensity that they created for some of the film’s most brutally visceral scenes that perfectly emphasized just how important Katniss has become to the growing rebellion.
However, the movie does end on a sudden and unsatisfying note, and there are some scenes that seemed to drag on for far too long. The movie certainly didn’t feel like mere filler material, but there were moments that threatened to. This is no doubt a result of being only the first of a two-part finale, but it was still frustrating to be left hanging in such a needlessly abrupt way at the end.
For the most part though, Mockingjay Part 1 is an enjoyable and emotionally satisfying film that manages to stand out as one of the few movie adaptations that’s able to actually surpass its source material. Even with its flaws, Mockingjay Part 1 remains a bombastic experience that almost perfectly sets the stage for what is sure to be an explosive finale.