The penultimate chapter within The Hunger Games franchise brings us to District 13, home of the rebellion. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is not in the best of shapes following the chaos of her quarter-quell Hunger Games and still grieving the capture of Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). She is reluctantly roped into becoming the face of the rebel forces with the hopes of saving Peeta as motivation. In order to defeat the Capitol, Katniss must embody the Mockingjay and lead the revolution towards victory.
I absolutely loved Catching Fire, so much so that it ended up being in my top ten films of 2013. It was everything that I wanted the first Hunger Games to be. It was grittier, action packed and free from unnecessary shaky cam! Which is why I was totally excited to be watching Mockingjay – Part 1 especially knowing Francis Lawrence was returning to direct it. Having ended on such a massive and intense cliffhanger, I was ready to see Katniss kick some ass and give the Capitol a taste of their own medicine. Of course you can guess that I was thoroughly underwhelmed by this film. My initial reaction leaving the theater was of annoyance having spent money on a film that didn’t really deliver on what I wanted to see but having also endured the smell of sweaty prepubescent teenagers for nothing (I can’t talk). On a business stand point I totally understand why splitting the last book into two films is smart and inevitable in today’s film industry, but I really did not see the ‘need’ for it cinematically. I think if the film was marketed as what it really is which is more of a darker character drama rather than an action packed film about revolution, then I probably wouldn’t be too bummed out about it.That being said, having reflected on the film and let it sit with me for a day, I respect what the film does and maybe after seeing Mockingjay – Part 2, it could end up being the perfect sibling to the ultimate finale. It doesn’t help that we have to wait another year to see it, which is why ultimately it just feels like an extended cliffhanger of Catching Fire.
I really wanted to like this film, and I did up until about halfway through where things started to feel a bit dragged on, overdeveloped and quite frankly slow. Stuff happens but really in the full scope of the franchise, not much really does, which is why the ending didn’t have an impact on me at all. I wasn’t shocked. It ended and I hadn’t learnt or felt any differently towards President Snow or the Capitol; I still hated them the same as I did in the last two films. It was just underwhelming and I could feel it within the theater, the energy was relatively low and people left without a commotion. I remember seeing Catching Fire and after that ending I was just blown away with excitement. I wanted that reaction.
That being said I don’t think the film is completely unnecessary, it’s a part of the story that needed to be told and is actually quite interesting. For a teen franchise, some of the themes are mature and compelling. I really liked the way they represented the rebellion and fleshed out how impactful propaganda can be on a revolution to push an agenda. It was also interesting to see how Katniss coped with being the face of the revolution and dealing with the pressures of being looked up to for inspiration. At points during the story I felt like I should be resenting Julianne Moore’s character and the nature of the rebellion based on how they were treating Katniss. I feel like there was a missed opportunity to represent revolution as a negative force although essential for change. Although these were interesting themes, it eventually became a bit tiresome as the narrative was stretched as far as it could go. The story never develops and in all honesty nor does Katniss. I was waiting for her to truly ’embody’ the Mockingjay and relish the position, but she never really does. Another reason for why Mockingjay – Part 1 ultimately feels incomplete.
Despite the film being shot gorgeously and the dystopian set pieces being well realized, I felt some of the scenes were edited frustratingly. Two scenes stick out to me at the end. Both having to edit in and out of simultaneous events. (Spoiler) The rescue scene was incredibly frustrating to watch for me. Even though I liked the Zero Dark Thirty feel about it, they completely milked that scene for everything it was worth. It went on for what felt like 10 minutes while Katniss and Snow faced off in a less than thrilling battle of wits, and by the end of what was supposed to be a suspenseful moment just didn’t work for me. It was frustrating because I loved how it was shot, the tinges of red, the way the camera followed them and the stealth. And how many speeches did we get in that film? It felt like too many.
Despite all the disappointment I could not help but admire Jennifer Lawrence’s performance, who is only growing from strength to strength as her career goes on. Nevertheless I really started to miss the no nonsense Katniss we grew so fond of from the previous films as her infatuation with Peeta increased. I can’t tell if she’s truly in love with him or if she feels guilty for the situation he’s in. Either way it’s an interesting relationship and somewhat a larger focus of this film.
Mockingjay – Part 1 isn’t necessarily a bad film, it has strong performances, interesting narrative elements and brilliant shots. Nevertheless I don’t think it merited its own film and could have easily been condensed into 45 minutes. I could understand fans loving this film as it more or less stays true to the book, but I’d much rather watch a 3 hour Hunger Games film that sticks with me forever than a 2 hour film that I’m most likely going to forget. But I doubt the studios care, because they know people like me will still buy a ticket for next years Mockingjay – Part 2!