Mockingjay is the Matrix Revolutions of the Hunger Games franchise. Since there’s no arena and no Capital this time, we don’t get any of the fun or pretty stuff, just all the apocalyptic rubble. If you take the Hunger Games out of The Hunger Games then all you’ve got is another dystopian rebellion movie that’s not as good as the classics.
I didn’t like The Hunger Games but I got that at least if it got some kids interested in allegorical science fiction, it might lead them to discover superior cinematic influences like The Running Man, First Blood, Robocop and the various Most Dangerous Game knockoffs. Nothing is really original, but each generation deserves to see these formulae done well. I enjoyed Catching Fire because it was a complete riff on the repetition of its predecessor.
So if Mockingjay is the first propaganda movie a kid ever sees, hopefully it will make them more interested in Starship Troopers, Network and again, Robocop. The basics are there, that it’s hard for Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) to be inspirational on cue, but we don’t get much sense that the propaganda is having an actual effect. We visit one group of people inspired by her, but mostly we are told over and over by Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and District 13 president Coin (Julianne Moore) that they need Katniss to inspire the rebellion.
Any subtlety is gone from the third film in the series. At this point they’re blatantly hammering stuff home. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) says, “Never let them see you bleed” while he’s bleeding from a beard trimming cut. Come on! Did Suzanne Collins actually write that he gets cut and then he says that? There are two characters named Castor and Pollux. Uh, Face/Off already did that reference long before these books were written, but recently enough that it’s not much of a mythological homage. It doesn’t seem to pay off in this movie, but maybe that’s in Part 2.
One of the fun parts of sequels is to see characters change, for better or worse. Since being left behind in the arena, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is now a tool of President Snow. It may be heartbreaking for the audience to see a beloved character turn like that, but the film is unsuccessful at making Peeta’s turns convincing. Even if you’ve never seen a Manchurian Candidate movie before, which presumably all copies of The Manchurian Candidate were wiped out in Panem, deductive reasoning should prepare you for the new Peeta.
The action feels very small. The only big battle scene only has two bombers that Katniss takes out, in the one cool shot that’s in all the trailers. There’s a raid on one bridge that leads to a CG effect, and a subtle tactical mission. It’s back to shakycam too, running around the rubble with a camera. Did Francis Lawrence get a lot of guff for using elegant camera moves in Catching Fire, so he brought back the incoherent visuals everyone loved in the first movie?
Mockingjay Part 1 is a little more eventful than Deathly Hallows Part 1 and Breaking Dawn Part 1. Some stuff actually happens in it, but it’s still only half a movie. They pad it out with a lot of speechifying, and watching characters give interviews. But not like the interview scenes where we’re in the studio with the flaming dress and stuff. Now we’re just watching characters give interviews on TV within the movie. At one point, Katniss claims, “I never asked to be in the games.” Yes, she did. She volunteered! It wasn’t an ideal condition, but she did choose to go in her sister’s place.
As far as the Hunger Games franchise goes, two out of three ain’t good. We’ll see if Mockingjay – Part 2 breaks even. Franchise Fred will be there to see it through, and if the other split Part 2s are any indication, that’s when all the good stuff happens. There’s so much more to say about Mockingjay – Part 1 but this concludes Part 1 of my Mockingjay -Part 1 review. Maybe I’ll finish it when it comes out on DVD, but probably not.
Rating: Wait for Cable