Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I

I’ve never read any of the Hunger Games novels, but of course I knew of the phenomenon and so I was curious to see that first Hunger Games film.  I found it entertaining but rather mediocre.  But I was stunned how much I enjoyed the second film, Catching Fire I thought that film was a huge leap forward from the initial installment, and its cliffhanger ending left me quite eager for the third film.

And so I was a little bummed that Mockingjay Part I felt rather flat to me.  I think it’s a superior film to the first one, but lacks the narrative energy of the second.

The film picks off immediately after the end of Catching Fire.  We’ve seen social unrest lurking around the edge of the dystopian future of the Hunger Games world, but now a full-scale revolution seems about to emerge.  Unlike the first two stories, there is no new Hunger Games competition as the center of this story.  Rather, we follow Katniss as she finds herself the symbol of the revolution being led by the residents of District 13 against President Snow and the capitol.  Katniss never set out to be a revolutionary, she just wanted to save her sister and then find a way to survive herself in the brutal Hunger Games.  Though she recognizes the evil of President Snow’s rule, her primary motivation is to find a way to save her friend Peeta, who was left a prisoner of Snow following the dramatic events of the end of Catching Fire.

I like that this installment doesn’t feel the need to try to somehow ropes Katniss back into another Hunger Games competition.  The scale of the story has grown beyond that, which is exciting.  Here in Mockingjay, the struggle isn’t just for one hero to survive the Games, but instead this story is about the struggle to determine the future of this society itself.  Will the districts continue to allow themselves to be subjugated by the forces of the capitol, or will they find a way to unite and find a new path?  How can fractured, poor, basically unarmed districts possibly overcome the well-armed, technologically superior forces of the capitol?

A story about the mechanics of a populist revolution in a dystopian future sounds like an exciting focus for a film, as does the idea of following Katniss’ journey to becoming an actual participant in the growing revolution.  But I was a little surprised by how dull I found Mockingjay to be.  Not a whole heck of a lot happens in the film.  Really, except for the rescue attempt in the film’s final minutes, has the status quo for Katniss or her world really changed at all between the end of Catching Fire and the end of Mockingjay Part I?  I don’t think so, and that feels like a letdown to me.  So much of Mockingjay feels like a repetitive ping-pong match, back-and-forth between Katniss and President Snow (who uses Peeta as his tool), and also between Katniss’ feelings for Peeta and for hunky Gale.

The film looks terrific, and there are some great visual effects sequences.  I was fully convinced of the reality of this futuristic world, and enjoyed the many different locations we visited over the course of the film.  The cast over-all remains strong, with Jennifer Lawrence once again doing great, franchise-leading work as Katniss Everdeen.  Ms. Lawrence really owns this role by now, and it’s fun seeing her continue to bring this character to life.  I wish either of the men in her life (Peeta or Gale) were nearly as strong or interesting.  Oh well!  Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Jeffrey Wright, and Donald Sutherland all do great work and elevate the material. Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer was a fun new addition to the ensemble, as was Julianne Moore as the President of District 13.  One of my favorite aspects of the film was bittersweet: my tremendous enjoyment of the work of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.  Mr. Hoffman is so exquisitely great in the film.  I really found myself savoring every moment he was on-screen.  What a loss.

I’m still excited for Mockingjay Part II, and to see how this story wraps up.  But I wish this film had been stronger.  It feels like a stumble to me after the very strong Catching Fire.  Perhaps this was the result of splitting one book into two films.  I guess I’ll know for sure next year when this saga concludes.

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone