The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part I

The Hunger Games got lambasted for being too close in plot to Battle Royale, but once the story really delivered in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire a lot of those comparisons ceased.  Where Battle Royale was more concerned with the immediate story with a bare minimum of framing, it became clear that The Hunger Games was more concerned with the boiling revolution against the decadent society of Panem than about the titular games themselves.  The second movie unfolded like a great science fiction novel, cutting off at just the right point to where the audience was left waiting for more.

Well, for some reason, the decision came down to divide Mockingjay into two parts.  This seems a recent trend, unnecessarily stretching out The Hobbit through three films and dividing The Deathly Hallows into two parts.  The fact that this seems to be particularly a trend with movie adaptations of young adult novels clearly points to the reason for this less to flesh out the details usually lost when books are turned into movies, but rather to milk money out of a target demographic.

Since The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I is directed by Francis Lawrence, who also directed Catching Fire, I was hoping this wouldn't be the case this time around.  Instead, it becomes clear this could have been wrapped up in a single film.

After being rescued after she destroys the games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) wakes up in District 13, long thought to have been destroyed during the wars 75 years hence.  District 13 was responsible for the production of nuclear weapons and advanced military equipment, and they used their knowledge to dig in and stay under the Capitol's radar.

Katniss is reunited with her family as well as her colleagues Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Finnick (Sam Claflin).  Also in tow are Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), who finds the spartan life of District 13 hard to deal with, as well as her mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and government lackey turned revolutionary Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who was responsible for their rescue.

However, not everyone got out.  Katniss's game partner Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) has been captured by President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and is being used by the Capitol for propaganda purposes, while Johanna (Jena Malone) remains in custody as well in unknown condition.

To counter the Capitol's propaganda, President Coin (Julianne Moore) attempts to get Katniss to play along with her own propaganda schemes.  Reluctant at first, she agrees after seeing the ruins of District 12, which has been laid to waste by Capitol forces.  Already the face of a burgeoning revolution, she agrees, and a film of her at a hospital during a Capitol attack results in the perfect footage.  Beetee (Jeffrey Wright) breaks into Capitol news coverage that includes an interview with Peeta, showing the propaganda film and giving Peeta, thought to be a traitor in District 13, a chance to warn of an impending Capitol air strike.

District 13 manages to survive with minimal damage and, with Peeta and the other tributes' loyalties no longer in question, a rescue mission is planned.  However, President Snow is not so easily defeated.

The problem with this chapter of The Hunger Games is that it is mostly set-up with no real payoff.  There is much talking about what is going on, a bit of background and little more.  There is a disturbing revelation at the end, but most of what happens in this movie could have been the first act of three-hour finale.

On the good side, Philip Seymour Hoffman's parts for both films were largely filmed before his death, so the decision was made not to do camera tricks or replace the character with another actor.  Parts that he would have played in the book have been shifted to other characters.  I also like the fact that, even though this is aimed at teenagers, it continues to not pull punches when it comes to difficult material.

One of the major problems with having a chapter in which nothing much happens is that the decision was made to focus on Katniss.  While understandable from a movie perspective where you normally need a central protagonist, the fact is that Katniss is a bland, uninteresting character once you get past what she symbolizes.  Most of what she achieved in The Hunger Games was by pure luck, and in Catching Fire it is much the same.  Everything interesting about her is exaggerated through her reputation, and from what I understand the last books focus less on her than on the events she inspires. It would have been wise if the films went the same way, as Jennifer Lawrence is given little to do rather than pose and look sad to fill in the time.

I am hoping this trend goes away, as I for one don't mind movies cutting out some of the fat in order to make the viewing experience work better.  As long as important plot points and characters don't go by the wayside, it is completely fine.  The Game of Thrones series is better for not having the camera linger on every morsel of food the characters eat.  There is no need to dwell on plot points that are tried and true through many similar stories and that are dealt with in a chapter or two.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I (2014)
Time: 123 minutes
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore
Director: Francis Lawrence

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