Why, why, why? Oh who am I kidding? The reason is obvious – money. That’s the reason they chose to split the final chapter of “The Hunger Games” series into two movies. It certainly isn’t the first time we’ve seen this done. Following the profitable but not narratively beneficial blueprint laid out by “Harry Potter” and “Twilight”, “Mockingjay – Part 1” is the first part of the much anticipated series finale.
The first Hunger Games movie was pretty good although it didn’t convince me that this was a franchise worth following. It was the second movie, “Catching Fire”, that won me over. The characters grow, the stakes are raised, you gain a firm understanding of where the franchise is going, and it ends with a bang. Now enter “Mockingjay – Part 1”, the first part of the final chapter, and a film with nowhere near the pop of its predecessor. It’s not that this is an inherently bad movie. Several interesting things happen. But it is stretched past its limits in order to make this a two-movie ending and the film suffers for it.
All of the cast of characters return led by Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence). Recuperating from the chaotic conclusion of “Catching Fire”, Katniss wakes up in District 13, the home of the burgeoning rebellion. After a brief reunion with her mother and sister, her is introduced to President Coin (Julianne Moore) who wants Katniss to be the face (AKA the Mockingjay) of the growing rebellion. Old friends Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Beetee (Jeffrey Wright) encourage Katniss to take on the role and inspire the people.
But Katniss remains unsure, that is until she see is taken to see the carnage and ruins of her home district left behind following an intense bombing by the Capitol. She eventually accepts but only if President Coin agrees to send a rescue team to free a captured Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) from the Capitol city. Peeta is being used by the noxious President Snow (Donald Sutherland) as a propaganda piece to quell the rebellion. Several other familiar faces return. Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is given a bit more to do this time around. Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) pops up in a couple of scenes to offer sage-like counsel. Effie (Elizabeth Banks) appears in what is basically a tag-along role. And Stanley Tucci’s wacky Caesar gets very little screen time.
“Mockingjay – Part 1” doesn’t offer a lot in terms of thrills and excitement. Instead it gives us speeches and debates. Then it gives us more speeches and debates. We have long moments of indecision, lots of pondering, a bunch of planning. We visit a few locations (one of them twice where we get the exact same camera shots) and we get a couple of random scenes featuring inspired rebels. But very little spans beyond Katniss’ reluctance in becoming the Mockingjay and the political wrangling by both the rebellion and the Capitol.
To be fair, I did enjoy a lot of the political back-and-forths. I also still like spending time with most of these characters. And Jennifer Lawrence is once again superb. There is nothing glamorous about her role. She attacks it with such conviction and delivers genuine raw emotion. There are also great performances from Hoffman, Wright, and Sutherland who is so playfully vile as the the chief antagonist. Moore was the biggest new addition and she serves the part. But her character is pretty straightforward and generic and she is isn’t asked to show much range.
I know “Mockingjay – Part 1” is considered a part of a greater whole, but as a single movie it disappoints. It felt like a gradual meandering buildup towards a climax that we never get. Even the cliffhanger (if you can even call it that) was shockingly underwhelming. And you can tell that numerous scenes were stretched as far as they could go in order to make this a two-picture conclusion. Yet still there are enjoyable moments, good characters, strong performances, and the knowledge that this is just a set-up to what should be an action-packed final film. But as a single standalone movie, I was definitely hoping for more.
VERDICT – 3 STARS
Having read the trilogy, care of my daughter in expectation of the film adaptations, the producers called for the finale to be split, knowing full well this stretching would make them more money. Still, how they did it at least proves they certainly know how to amp anticipation for this climatic end. I thought they did it well enough, but it’ll only stand out once part 2 arrives, I think. A good ending (that’s in the novel), like the tide, raising all boats. We’ll see. Fine review, Keith.
Thanks so much. Haven’t read the books am I’m pretty glad. Going into this thing not knowing how it goes has really made this series a much better experience than I anticipated. Now I find myself genuinely excited about the finale.
I was disappointed with it too. I did love the song by Lorde though.
I really felt it was stretching itself as far as cinematically possible. It did leave me excited for the finale but I thought the stalling here was pretty noticeable.
I was pleasantly surprised by the first two movies, but this one was a cynical bit of opportunism. The game was up for me when the underground bunker came under attack and Katniss runs back to rescue the cat, reaching the closing doors just as they clang shut, (like closing doors have done a million times before). I knew then they were prepared to go to any lengths to pad out this rubbish.
The 3rd installment will no doubt have the kitchen sink thrown at it, but I won’t be watching Part 3 Sub-section 1 again.
Completely understand where you are coming from. This is one big stall. But I admit I enjoyed portions of it. Probably not enough to make me watch it again though.
My daughter who read the book says the second part will be much better and has much more action
I got the film on my DVR hard drive as I’m going to watch on the weekend when the 2nd part comes out. The only reason I’m going to see it is because of my darling Jena who deserves better than be a supporting player for J-Law.
It is a fairly entertaining but very strained installment. It does its job of leaving you anxious for the next one. But at the same time it makes you wonder why you couldn’t have seen the whole thing this time around!
In an industry where all major blockbusters have this duty to become major action set piece spectacles, it was nice and refreshing for me to see one that didn’t bend to the whim of major studios trying to make each and every property in a particular series as over-the-top as possible. I loved Part 1, didn’t think the stakes could get much higher than in Catching Fire but somehow they managed to convey the darkest chapter yet. I do agree though that the splitting of this final piece into two parts is a pure money-move. I think Mockingjay could have worked as a 2 hour, 50 minute epic.
I get what you’re saying and I think bucking trends is often a good thing. It just didn’t feel organic to me. I didn’t feel that they were intentionally doing that. For me it felt as if they were stretching and stretching to get to feature size. I do think the big plus is how it sets up the final installment. I just think (as you pointed out) that it could have easily worked as a big epic-sized finale.
Great post mate. I haven’t seen any of these films but the more I read about them the more I think I should check the first one out.
Let me say the series has been a big surprise. I wrote this thing off before ever seeing the first film and I’m happy to say I was wrong. It will never be a favorite series of mine but it does some really great stuff and has turned out to be very entertaining.
Hmm I had the same attitude also initially, but now I’m rethinking it. Can’t hurt to check the first film out I guess, it sounds better than all the other YA stuff which is part of what put me off
The first film is a pretty good setup. But it was the second movie that really pulled me in.
Excellent write up Keith!
Meh. Meh, meh, meh. WHY?! Money, sure, but WHY?! It is always ruining something. I have always maintained that the first two films were really good adaptations of the source material, but seeing as this was split into two films and the book was the same length as its predecessors, it just felt redundant, and it was. I felt like this was a waste of my time in cinema last year and I was highly underwhelmed. I am hoping Part II delivers.
I totally agree. This felt so stretched and it simply doesn’t have the material to cover an entire movie. I think the finale should be really good, but this should have been included in that finale.