Advent Review #17: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

Starting in the early Spring of 2012 with The Hunger Games, we’ve seen a new sensation in Hollywood, the adaptation of post-apocalyptic dystopian YA fiction, or thereabouts. It is the same kind of wave that happened in the wake of the incredible success of the Twilight movie adaptations, and as then, many such movies have come and gone with little in the way of any significant success. The Hunger Games made a star of its lead Jennifer Lawrence and the entire crew came back last year with Catching Fire, the sequel that really turned some heads and while it revisited some of the same concepts as its predecessor, the movie also promised a whole lot more, especially a war with the Capitol and President Snow.

This year’s Mockingjay Part 1 is the penultimate movie in the franchise. In a departure from the previous movies, it is an adaptation of the novel of the same name, though the adaptation is split into two movies, a decision I’m perfectly fine with, given the quality of the franchise. In this movie, we see how the rebellion against the Capitol really takes off as Katniss and the heretofore missing District 13 come together to oppose President Snow and the people of the Capitol and wage a war of intense propaganda. And in the middle of it all, the characters remain the focus as ever and we see some truly great scenes as the writers and the director explore what it is to live in this particular world, from both sides.

Hunger Games - Mockingjay Part 1 Poster 0001At the end of Catching Fire, we witnessed how Katniss destroyed the Hunger Games venue with a single arrow, and how she was rescued out of that mess by her mentor Haymitch and by Plutarch Heavensbee, the Games’ director for the Third Quarter Quell. That pretty much kicks off the rebellion proper and the promise was there last November that when Mockingjay Part 1 arrived this November, we would be in for one hell of a ride. Which is certainly true, from a lot of different angles.

First, some of the negatives out of the way. This movie shows us that the rebels have taken refuge at District 13, where they have ample support from President Alma Coin and her people, who have been stockpiling weapons and supplies for decades. This could have done with a much better explanation than what we get, which is practically nothing. If my memory of The Hunger Games serves, District 13 was completely destroyed in the original rebellion decades ago and is naught but a cautious memory of what happens when a District defies the Capitol. And we see in the movie that the “dead” District has its own technology, its own army, enormous stockpiles of weapons and ammunition, and even hardened bunkers and point defenses. Where did all of this come from? The weak explanation that the 13s escaped into the bunkers and shelters during the original rebellion and was only waiting for the “right” time to emerge, doesn’t really fly. Least not for me.

And then, we learn very little of life in District 13 beyond the fact that the people live strongly-regimented lives organized by official schedules from the President’s office. And that they all wear green-grey jump-suits, in clear opposition to the people of the Capitol who wear as outrageous outfits and makeup as it is possible to get in this world. And that’s it. The entire District gets painted with a wide brush and we learn nothing more about them.

Honestly, I would have liked to hear more about this missing District, and its thousands of people. It is just too convenient for them to have survived, and gone on surviving for so long right under the Capitol’s collective nose.

But, you look past that inconsistency, and the movie starts to hold up really well, the same way that its predecessors held up. In the wake of the destruction of the Hunger Games venue, President Snow ordered a thorough carpet bombing of District 12 and the scenes of destruction are really heart-breaking, when Katniss finally visits her home and sees what her defiance to Snow cost her. Her family is alive, but almost no one else is. Her friend Gale, now a soldier in the rebellion, tells her that he managed to escape into the woods with just a little over 900 people from the District, out of nearly ten thousand. that’s a huge gut-blow. And it shows how ruthless Snow is when meting out justice for any slight done to him or to his authority.

Mockingjay Part 1 is also a very character-focused movie in that it is far more about the character relationships and the balances of power between all of them than it is about the action. Which is fine, since there are no Hunger Games anymore and that cuts out a big chunk of the action that the series has been known for. Sure, some people might find that off-putting, but it is only natural for the series to mature and grow out of its roots to expand into different areas. Much of the real action happens off-screen and we are never directly in the thick of things, excepting when Katniss, Gale and a bunch of other rebels go to District 8 to visit some of the rebels there.

Hunger Games - Mockingjay Part 1 Stills 0002

In addition to the regular cast, which is totally awesome by the way, we also have some new faces. Julianne Moore as Alma Coin. Natalie Dormer as Cressida, a Capitol refugee who has joined up with the rebels and is now a part of Katniss’ propaganda team. Mahershala Ali as Boggs, President Coin’s right-hand man and also one of the District’s top army leaders. In a cast that was largely headlined by Jennifer Lawrence as the sole female character of significance, alongside Jena Malone as Johanna Mason from the last movie, Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket since the first movie, and Katniss’ mother and sister, it is nice to see some more female characters join the fray. Julianne Moore and Natalie Dormer bring a lot to the cast, each of them being acting veterans and damn good at their job to boot, but unfortunately the script doesn’t give them much to do other than the whole “talking heads” thing. Which is irritating, but hey, this is also only half the story since the movie splits the book of the same name into two halves. I can only hope that the new cast gets to do far more in the next (and concluding) movie.

Jennifer Lawrence, Elizabeth Banks, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Jeffrey Wright, Donald Sutherland, and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman were all as I expected them to be in the movie. They have all gelled together pretty well over the course of the last two movies and they take that forward into the new one as well. Each of them delivers the best they can, and it was rather saddening to see Elizabeth Banks without her usual Effie-makeup, since that kind of thing is really looked down on in District 13. It was something that defined her character, but she does make good use of what she has, so its not all bad, and she is one of the catalysts who take Jennifer’s character forward, so that’s pretty damn good, from that angle.

In conclusion, while the movie sags a bit during its middle scenes, it does have a very strong start and the ending is totally awesome. The twist right at the end, that’s one to really mess with your head and totally change the status quo within the cast as well, to see one of its stalwarts reduced so. But, it makes for great drama, so that’s that!

Definitely among the best movies of the year I dare say.

More The Hunger Games: The Hunger Games.

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Posted on December 18, 2014, in Movie Reviews, Review Central and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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