The Hunger Games: Mockingjay–Part 1 Little More Than a Placeholder
- Christian Hamaker Contributing Film and Culture Writer
- 2014 20 Nov
DVD Release Date: March 6, 2015
Theatrical Release Date: November 21, 2014
Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material)
Run Time: 123 min.
Director: Francis Lawrence
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Elizabeth Banks, Willow Shields, Stanley Tucci, Jeffrey Wright, Sam Claflin, Paula Malcomson
"There's explaining and there's showing," says Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman, God's Pocket) in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1. He's making a point about the power of images over descriptive language and in a way his concern matches the "show don't tell" guidance of good art—guidance that encourages an artist to allow those who experience his or her work to do so apart from on-the-nose exposition.
The first two books of Suzanne Collins's wildly successful Hunger Games trilogy were turned into blockbuster films that equaled or surpassed the novels on which they were based. Though exposition heavy, the films had moments that conveyed emotion apart from dialogue, often during the titular games in which youthful "tributes" fought to the death until only one "winner" remained.
As heroine Katniss Everdeen, Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) brought the right mix of rebelliousness and passion to Katniss, who volunteered to take the place of her younger sister, Prim (Willow Shields), as a tribute in the first Hunger Games. In that film, Katniss, along with another contestant, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson, Journey to the Center of the Earth), managed to outfox President Snow (Donald Sutherland, Horrible Bosses) and become a darling to the people of Panem, only to be coerced into a second competition in the sequel, Catching Fire. Mockingjay, the third book in the series, tells of Katniss's leadership of the rebellion against Snow.
That story might make for a good movie, but in an era when a short J.R.R. Tolkein novel, The Hobbit, can be extended into three three-hour movies, and popular franchises like Harry Potter and Twilight split their final chapters into two installments each, it was inevitable that this adaptation of the final—and weakest—of the Hunger Games novels would be separated into two parts. The result is a talky Part 1 that feels like a mostly stagnant stage setter for Part 2 of Mockingjay, due for release next year.
Finding herself in District 13 after bringing an end to the Quarter Quell at the conclusion of Catching Fire, Katniss learns that her mother (Paula Malcomson) and sister are both safe, although the rest of their home district has been destroyed.
Katniss is torn by the consequences of her actions during the Hunger Games, but the people of Panem don't have time for her to recover from the trauma of what she's experienced. They need someone to rally them in their cause of defeating the Capitol, and the leader of the rebels, President Coin (Julianne Moore, Don Jon), along with her right-hand man, Heavensbee, wants Katniss to be the rebels' spokesperson: the Mockingjay. The media-savvy Coin and Heavensbee see Katniss as the potential star of a series of propaganda videos that aid the rebels' cause, and which will, as Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks, The Lego Movie) tells Katniss, make viewers "want to kiss you, kill you or be you."
If only Katniss would play along. Beaten down by her participation in the games, she can't get past her trauma to convey the fighting spirit Coin and Heavensbee need her to show—until an act of violence perpetrated by President Snow sends Katniss into a righteous fury and causes her to accept the role of the Mockingjay.
The film peaks with that moment. From there, the story grimly goes through the paces, showing Katniss longing to rescue the kidnapped Peeta from the clutches of the Capitol, where he's been enlisted as a spokesperson against the rebels. There's talk, and more talk, and still more and more talk. It all grows tiresome, even tedious, while we wait for the story develop, which it finally does during its most surprising turn, just before the credits roll. But even that twist isn't enough to justify two hours of buildup to a final installment that's still a year away.
Although she's not given much to do in Mockingjay – Part 1 other than emote and react to what's happening around her, Lawrence's Katniss remains an engaging fighter against oppressive forces and overwhelming odds. Moore and the recently-deceased Hoffman bring impressive gravitas to Mockingjay, and the script's far too infrequent doses of humor help a story that desperately needs a break from relentless bleakness. But the themes of The Hunger Games have already been laid out in the previous two films, and Mockingjay – Part 1 does little to add to those ideas. It doesn't advance its story enough to justify a two-hours-plus running time, and in the end, it feels like a mere placeholder at best, a studio money-grab at worst.
Will moviegoers be pacified by the studio's strategy, or will they rise up in rebellion? One thing's for sure: those expecting a full meal from Mockingjay – Part 1 will leave the theater under-nourished by this half-a-story Hunger Games.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):
- Language/Profanity: None
- Drinking/Smoking/Drugs: Haymitch is said to be "drying out"; he says sobriety looks as bad as it feels; Haymitch asks Katniss if she has any medication
- Sex/Nudity: None
- Violence/Crime: Human skulls and skeletons seen; rebels are shot in the head; a hospital full of the wounded is bombed; a character is said to have had his tongue cut out; gunfire; a falling pillar nearly crushes Katniss; rebels bomb machine-gun wielding oppressors; a dam is destroyed; Katniss is attacked and choked
- Religion/Morals/Marriage: Katniss tells the rebels that she lost the unborn child she was believed to have been carrying