Sunday, November 23, 2014

Movie Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

I went to see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 with The Boyfriend this past weekend.  I enjoyed it very much, and though I wouldn't say it is my favorite movie in the series thus far, Mockingjay Part 1 is still worth the ticket if you are a fan of the Hunger Games series.  It effectively combines the action of the early Rebellion and Katniss's mental anguish following the events of the Quarter Quell and unlike some other movies that share the honor (misfortune?) of being the "Part 1" in their series, Mockingjay Part 1's conclusion is satisfying, while at the same time leaving viewers with the desire to return and see how the story ends - it is a waypoint, meant to offer us a climax worthy of pausing the story, but keeping us wanting more.

Unfortunately, we will have to wait a year for the final installment in the Hunger Games series!

Apparently this movie has had the biggest opening weekend of the year, much like Catching Fire did in 2013.  I am glad to see a movie with a female lead kicking so much butt at the box office!

This review is written from the perspective of someone who has read the books, so while I do not spoil the ending of Mockingjay or the events that will be shown in the final film, I do offer comparisons to the book and what I think the film did better or worse than its source material.  There are also big spoilers for the movie, Mockingjay Part 1, so please don't click the link if you don't want to learn how the movie ends.

Spoilers ahead.  You have been warned.

Mockingjay is my least favorite book in the Hunger Games series for a few reasons, and while it has been years since I read the series, I will detail a few issues I had with the final book.  It felt like there were too many events crammed into the last book, relative to the first two; Katniss's narrative grew boring and repetitive at times, with all the worry and angst; the ending falls apart, feeling rushed and failing to maintain the level of detail offered through the rest of the books.

I was looking forward to watching Mockingjay Part 1 because I was expecting it to be better than the book.  And I will say I was not disappointed.  I think the action and events of the third book in the series translate better in a movie format than they did on paper.  Rather than being stuck in Katniss's head and her version of events, we are able to see her react to learning about the destruction of District 12, to judge the other characters for ourselves based on how their actors portray them with their body language and speech, and we can see events as they unfold in other Districts or the Capitol without waiting to hear them secondhand as another character explains them to Katniss.  Mockingjay is a much bigger story than the Hunger Games was, and through the medium of film we are not limited to Katniss's perspective.  While one of my complaints about the first Hunger Games movie was the lack of Katniss's voice and the motives she shares through her inner monologue, I think this movie benefited from the lack of a single narrator.

The movie begins with Katniss in District 13, after her escape from the arena during the 75th hunger Games - she has been having nightmares, and has been in District 13 long enough for her physical wounds to heal enough to be discharged from the medical facility, but not long enough for her to begin healing from the mental trauma of the Quarter Quell, where Peeta and Johanna were left behind in the efforts to save her.

We quickly learn that Plutarch Heavensbee is in District 13 working with President Coin to turn Katniss into the Mockingjay, a figurehead of the Rebellion that District 13 has been working towards since the Dark Days and the War 75 years ago that led to the Hunger Games being established... and District 13 being bombed off the map.  The rest of the movie chronicles Katniss's early involvement with the Rebellion and the events happening in the other Districts as the citizens of Panem rise up against the Capitol and the Capitol's ruthless response to any unrest or association with the Mockingjay.

One of my favorite things about this movie is the use of the Propos - propaganda films made by the rebels to fire up the other Districts and intimidate the Capitol - to convey information to the audience.  Having characters such as Gale and Fennick share their experiences of the bombing of District 12 or the cruelty of the Capitol through the Propos while setting it against the scenery of a destroyed town, reactions by other characters, or a raid on the Capitol itself, provided an effective mix of Show and Tell.  I dislike when secondary characters explain backstory/details/motives to the hero because it feels unnatural and encyclopedic, but this movie seems to have used this combination of narrative and imagery very effectively to fill in gaps for viewers who hadn't read the books.

The pacing of the movie felt more consistent and purposeful than in the book.  Unlike the book, where readers are always in Katniss's head getting a full view of her conflicts and angst over Peeta/Gale/the Rebellion, viewers were not left watching Katniss sitting in District 13 feeling broken and confused for long stretches of time, questioning who she could trust or why she was saved when Peeta wasn't.  Instead, these moments are used purposefully when they do occur - much like how District 13 spins everything Katniss does to have a purpose in furthering the Rebellion.  Katniss has been shaken, but she is still strong, she is still a fighter, and on the rare occasions viewers see her naked emotion we are soon shown how those emotions are used as fuel for the Mockingjay, to inspire the remaining Districts.

Despite this pacing, towards the end of the movie it started to drag for me.  I think this is indicative of how much was crammed into the book initially - I could not imagine the events of this movie and the next being contained in a single film, and I think splitting Mockingjay into two films was a good choice.

As a book reader, I was anticipating where they would end the film.

Big MASSIVE spoiler (this is your last warning!)

... As I (and everyone else) predicted, the movie ended shortly after Peeta, Annie, and Johanna are saved from the Capitol and brought to District 13.  Peeta sees Katniss for the first time and lunges towards her, wrapping his hands around her neck, squeezing, squeezing, squeezing, until he is slammed in the head with a tray and the screen went black...

But that wasn't the end.  Oh, how I wished they had just ended it right there... The Boyfriend has not read the books, and agrees that it would have been awesome if they had just ended it there, and he truly thought they were going to because the blackness lasted quite a long time.  But then the movie started again, with Katniss in a hospital room and Plutarch, Boggs, and Beetee explaining to her what happened to Peeta - that he was brainwashed, his memories Hijacked through the tortuous use of tracker-jacker venom, pain, and the manipulation of his memories into believing Katniss was dangerous to him.

Ermagherd he's killing her!!!
The movie ends shortly after with a victorious President Coin giving a speech to the inhabitants of District 13, detailing their successful rescue of the Victors from the Capitol, while Katniss leaves her room in the hospital facility to find Peeta, bound in his own hospital bed, thrashing and fighting his restraints.  Viewers are left with the juxtaposition of President Coin's victory speech with the cost of leaving Peeta behind at the Quarter Quell as he stares at the camera with a look of wild panic, presumably seeing Katniss, the thing he fears most, watching him through the glass wall of his room.

While this was still a powerful ending, I really wish they had just stopped with the first cut to black, leaving the audience in such a state of high emotion, eager for the next part of the story.  But I like those "Aaaaah WTF!?" cliffhangers...

I have read other reviews where the authors complained that this movie is nothing but a big build-up for the events of the last movie, but that same complaint can be made of almost any other "Part 1" movie (cough*Harry Potter and the Movie Where All They Do is Go Camping*cough).  And there was enough action and plot progression in this movie that the build up did not detract from my experience.  The ending of Mockingjay Part 1 was its own climax, with the rescue of Peeta and the others from the Capitol, and to make a single movie would have detracted more from the story than it does to have two separate films.

Overall, I liked the movie.  I think I enjoyed watching Catching Fire more, but I am impressed with how well this movie worked with its source material without being bogged down by the same issues present in the final book.  I am concerned for the final film, since the story seemed to fall apart during the second half of Mockingjay, but like Part 1, I am curious to see how they attempt to remedy the book's failings.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 was released in the US on November 21st, 2014.  It is rated PG-13 and has a run time of 123 minutes.

The final installment of the Hunger Games movie series, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, will be released on November 20th, 2015.

Mockingjay Part 1 images are from the movie's IMDB page.

1 comment:

  1. I actually liked the book Mockingjay the best out of all three, simply because it was the most dramatic and the 'grand finale'.. I'm hoping the movies will be even better, but I haven't seen part 1yet, so no reading of spoilers for me! ;)