Happy Thanksgiving! To celebrate, Zach and Will take a look at the highly anticipated Mockingjay, the third fixture in the Hunger Games series. Directed by Francis Lawrence and starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth, this film is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material.
Mockingjay continues the events of Catching Fire, with the Games destroyed and anarchy breaking lose throughout Panam. Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence), along with a few allies from the Games, finds herself in District 13, a district that was originally thought to have been destroyed. Under President Coin (Julianne Moore) and the counsel of friends, Katniss attempts to become the symbol of rebellion for the people of Panam and take down President Snow and the capital.
6.5 out of 10
It’s no secret that I’m a Hunger Games fan. I’ve read and enjoyed the books and watched and enjoyed the movies. I’ve gotten some flack from my friends about liking the series, but in my opinion it’s absorbing and compelling.
That being said, the third book in the Hunger Games series was borderline awful. It was stale, contrived, and it compromised the strength and appeal of its characters. Katniss, for example, devolved from a headstrong, independent female to a drug-addicted, man-needing complainer.
The moviemakers of Mockingjay were already going to have a tough time matching the quality of the previous two films, given the disparity in quality of the source material, and Lionsgate’s decision to split the already thin book into a two-part finale, a la Harry Potter, simply exacerbated the situation. I guess, though, Lionsgate is more about making money than about making good movies. Even for a text as thick in pages and story as The Deathly Hallows the result was a meager first act, so it’s no surprise that Mockingjay Part 1 was entirely disappointing.
It was almost completely devoid of action, save for a few split seconds of frenetic camera shaking here and there, which prevented the movie from ever achieving the level of intensity that characterized the first two installments, and Katniss’s touring of the districts with her camera crew felt like 120 minutes of set-up for the next movie. I essentially watched a poorly conceived 2-hour trailer for a movie that I’m not so sure I’m dying to see anymore.
It’s also no secret that I’m a Jennifer Lawrence fan. I think she was fantastic in Silver Linings Playbook, and she rightly deserves the praise she gets. Her acting in Mockingjay, however, just felt awkward. I don’t know if she was trying to hard, the lines were just cheesy (likely) or whatever, but I actually felt like laughing at how silly she seemed some times, which is a feeling I should definitely not be getting from someone whose boyfriend is being tortured in the Capitol.
The rest of the A-list cast didn’t really help out either. Elizabeth Banks has always been fantastic as Effie Trinket, but she was way underused, Josh Hutcherson seems to only have any worth as an actor when he’s with Lawrence, and Julianne Moore as President Alma Coin was just completely cold. The only star worthy of such a distinction was Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and the terribleness of the rest of the cast served only to highlight just how good he is.
Certainly I think much of the lackluster work from the cast stems from poor source material with ridiculous dialogue, but still, with all the assembled talent and all the funding I’m sure this project received, Mockingjay should have been better. Even so, the movie will certainly gross hundreds of millions of dollars. Hordes of tweens and dashing movie reviewing teens will throng into the theaters and pay a steep $11 dollar ticket price for a decidedly mediocre movie simply because it’s Hunger Games and Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson (and probably no mention will be played to Banks, Moore, and Hoffman). And I can’t blame Lionsgate for wanting to capitalize on that by splitting the book into two movies for double the profit (early reports show that Mockingjay grossed $123 million in its opening weekend, by far the biggest opening in the last few months), I just wish it had turned out better.
The film’s one redeeming quality was its interesting portrayal of wartime politics and, specifically, propaganda. Throughout Mockingjay, Katniss is pressured into making staged and incendiary propaganda pieces to inspire the rebellion in the districts. Mockingjay’s directors use some intriguing subtext and satirize the abuse of rhetoric that is rampant in politics and military campaigns (which I’m sure amused all my AP Lang buddies out there) but ultimately it wasn’t near enough to save the movie. Still, it warrants a 6.5 simply because I enjoyed it. I am a Hunger Games fan, and so I was more than happy to go see Mockingjay. If you’re not already invested in the series, though, don’t bother fronting the $11 for the ticket. Go see the vastly superior Big Hero 6 instead.
As one especially keen 12 year old who sat behind me in the theater pointed out when Jennifer Lawrence came on screen for the first time, “That’s Jennifer Lawrence! I love her!” Yes, that is Jennifer Lawrence, and that’s about all you’ll be able to get out of Mockingjay.
7.0 out of 10
Just how much does context excuse a movie?
With the new trend of final chapters being axed in to two installments, that’s a question I have to ask myself a lot. Just how slow can a first part of the end be, running on the excuse that “It’s only the first part”? Just how necessary is it? Just how many CEOs were jumping for joy and screenwriters’ days were ruined when they announced the end would be split?
Well, I can’t get that last scenario out of my head. A bunch of my fellow writers laboring over how to pace some first half without slowing to a crawl just kills me. Mockingjay is a film that both defies and perfectly adheres to the tropes that plague “Part One” movies.
We’ll address the pacing first and, yes, it’s pretty languid (After Interstellar, this one felt faster than Barry Allen however). And a byproduct of that sluggishness is a cramped, claustrophobic feeling. In the books, as far as I can tell, Katniss spends the first quarter or so shacked up in a bunker and gets in on the action. Here, she spends 70% of her precious screentime in a base. A base that the movie flat out compares to a prison because it practically is.
In fact, that’s one of the limiting reagents of Mockingjay. Around the fifty minute mark, I asked myself “Why am I not invested in Katniss’s story? She had my attention the first two movies.” and that query is easily answered: Katniss is a great hero but she’s an awful victim.
The very driving force of Katniss is that she’s “The Girl on Fire”. These movies repeat that ad nauseum. When we’re introduced to her, literature has conditioned us to think that she’ll be either a weak damsel in distress or a hero who will ultimately have to rely on someone else’s (Usually a man’s) help. But, no, she was a determined, strong character and she held up all the way through. In fact, she couldn’t be a damsel in distress for the cameras in-universe. Katniss was constantly shaping the plot and soaring to new heights in survival.
And how does she spend most of this movie? Begging for a guy to return to her (When did she start caring that much about Peeta above everything else? The extents she goes to are a bit extreme) and staying locked underground.
Now, that being said, I do get what they’re trying to do. This series has often been about interdependence versus independence and it would be interesting to see Katniss have to lean on others for once and subsequently learn about finding strength in humility and compromising personal desires for larger stakes.
But Katniss does not get to learn about it by the end because this isn’t the end. All development seems to be braked by that “Part One” label and the need to stall to get to the “Part Two” label. I recently spoiled Mockingjay for myself in a moment of weakness and, if the producers opted against the two-part structure, it could be an incredibly exciting, tightly plotted movie, packed with mountains of character development.
Yet this is where that conflict I talked about in the beginning of the review comes in to play. Since this is The Hunger Games, I trust the filmmakers a lot more than I usually would and I’m going to allow them to take their time. Until then, this installment still had plenty of creative action scenes to keep us occupied (Even if they didn’t include the characters we care about most).
I’m still impressed by how the films lampoon our insatiable appetite for the carefully-manipulated images that we’re often fed (The interview scenes where the characters have to exaggerate and tap-dance to earn sympathy are as relevant as they were when the series started). And the actors crush the material given to them. I can’t imagine it’s easy to play a character who’s practically playing a character.
So, Hunger Games, impress me with your (actual) final chapter a year from now and maybe this part will be retroactively boosted by its twin. If you haven’t read the books, there’s certainly new territory to see in this film. If you have, get ready to maybe check your watch if bunker-scenes don’t float your boat.
Like Mockingjay? Hate it? Let us know in the comment section below!