Directed By: Francis Lawrence
Written By: Peter Craig (screenplay), Danny Strong (screenplay),
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Philip Seymour Hoffman , Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland
More is not always better. In recent years there has been a trend to extend franchises as long as possible in order to keep the guaranteed money flowing. Sometimes splitting the final book of a franchise into two films works, but most often it does not. Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part One is another negative byproduct of this phenomenon. A series that was growing stronger is hindered by forces outside of the creative process.
What we are left with is a movie that is the equivalent of an extended trailer for the final installment—one that lacks the urgency and energy of the previous films. In addition failings of the previous installments become even clearer as many plot points are hinged upon story elements that were never firmly developed. Hopefully this is just one small misstep before the final curtain call.
We pick up shortly after Hunger Games: Catching Fire left off. The games are now over, but the war is just beginning. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and the rest of the rebels have fled underground to District 13 in order to begin their final takedown of the infectious Capital and President Snow. Their biggest weapon in this fight is not some sort of incendiary device, but rather the power of propaganda. That essential piece of propaganda is of course the Mockingjay herself Katniss Everdeen.
I have to hand it to a film like this to devote such a big chuck of its story on the social and political side of war. Rather than battle scene after battle scene we spend more time with the collateral damage of rebellion. We see the wounded, the countless bodies, and the complete destruction cities and districts face. More importantly we see how winning the battle does not always lead to winning the war.
Katniss however is more reluctant to be spokesperson for this new rebellion, and much of her animosity towards this idea is due to her feelings for fellow tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). She is both upset he was left behind during their escape, and fearful her involvement will only further endanger his life.
Here is where a major issue begins. The Katniss and Peeta relationship throughout the film series has always been stale. It made sense on a strategic standpoint, but never did Jennifer Lawrence or Josh Hutcherson share any sort of chemistry. This arbitrarily conflict Katniss is facing of duty vs love is never as dynamic as the film needs it to be. No matter how intense Lawrence’s performance is it does not matter when the context behind those feelings lack legitimacy.
Another element that has not been fully established is the world of The Hunger Games. How it functions, why it functions the way it does, and how the Hunger Games plays into maintaining its societal structure are all questions that have never fully been answered. We do get some quick explanations like President Snow describing the Capital as the heart of their society with each district bringing in the necessary supplies to keep it flowing, and in return those districts receive protection. While we get these broad strokes, the minutia is never explored.
We have never been invested in the world of the Hunger Games we were invested in the people. It appears the film itself is even aware of this. In a scene we see characters discussing moments in which Katniss has truly moved them. Each of these whether it be her volunteering to save her sister or her relationship with Rue in the first film were all intimate human moments. As the stakes of have increased to this world saving venture that intimacy has been lost.
One positive element that does remain is the number of intriguing characters. Unsurprisingly the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman is a huge bright spot as Plutarch Heavensbee. He is this propaganda puppet master who revels in his role of selling this rebellion. He works as a great counterbalance to Julian Moore who is new to the franchise in the role of the purposely stale President Alma Coin. She is this void of charisma the clearly needs the assistance of Plutarch and Katniss to allow this rebellion to gain steam.
As mentioned previously the biggest hindrance Hunger Games: Mockingjay-Part One faces is its structure. Trying to make two distinct movies from one story is like trying to make a meal with half the ingredients but expecting the same result. So what you are left with is a story that can never find its proper pacing. It has this hurry up and wait mentality that continually kills the momentum. Scenes drag on longer than they should just to get to a proper run time. When it finally feels like we are heading to something meaningful we are left to wait for the next installment. Hopefully when we finally get there this will all be worth it.