Wednesday, November 26, 2014

'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 1' review

The new trend in young adult adaptations is to split the final book into two parts. Harry Potter did it. Twilight did it. The Hobbit even split one book into three movies. So it was inevitable that the final book in The Hunger Games series would be split into two movies. The thing is, Mockingjay is only a 400 page book. And not much happens in the first half. Unsurprisingly, Mockingjay- Part 1 is kind of a bland movie. Things happen, but they all feel like a teaser for bigger and badder events to come. We get a deep dive into the psyche of Katniss Everdeen, but all the other characters get put on the backburner. In the end, Mockingjay- Part 1 is a perfectly serviceable film (if you can call it that), yet it's nowhere near the level of the other films in the series.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 1 continues the story of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) as she deals with the aftermath of fighting in the Hunger Games two times. Katniss wakes up in District 13, which was thought to have been destroyed. However, District 13 is alive and well under the ruling of President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore). Soldiers from District 13 rescued Katniss and Finnick Odair (Sam Clafin), but left Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Johanna (Jena Malone) for the Capital to capture.

With Katniss now in District 13, the leaders of the district know that she's the one to lead their revolution. Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) encourages Alma Coin to get Katniss to be their Mockingjay, the face of the revolution. Katniss eventually agrees and Coin assembles a team of film directors to create propaganda with Katniss for the revolution.

Let's face the facts here first: not much happens in Mockingjay- Part 1. It's a lot of quiet conversations and bombastic propaganda with a few action scenes added in for good measure. However, I felt that it laid the groundwork for a stellar second installment that will disturb and entertain in equal measure. Jennifer Lawrence is as good as ever as the mentally scarred Katniss Everdeen and the supporting cast is solid, if underused. It's hard to judge Mockingjay because it's not really a full film. There's sort of a conclusion, but there's still a lot of story left to tell. And I'm excited to see how it plays out next November.

Jennifer Lawrence keeps this movie afloat. There's no question about that. She gives another towering, emotionally vulnerable performance in this film. Lawrence has managed to make the character of Katniss dynamic and interesting, which is something that a lesser actress would have struggled with. If you ever find yourself doubting that Lawrence is one of the most talented actresses of her generation, just pop in one of these films. That will change your mind in no time.

It's just too bad that Katniss is the only character who gets any real screen time, or is actually developed into a fully fleshed-out human being. Josh Hutcherson gives a strong performance as Peeta and I'm certain that he will be explored further in Part 2. Since Peeta spends most of his time in the Capitol, Gale (Liam Hemsworth) gets more of the spotlight this time around. And Hemsworth makes the most of it. I found Gale to be quite interesting in this film and I was very happy about that.

However, several other fan favorite characters get little to no time to shine in this film. Woody Harrelson's Haymitch Abernathy is barely in this film and his charisma and humor is sorely missed. Finnick is reduced to a mentally damaged and lovesick wreck. Johanna is literally in there for only a second. Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) has a more interesting role, but her wickedly disgusting humor is gone.

Katniss' sister Prim (Willow Shields) also gets little development in this film, which is sad because she plays an integral role in Part 2. Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), Snow, Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), Cressida (Natalie Dormer)- in the end, all of these characters get shortchanged. It's really a tragedy. I know that Katniss is the most dynamic and interesting character, but there are fun and compelling supporting characters too and the filmmakers don't seem to recognize that.

Despite its script shortcomings, this is a well-directed film. I give Francis Lawrence credit. This guy knows how to make a compelling film. Even for a movie where nothing much really happens, I was consistently compelled and intrigued by what was going on in Mockingjay.

I was also impressed by the production values in this film. This was a franchise that started off with shoddy CGI and poor camera work, so I was pleasantly surprised by how well this film looked. The action sequences are stellar, the sets are realistic, and the CGI is great. This film has a sleek look and feel to it and I really dug that.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 1 is half a film. That is literally the conclusion that I reached at the end of this movie. It's hard to give a full opinion on this movie, since it's only one half of a story. However, I can definitely say that this is a compelling movie with a strong central performance and a great story. I like where this is going and as long as the screenwriters can give a little more attention to the other characters, I feel like Mockingjay- Part 2 could be the best in the series.

THE FINAL GRADE: B                                                  (7/10)

Image Credits: Comic Book, LA Times, NY Daily News, Salon, Huffington Post

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