The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

By: Kevin Jordan

Stop the madness.

mockingjay1

I realize it’s been two weeks since Mockingjay opened, but the extra time allowed me to read some other reviews because there’s not a lot I enjoy more than picking on main stream movie critics.  This isn’t a case where a shitty movie inexplicable enjoyed glowing reviews (John Wick) or where the hands-down, best movie of the year (Interstellar) inexplicably received worse review than said shitty movie.  This is a case where I was simply curious to read other opinions because Mockingjay the book is a little divisive among readers.  Charlie Jane Anders at Io9 wrote a great piece explaining why Mockingjay is a better book than Catching Fire and while I liked both books equally, she provides a great insight into why people prefer one or the other.  Conversely, many of the movie reviews I read chose not to bother with this type of examination (or any type of examination of anything, for that matter).  Instead, they generally did one of two things – either they heaped praises on the film for its action and acting or they crapped on the film for being Part 1.  Both of those angles are equally funny to me because the former read like a canned response written by the studio (Lionsgate) and the latter read like a bunch of spoiled brats whining just for the sake of whining.

It amuses me (maybe a little too much) that the people who love complaining about Hollywood’s mythical lack of imagination are the same people who think it’s original to tell us many times over how obvious a money grab it is to split the concluding book of a series into two movies.  Wait, you mean it’s surprising that a business is doing whatever it can to make as much money as possible?  Wow – I need to take a knee so that revelation can sink in.  What’s funnier is that they are acting as if their opinion is somehow going to convince these studios to leave hundreds of millions of dollars on the table by not splitting future movies the same way.  I don’t like it either, but it’s really only a bad idea if the movies are executed poorly (Twilight and Harry Potter), not to mention it’s been going on for decades.  You might think the original Star Wars trilogy was three separate movies, but The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were the same movie split into two parts.  Think about it – Star Wars stands alone and has a very definitive ending, the destruction of the Death Star.  Empire ends in a cliff hanger and big revelation and Jedi ties those things up.  And you can be sure I’m right because had Star Wars not been so popular, 20th Century Fox wouldn’t have greenlit both sequels.  The same thing was repeated with The Matrix and Pirates of the Caribbean (to name just two).

My point is that these angry critics seem to be most upset at the Part 1 in the title rather than the movie itself and they really need to get over it.  Had these movies not been based on three books, Mockingjay would serve as an adequate title.  For next year’s finale, Mockingjay doesn’t fit so cleanly, but calling it anything else would end with a legion of tweens breaking the Internet.  The only reason The Hobbit trilogy isn’t using Part in the title is because Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema are trying to hide the fact that they split a 300-page children’s book into three absurdly long (and not very good) movies.

As I hinted at earlier, Mockingjay Part 1 is easily the best of the unnecessary, part-one-of-final-book movies (though that’s not saying much).  Harry Potter spent the majority of his in a tent and at a wedding and Bella and Edward spend theirs on their honeymoon.  Both of those movies easily could have been whittled down to the first ten minutes of the final film, but again, $$$$$$$$.  I’d be lying if I said Mockingjay couldn’t do the same thing, but the overarching story benefits more from Mockingjay Part 1 than Twilight and Harry Potter do from theirs.

Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games author) had a much bigger goal with her books than “defeat Voldemort” or whatever the hell was at stake in Twilight.  She wanted to write about class warfare and a totalitarian government and how the United States is slowly going down that path (that these books ended up in the Young Adult category has always fascinated me considering a great deal of time is spent murdering children).  While you can see those ideas in the first two movies (and books), they are relegated to the background as everybody’s attention is on Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and the games themselves.  Part 1 remedies that by focusing all of its attention there.  Yes, Collins easily could have condensed it down since we did get enough in the first two films to understand that the districts would rebel, but she really wanted to make a statement.  One of the criticisms by some critics is that Mockingjay gets away from that formula, but those critics are willfully pretending Part 2 hasn’t already been written and that, as a whole, it follows the formula exactly.  The only difference is that the arena is the Capitol and it’s not just kids playing this time.

On the other side, the critics praising the film are going a little overboard.  There is far less action this time around and the film gets a little redundant.  Part 1 is the calm before the war and is all about rallying the districts together behind Katniss.  Many scenes feature a film crew following Katniss through destroyed districts for propaganda purposes interspliced with political wrangling by the leaders of the rebellion and the chess match between the Capitol and rebellion on the air waves.  In addition, some of the characters are notably flatter, especially in Julianne Moore and Philip Seymour Hoffman.  Hoffman’s Plutarch seemed like a completely different character than the one in Catching Fire and the only time Moore ever showed emotion was through fist pumps (I’m not kidding), which looked as ridiculous as it sounds.  While it might have been the directing, it seemed like the two of them didn’t care that their characters had all the charisma of Eeyore on Prozac.  Luckily, Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, and Josh Hutcherson pick up the pace, reminding us who the truly interesting characters still are.  I particularly enjoyed Hutcherson’s Peeta, who is forced to give a series of interviews and statements to the districts and looks worse for wear with every appearance.  If anyone in this film is underappreciated, it’s Hutcherson.

If you’ve made it through all of my rambling, the answer to your questions is yes, I enjoyed the film and no, not as much as the previous two.  Like I said, it’s completely unnecessary to split the book into two movies, but at least they made a decent movie out of it.  Before I go, there’s more thing that some of the media has been harping on and acted surprised by – that Mockingjay has not performed quite as well at the box office as its predecessors, even though it’s still crushing it.  Given that many people will decide to just wait until next year and watch it right before the finale opens, it’s not at all surprising.  One of these days these critics will actually start deconstructing movies instead of rehashing them and complaining about non-issues and this madness will finally end.

Rating: Ask for three dollars back because you know you’ll be seeing Part 2 at least twice.