Friday, November 21, 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

After two films of murder games by children building up to a rebellion stoked by class warfare the latest entry into The Hunger Games franchise offers only more build-up. Deciding to break the final book of the series into two parts, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is nearly all set-up with no payoff in sight for at least a full year until next Fall (if ever).

Set an indeterminate period of time following the events of the last film, Jennifer Lawrence returns as reluctant hero Katniss Everdeen rescued at the end of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and recruited by the survivors of District 13 (the most well-funded and fully stocked secret underground rebellion in the history of cinema) to be the face of their revolution against President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and the Capitol.

Mockingjay does offer something new as it delves into rebellion, propaganda, and the physical and emotional toll of Snow's policies towards those who defy him. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Woody Harrelson, Liam Hemsworth, and Elizabeth Banks return as Katniss' support system and Julianne Moore steps in as the leader of the rebellion with access to enough hair products to never have a single strand out of place.

The movie's emotional moments have the desired impact, for the most part. However, the scripting and staging of the scenes ranges from awkward to condescending towards the audience (often spelling out plot points letter-by-letter, repeatedly). Because of this the drawn-out adaption of Suzanne Collins' novel (you can definitely tell this is only half of a single story) by Peter Craig and Danny Strong is often as frustrating as entertaining as it lacks anything resembling subtlety (even providing a pivotal moment involving the actual birds from which Katniss takes her name) or resolution.

Notable additions to the cast this time around include Cressida (Natalie Dormer), Messalla (Evan Ross), Pollux (Elden Henson) and Castor (Wes Chatham) as members of Kaniss' special team to both protect and film the young heroine, continuing to use her popularity to stoke the fires of revolution. Dormer's look (and her role in Game of Thrones) is likely to garner some fan love, but I was most impressed with Henson who, along with Lawrence, gives his character a quiet gravitas not found on the printed page. The propaganda arc is the most interesting piece of the third feature, and I did enjoy how bad Katniss was at the outset of their efforts (even if all the best footage eventually just falls magically into the team's lap at the right moment).

The third entry into the franchise feels a bit fresher with a new storyline focused on the larger themes of the series, but it gets bogged down while waiting to deliver on the promises of its script and the two movies which preceded it. The level of militarization of District 13 makes Katniss and her bow look more than a little out of place as well. You have to wonder with a movement of soldiers, stealth jets, and bombs and missiles as far as the eye can see, why they have been waiting for a beautiful, if at times petulant and emotionally-damaged, girl to rally any more support to their side.

Like the two movies that preceded it, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is a story that touches on intriguing ideas without taking the time to fully explore them. Those who enjoyed The Hunger Games and Catching Fire more than I are likely to have a similar reaction here. Even while dragging its feet to fill a movie with half a story (so much so we actually get several sequences of characters doing nothing more than waking up in the morning), the pacing of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 during its tense and dramatic sequences is well-handled. The acting on-hand, most notably from Lawrence, helps as well even if some (like Banks and Stanley Tucci) are still stuck in thinly-written caricatures. But in the end Mockingjay is what it is: a flawed and incomplete film that takes itself far too seriously for the number of ridiculous plot points and giggle-inducing dialogue it attempts to cram down its audience's throat over two hours.

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