"Mockingjay Part One" Review: Just Another Game?
At this point, The Hunger Games is the quintessential youth teen adaption. It has an accessibility that Twilight lacks, while providing a medium for a variety of talented actors (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Woody Harrelson, Julianne Moore, Liam Hemsworth, and of course, Jennifer Lawrence). What makes Mockingjay Part One the most original entry into the series though, emphasis on original, not best, is that it takes the world building of the first two films, and puts it towards something bigger than the games itself. It should be noted though that this is a two part film for a single book which has seemingly become the norm for book to screen adaptations of late. Having read the book trilogy, the split they chose on was obvious, although the ending of the film provides no closure, similarly to last year's Desolation of Smaug.
Mockingjay Part One, to its credit, deals with some interesting ideas. One of those ideas is the effects of media on the general populace and not particularly veiled jabs at the 1% provide the conflict that has been set up in the previous two films. This conflict ends up leading to the boiling point of Panem's civil war. The Capitol is no longer a beacon of desire but rather a relic of corruption. However, Katniss has the least to do in this film than any other. The premise boils down to her finding refuge in the mysterious District 13 and being utilized as the face of the rebellion, primarily via propaganda videos. Having read the books and watched the previous films, I always found the basic premise of shooting the "propos" (propaganda) in the middle of war zones to create an awkward artificiality, although in the context of the film, it does make sense. The performances all around are quite good, with President Snow (Donald Sutherland) chewing every bit of scenery he is in. Another standout is Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair, who is no longer the Capitol pretty boy, but an eternally scarred victor whose battle never ended.
One of the issues with the Hunger Games as a whole is that Katniss Everdeen isn't a particularly likeable character. Her bizarre love triangle with Peeta and Gale is essential to the story, but it makes her appear as if she has no idea what's going on around her. Her heart is in the right place, but she can't see the big picture. We get it, Katniss, you want to save Peeta, but risking an entire rebellion for one life is nonsensical. Make no mistake, this is a full on sci-fi war film. The actual games themselves are over, and the war is burgeoning. Natalie Dorner plays Cressida, who directs all the "propos" intended to motivate the districts into uniting against the Capitol. Katniss exists as a mouthpiece for District 13 (and the rebellion), but as President Coin (Julianne Moore) astutely points out, she's not a soldier. Granted, all her training for the games gives her a leg up on your average civilian, but the film suffers from her lack of direct involvement in the conflict, at least in this first part of the finale.
However, it is the most visually stunning of the series. The Capitol is given some more identity that it lacked in the previous films and the drabness of the military installation that is District 13 is distinct in a way the rest of the depiction of the rest of the districts could benefit from. The effectiveness of the propaganda campaign has to be accepted with the full suspension of disbelief, but there are some nice twists for the non book readers to find.
Knowing the film was the first part of a two part finale, the ending worked for me, but as an individual film, leaves something to be desired. We're left with no resolution to the overarching Capitol conflict and are left with a non-verbal "To Be Continued". With some problematic story elements and a main character who is merely reactionary, this is far from a perfect film; however, the strong performances, impressive visuals, and overarching world building make it something worth watching, especially if you're already invested into the series. Credit must be given that this film is so divergent from the previous two films and at least utilizes a new formula.
Final Say: Watch It