(Since this is the last day of NaPoWriMo, my reviews will probably be less frequent from now on, but I thought I’d go out on a more well-known film.)
This latest installment of the Hunger Games franchise wasn’t as well-received as its predecessors, and it does stand apart from those films in some crucial ways. For one thing, there are no actual Hunger Games, the televised blood sport that managed to thrill both the citizens of Panem and countless readers and viewers. Instead, the film chooses to focus on District 13 and its commissioning of everyone’s favorite grieving archer to lead the revolt against the Capitol and President Snow. They basically have her do what she’s done in the past: grieve for the fallen, land awesome arrow shots, and make rebellious statements against tyranny, just more forcefully than in the past and this time caught on camera. In this case, there’s quite a bit of Katniss grieving: for the decimated District 12, for Snow’s current victims, for her captive boyfriend Peeta (their love was real; who knew?), and the comparatively brief scenes of action and tension don’t exactly balance out her emotional turmoil. Every time Peeta came on screen and people either booed him or asked what Snow had done to him, I kept wondering why no one considered that he had been brainwashed. That seemed like the most obvious explanation. And of course, the film’s greatest weakness is the stigma of being Part 1, a film in which the first half of a relatively short book is dragged out and concluded on a far from satisfying note.
All that being said, Mockingjay — Part 1 is still an important piece of the franchise, however financially exploitative it may be. The events following Catching Fire are given greater emotional weight, and Jennifer Lawrence continues to project a compelling mix of strength, vulnerability, and concern for both friends and family. While it’s a bit jarring for her to go from fighting for survival to filming propaganda pieces, Katniss’s transition from tribute to freedom fighter feels well-earned and depicts the motivating power that revolutionary media can have on a volatile populace. The film’s best scene is the dam attack in which a haunting folk song (with lyrics drawn from Suzanne Collins’ book) is employed as an anthem of rebellion. “The Hanging Tree” is one of those unique aspects of this franchise that transcends the story itself (like the three-finger salute or that familiar whistle), and it stayed with this viewer much more than Lorde’s Globe-nominated “Yellow Flicker Beat.”
Thus, while it would have been better to film Mockingjay as one film, this one still has merit. We get to meet Julianne Moore as District 13’s President Coin and see more of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee. The few moments of tension certainly are thrilling, and that twist at the end surely took everyone who hadn’t read the books by surprise (even if that’s just me and five other people). While much of the film does feel unnecessarily prolonged, such as Katniss’s repetitive calls to Snow at the climax, I for one was still glad to spend more time with this story and these characters. Plus, the film fulfilled its main purpose; I’ll be there with countless others to see Part 2 this November.
By the way, here’s a musical version for those of you who could use a laugh. This is just one of three hilarious parody videos, all of which are well worth seeing. Enjoy!
Best line: (Effie Trinket, who apparently wasn’t much in the third book) “They’ll either want to kill you, kiss you, or be you.”Rank: List-Worthy (joining the other two as one series)
© 2015 S. G. Liput
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