Friday, November 21, 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1

Spoilers are marked.

The Games are over; the fire has caught; now it's war.

And everyone's on board with it, except the most important one -- Katniss. Still traumatized from the Quarter Quell, the news that District 12 was completely obliterated (and that 13 wasn't), and the fact that Peeta was left behind when she was rescued, the last thing she wants to do is be the Mockingjay, the face of the rebellion, standing in front of more cameras, pretending again.

Further than that, it's hard to tell what of the plot counts as setup, and what is actual plot development. But it's not like you really need an introduction anyway -- it's the Hunger Games! So I'll just leave it there, and jump right in.

Jennifer Lawrence. Jennifer is the lead, and she leads. We don't have to even think about it anymore; we know Katniss like we know ourselves. Even when she does stupid things that would make us dislike any other character, with her we understand. We know she's not prefect -- but she is perfect. When the film slows down and borders on boring, Jennifer's face, perfectly encapsulating the character, no tiniest movement out of character, even the blankest of expressions speaking volumes, keeps us from growing bored. It's been nearly three years since Katniss fully came to life, and we've still yet to cease being fascinated with her.

The Girl on Fire; The Mockingjay.

Who next? Katniss is so prominently the main character that everyone else is equally and significantly below her. Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) would be, but his role is dramatically diminished for this installment, so, Gale. Liam Hemsworth's Gale finally gets some time unshared with Peeta here, but not as much as I expected. I always refer to him as "the lesser Hemsworth" but Liam shows no signs of being any less talented than his older brother, and has completely melded with Gale in my mind, just as most the other actors and their characters have. So I was surprised when his role didn't seem any expanded from the last two movies. Thinking about it, it was bigger; it had to be, but it didn't feel it. He had two or three scenes to show his acting abilities and develop character, but otherwise he was just there; being Gale of course, but in a stagnate way instead of growing.

Still, he's at his most likable in this movie.

Actually, I could say the same about almost every returning character here; they're all stagnate. And I guess we all know why. (More on that later.) Woody Harrelson as Haymitch continues to be sarcastic and sharp; Elizabeth Banks as Effie continues to be oblivious and stuck-up; the two share a funny "what in the world" moment. Phillip Seymour Hoffman's Plutarch Havensbee amusingly appears to be slightly claustrophobic. Beetee (Jeffery Wright) is there, doing computer stuff and inventing things. Prim (Willow Shields) is still smarter than Katniss, and their mother quietly worries. Buttercup is happily present, and orange and grumpy. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is evil, cold, and creepy. New characters are topped by Julianne Moore as President Coin, perfectly cast, perfectly no-nonsense and authoritative. Also Mahershala Ali as Boggs, and the lovely Natalie Dormer as Cressida, my favorite addition. I love her hairstyle. And Pollux (Elden Henson) and Castor (Wes Chatham), off to a good start.

Yeah. She's cool.

Sam Claflin as Finnick manages some significant motion in character development, but it is easier for him since he was only introduced in the last movie -- where he kept a put-on persona. Here, Finnick's true self comes out in patches, as his newly-unnecessary cocky and suave self begins to melt away. And of course it only makes him all the more endearing. I'm sure I'm not alone in wishing more screen time for this guy, though all the characters were overlooked by my standards.

I'm so glad my original doubts about Claflin's abilities to play the part went unfounded.

Like its predecessor, Mockingjay is magnificent to look at. Set mostly underground, the view isn't quite so magnificent, but it is filmed with authority and strong style to great effect. There also isn't much action, but the little there is is done expertly. There was one moment when the word "shaky-cam" came to mind, but it wasn't out of place and didn't last. And the suspense of the climax was so effective and brilliantly edited, that I felt it, and had to remind myself that I knew what happens.

I almost don't even need to mention adaptation because there's nothing more to say after I say that Francis Lawrence is very good at adapting accurately, and that is exactly what he did here. It's extremely rare for me to have no complaints when comparing a movie to a book when I read before watching, so mark this -- I have no complaints. Wait, I do -- why did they give Gale a crossbow? He can use a real bow you know! So change the above to "no significant complaints" and we're good.

Yep. We're all good.

Honestly, I would have been okay with some changes. Mockingjay was my least favorite of the books, and I thought it was possible for the film to improve upon it. And with the two parts, I thought it likely to succeed -- more time equals more time to expand the parts left wanting in the novel. Like character development; you can never have too much of that, and these characters are worth it. Or action. They did add two scenes of action, but they wound up as meaningless unexciting filler with no familiar characters being involved. This was this film's one falter -- compared to the other two, it was downright boring, and nothing happened. Sadly, nothing exciting could have possibly happened, unless they blatantly deviated from the novel to spice things up. Because it was only the first half of the novel, and remember the first two; the first halves were nothing but setup.

So should they have made it only one movie? It's a conundrum; to separate them was to destroy the structure (if you looks at the films individually, which for now, we must) but to put them together would have been to force the final battle into the small proportions of the Games, and that would have likely resulted in everything being rushed and squeezed in confusingly -- much like the book was, or even more. Personally, I would have gone with the three-hour Peter Jackson style movie, but since that wasn't an option, this is the next best thing: waiting a year to finish the movie I started last night.

As a stand-alone movie, it doesn't; it can't. But as the first half of the last of a trilogy, which is how I am judging it, it was exactly what I was hoping for.

So, it was half of exactly what I was hoping for.

MAJOR SPOILERS here to the end!

Here be all my thoughts on anything spoilery. Beginning with Peeta, who didn't get a paragraph above because everything to be said about him is a spoiler. Josh Hutcherson may not have had a lot of time on screen, but he had a ton to chew on with Peeta's complete and terrifying character change, which was handled like a pro -- perhaps because he is one. He makes us confused and worried and then creeped out, and by the end... total shock. I'm not exactly sure what to think of their digitally making him so thin, but I guess it would have been too much to do it the hard way, and unconvincing to let him look normal.

And the character only gets more interesting and complicated from here!

I also didn't mention Jena Malone's Johanna, partially for the same reason, but mostly because she gets all of about 4 seconds of screen time. Still, she's bald and crazy-looking and smiles perfectly and leaves an impression.

The part in the climax that I mentioned was brilliant was the immaculate way the raid to rescue the victors from the Capitol was cut in with Finnick telling his story in front of the camera, and Katniss looking on -- with a similar expression to ours as we feel the suspense. It was spellbinding for a while but it went on too long that way, and the spell broke before it was supposed to; but until then it was my favorite part of the movie.

Really, MAJOR end-of-the-movie SPOILERS now. Final warning.

I made two predictions concerning this film. First was that it would be better than the book, and for that we'll have to wait for full completion to see. The second was where Part 1 would leave off. I picked the right general time, but missed hitting it exactly by about 3 minutes. I guessed it would end right after Peeta tries to kill Katniss, and for a terrifying moment of blackened screen I panicked that I might be right. The last three-ish minutes were very nice of them to include, but the overall effect is the same; this film was stopped short smack in the middle; "cliffhanger" doesn't even describe it. The one in Catching Fire was where it was supposed to be -- this one... this was no place to end a movie. And a year from now we'll know whether it was worth it.

All I know now is that this is definitely the place to end this review.

Or maybe I should have made it into two parts.

Next movie -- last movie. Let's do this. We can. We can wait a year. A whole year...


  1. Didn't read the entirety of your review, Sarah since someday I'll watch this and share rambling thoughts on it, but I'm glad you seemed to like it well enough. It's ironic to see this follow in the footsteps of all the big YA book-to-movie series - I suppose doing parts 1 & 2 is a way to squeeze a little more time out of the series and more excitement. It's really just the way the movie biz operates. ;)

    1. I'll look forward to that, Rissi. :) Thanks, I did like it well enough, that exactly true -- I liked it well enough to approve of the decision to split the films. Whatever they're motivations may have been, I'm happy we'll get the extra time -- even if we do have to wait another year for it! I hope you enjoy it too! :)

  2. You already know what I thought about the movie for the most part, but we definitely agree on the lack of supporting cast screen time. There should have been more! And one thing about the movie that just seems weird is how engaging and entertaining I found the movie, even though it was all that thrilling in the traditional sense. I cannot describe it, but all of the political mind games really interested me. Great review always. :)

    I am looking forward to Part 2. Hopefully it will deliver!


    1. Yep, we agree pretty well! You're right, even though there was next to no action in this one, it was still so interesting, I wasn't bored for a second! Even knowing everything that was happening, so it must have been even more so for you! And that's good proof for why making it two parts was a good idea. :) Thanks!

      Me too, and I'm sure it will!