Not gonna lie, I was a little nervous going into this film for a few reasons. First of all, now that I’ve read all of the books that the films are based on, I can confirm that Mockingjay is my least favorite of the trilogy, which seems to be the general consensus among most readers. I could go on a whole tangent about why it’s something of a letdown, but that would certainly require spoilers, and that’s not my thing. The splitting of Mockingjay into two films was another cause for concern. After all, the third book is roughly the same length as the first two, and I’d say about the same amount of stuff happens—maybe even less. Would a two-parter be justified? My final concern was simple: How the heck was this film going to live up to its spectacular predecessor, Catching Fire?
In my Catching Fire review, I expressed my desire that Mockingjay – Part 1 continue to up the ante—to turn up the heat like the girl on fire herself. But given how the trilogy’s plot unfolds, that’s kind of an unfair request. Mockingjay – Part 1 is definitely not as action-packed or thrilling as its predecessor…but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good. In fact, it’s still really, really good.
Synopsis: “When Katniss destroys the games, she goes to District 13 after District 12 is destroyed. She meets President Coin who convinces her to be the symbol of rebellion, while trying to save Peeta from the Capitol.” –Borrowed from my favorite movie site, IMDb
The Good: Is Jennifer Lawrence ever a bad place to start with these reviews? Because, seriously, Jennifer Lawrence. I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again in my Mockingjay – Part 2 review: J-Law is Katniss. She does a wonderful job of bringing the character to life, capturing her fierceness and her vulnerability perfectly. The story is undoubtedly all about Katniss, and Lawrence can shoulder that weight. Nonetheless, there were a few characters that I was pleased to see with some more screen time—especially Elizabeth Banks’ delightful Effie, who actually plays a much more minimal role in the third book, but the film cleverly makes room for her by nudging out a couple of less significant characters. I absolutely love what the films have done with Effie. Here, she’s stripped of her outlandish wigs and caked-on makeup, setting aside her vanity (mostly) to become the kind of driven person that Katniss needs at her side. We also get flashes of Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) in a much more vulnerable state than he’s ever been (though the real test of Hutcherson’s acting chops will be in Part 2), and we get a little more time with Gale (Liam Hemsworth), which is nice (because I feel like his character always gets the shaft). And can we talk about cool Natalie Dromer’s Cressida looks from just freaking sitting there (see below)?? Love that look. We see lots of intense chatting between Gamemaker-turned-rebel Plutarch (R.I.P. Philip Seymour Hoffman) and newly-introduced President Coin (Julianne Moore), which I think is a good way to get to know the latter. Even sweet little Prim (Willow Shields) gets more screen time, and it’s nice to see the sister bonding. Wow. I’ve talked a lot about characters, haven’t I? I’ll try to make the rest of this quick. I mentioned that this film isn’t as action-packed, but given how slow the first half of the book is, I actually feel that Part 1 does a good job keeping the pace up—particularly by showing glimpses of revolts across Panem that set the tone really well. Also, I may know how the book ends, but you don’t have to be a reader to see that this film is clearly setting up for a big ending. That’s pretty exciting.
Favorite Scene: There’s a song that’s fairly important in the book, and it’s carried into the film in the coolest possible way. Just watch the scene with “The Hanging Tree” and try not to get goosebumps.
The Bad: This is not Catching Fire all over again. It’s actually a film that delves more into the political aspects of Panem and some of Katniss’ emotional turmoil, and many people might not find that as easy to watch let alone enjoy. I don’t know if I’d call Part 1 the calm before the storm, but I can promise you that Part 2 will have much more action…for better or worse. Part 1 could ultimately be considered a set-up film—something that puts all the pieces in place for the big finish. Some might find that frustrating and say that not much happens. Personally, I didn’t feel that way after leaving the theater, but I also knew what I was getting into. Other than that…Well, Katniss cries a lot. Like, a lot. She certainly has every reason to, but after a few times it’s just like, “Okay! We get it! Her life sucks!” And can I just take a second to vent about how frustrating I find the treatment of Gale? Honestly, I blame the books more than I do the films, but each new Katniss-Gale scene begs the question: What purpose does Gale serve other than to be part of an unnecessary love triangle? I think Gale could be a cool character, and I’d really like him to be (and not just because we share a name, mind you), but all of his potential is wasted by making him pine over Katniss. Bummer.
Least Favorite Scene: Instead of a scene, I’m going to lament the treatment of Finnick (Sam Claflin) in this film. He’s a much more minor character than I expected him to be, and I really wish we could’ve seen more of his struggle. There’s even a scene where he reveals a horrific secret, but this pretty much becomes background noise as the focus is directed elsewhere. Finnick deserves better, and I’m hoping he gets that in Part 2.
To Sum It Up: Reaction to this film seems to be pretty mixed, but ultimately, I think it will be a worthy addition to the Hunger Games canon, particularly when connections are made with Part 2. Is it brimming over with action like Catching Fire? No. It’s much more subdued. But with fantastic performances, an intriguing story, an intense setting, lots of promise for an exciting sequel, and just enough action to still leave you satisfied, I’d say it’s worth the ticket price.
My Grade: A-