Never has so little been done so well.
“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1” is the first part of the final installment of the Hunger Games universe. This time Katniss, Peeta, and the rest of the crew find themselves outside of the Games as the story pushes towards a conclusion that will impact the entire world in which they live. Jennifer Lawrence once again returns as our arrow slinging heroine, putting the weight of world on her shoulders as she finds her own way through the confusing mess of war, politics, and morality. Just so I’m clear, The war and morality are the confusing mess in that sentence not the movie itself. The movie itself is actually pretty straight forward and understandable, well, except for the part where nothing actually happens and there is no real conclusion, but we will get to that here in a second.
First though lets pile on the praise! Mockingjay Part 1 is a really well made film. Not that its much of a surprise after how deftly they’ve already been handling this material, but still you can feel the confidence of movie making flying from the screen. The acting is all on point, Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson, who plays Peeta, are still great as the leads. Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks as Haymitch and Effie as still genuinely funny and engaging, and Donald Sutherland continues to imbue President Snow with a grounded darkness that oozes off the screen. Also of note is Julianne Moore, who steps in as rebel leader President Coin and does really great work. And of course it’s bittersweet to see Philip Seymour Hoffman who continued to put in great work here as well. I also enjoyed the continued sense that these stories are really a cultural commentary on propaganda and how news culture continues to merge with entertainment. That theme continues to grow and mature with some keen observation. Plus, the score was great, the cinematography was beautiful, the effects were well placed, and the tone was perfect. I mean this really was some of the best movie making I’ve seen all year, except for one thing,
Nothing happens! And I don’t even mean that in a not enough stuff blows up kind of way, (although that’s true as well) I mean seriously, the progression of the story takes so few steps forward it’s hardly worth calling it a plot. If the movie was a mountain climb, it would be shots of struggling, and swinging pick axes, and finding footholds, and glances to the next place to grab, and then after about two hours of this we’d pan back and the climber would still be two feet off the ground. Stories need to progress, but here we just get shot after shot of Katniss staring intently and emoting about something, to hide the fact that not much is really going on. I think there are two reasons for this. 1, the fact that we are now out of the actual Hunger Games steals some of the life and clever action that made the first two work so well. but 2, and probably mostly, it’s the classic 2 movie syndrome. This could have easily been condensed to the first 30 minutes of a complete telling of the Mockingjay story, but of course it’s much more lucrative to do two movies, so 2 it is. The result is that it feels slow and stretched out, and that there is no resolution or complete experience. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good serialized storytelling experience, TV is full of them, but the current way movies are made and released just doesn’t work well for them, and I think Part 1 of this story suffers greatly because of it. Either make one complete movie or make two complete movies, but stop with this nonsense of making two half movies and asking us to wait a year to get to the other half. It’s kinda like getting to a fancy restaurant, paying for a meal, getting an appetizer, and then being asked to come back in a year for the main course, oh and by the way, you’ll need to pay again when you come back. But it will be worth it, I promise. Talk about Hunger Games.
At the end of the day, The Hunger Games, Mockingjay Part 1 is a supremely gifted seat filler, keeping the seat warm for us while we wait for the real story to happen. There is plenty of talent on display here, with some incredible performances and beautiful scenery, but there just isn’t enough going on here to merit anything more than a disappointing C+