The Mockingjay Lives: Review of “Mockingjay, Part 1”
Oddly enough, when I went into my showing of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1, I felt maudlin. Like The Dark Knight before it, Mockingjay gave us some of the best marketing in the many months leading up to its premiere. At one point, I was more excited about the reveal of the latest promo video than the actual film. Here’s hoping the marketing for the second part, due out next year, does not fall flat.
Anyway, onto the actual movie. Please tread carefully, as there will definitely be spoilers ahead.
A few caveats: this was the first Hunger Games film I saw in theaters and also the first film of the series that I saw after reading the books. Before this, I had only the integrity of the film and my best friend (who had read the books before any of us) to explain anything I did not understand. Therefore, I watched this film acknowledging that I was bringing the baggage of the book and at times, often wondered if I would find it as accessible had I not read it.
For those who have NOT read the Hunger Games trilogy: you may be surprised by how dark and violent this film is. Based on The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, you may go in expecting the subdued violence of the Games and the overt bad-versus-good dichotomy of the Capitol versus the rest of the districts. Mockingjay, however, has none of these. At it’s most basic, it’s a political thriller.
Fans of the books will find this an improvement over the novel. Since its release, Mockingjay has been lambasted by readers as being the most boring of the series, due to the fact that it takes place almost entirely in District 13 and within Katniss’ seemingly passive inner monologue. By removing Katniss’ inner monologue, the filmmakers were free to explore more of the secondary characters and not be dragged down by the monotony of life in District 13.
If you have not read the books, however, I can easily see how Mockingjay may be a jarring and confusing experience. Plot points that are key elements of the novels, such as Finnick’s relationship with Annie, the Capitol’s cruelty towards Avoxes, and the mere existence of the underground and fully operational District 13, are presented as if all the viewers are already well aware of their existence. While a bit of backstory is given, I doubt there was enough exposition to explain things to new viewers.
Like I said, Mockingjay is a dark film, and viewers should be aware that the violence is predominantly gun-related and bombings, which can be upsetting. Furthermore, there is a sequence during the bombing of District 13 where power is out and flashing emergency lights are used. Contrasting against the darkness of the suspenseful scene, the bright flashing lights can be triggering and there was a distinctly claustrophobic feel to this scene.
Casual viewers may be surprised by how political charged the movie is, especially when they may be expecting a straightforward YA adaptation about a love triangle. The so-called love triangle (which I never felt was all that important or even truly real) takes a major backseat in Mockingjay. Gale, finally, is given his moment to shine and while his fixation on destroying the Capitol and blind acceptance of President Coin isn’t explored all that much, it’s clear that Gale is now a soldier and nothing more.
Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss has matured but in an extremely damaged way and there were several scenes where she suffered from panic attacks. Her reactions to the destruction of her home, Peeta’s torture, and the bombing of the hospital felt real and not at all overdone. While I still wish The Hunger Games had explored casting a woman of color in Katniss’ role, I can’t deny that Jennifer Lawrence has done a solid job of portraying this complex hero.
I also enjoyed (which may be the wrong word for it) Peeta’s scenes, which were almost all done via Capitol propaganda. I have no idea if Josh Hutcherson actually lost weight for the role or if it was SFX, but Peeta was a gaunt, ghostly shell and he was capable of breaking your heart. I genuinely can’t wait to see his struggle and final redemption in the second film next year.
Another high point was Plutarch, Beetee, Effie, and the rest of the people behind the propaganda for the rebels. I found it thrilling that Mockingjay wasn’t afraid of showing how similar District 13 is to the Capitol in its use of ideology and symbols for essentially brainwashing purposes. A great many of our us-versus-them films stick to a stark black and white theme (ex. Star Wars, the Harry Potter series). The Hunger Games shows us the shades of grey and how easy it is for a hero to become a villain. Fan favorites such as Haymitch and Effie were used sparingly but enough to provide moments of much-needed levity.
Unfortunately, President Coin, played by Julianne Moore, was a weak spot in an otherwise well-casted film. For some reason, I could not remove Moore the actress from Coin the character. I just saw Moore in a grey wig. While she is definitely a good actress, she was definitely too young for the role and rather vapid. Perhaps the second film, which will show more of Coin’s plans, will give her more to work with.
I was also disappointed in the way Finnick’s revelation of his sexual abuse at the hands of President Snow and Snow’s own dark history was presented. Due to the way Finnick’s promo was edited, it felt jumpy and the audience was too busy focusing on the suspenseful aspects of the scene (which I won’t go into here) to pay much attention to Finnick. I always felt that this moment was a crucial one and thoroughly shows the true horrors of the Capitol but sadly, it did not deliver the same hard-hitting punch as it did in the novel.
Overall, Mockingjay is the probably the superior film in the series so far but I do think it’s not as gripping or entertaining as the thrilling Catching Fire. There are moments that can definitely make you cry or shock you and the ending will make you anxious for the next one, which we have to wait a whole other year for. If you were disappointed in the book, you will be pleasantly surprised by the film and definitely engaged by it. If you haven’t read the books, you may be confused but I highly doubt that will prevent you from being wrapped up in the gripping suspense of Mockingjay.
Did you see Mockingjay yet? What were your thoughts? How are you going to handle the yearlong wait for the next one? Tell us below!
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