The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is a boring trainwreck which focuses itself on political “intrigue” to the point where the film itself is devoid of any true conflict or tension until the final twenty minutes. Seeing that this is a film with a runtime of 123 minutes, that means this movie is really worth only one-sixth of the ticket price.
Sadly, it appears Lionsgate has opted against a $2 movie ticket. So in all earnest, it is quite impossible for me to recommend this experience to anybody except those who want a very expensive nap. Because in all likelihood, the performances in this movie by Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen and Julianne Moore as President Alma Coin will give you the greatest sleep you’ve had in years. I expected better from director Francis Lawrence, seeing his previous work on 2007’s I Am Legend and his previous installment in this franchise, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.
The main issue with The Hunger Games as a film franchise is that they’ve had a difficulty striking a balance between the political intrigue and the physical action. In the first movie, the focus was mainly on Katniss attempting to survive. In the second movie, while she does go back to the games, they aren’t really the focus of the film. Rather, everything is squared around the idea that there is something larger moving behind the scenes, and the action, while present, takes a backseat to that. Overall, the second movie worked in that aspect. So far, it’s the best in the franchise.
Mockingjay decided to shift completely to the opposite end of the spectrum and focus more on the political machinations involved in rebellion, mostly being a character drama with little action. The thing is, being a character drama gives you absolutely no excuse to be boring! 12 Angry Men was able to escalate dramatic tension perfectly with no movie beforehand to set it up, no physical action whatsoever, and with the entire movie being set in one room. With all the resources at their disposal, Mockingjay could have and should have done better.
The straight matter of fact here is that this movie was flat out boring. Katniss never really sees action aside from the one scene shown to death in trailers. Rather her character is moping around in a rut around District 13. While that may be realistic to the situation her character is in, it’s also not very entertaining. Realism at the cost of entertainment isn’t a plus, it’s a hindrance. And even so, in a movie where the dystopian government creates genetic monstrosities in war games for amusement, it’s hard to accept realism as an excuse.
The fact is, however, even moping around can be done right if the actor/actress is skilled enough. Jennifer Lawrence, on the other hand, quite honestly made me laugh at a few points where you really, really shouldn’t have laughed, and it’s because her performance felt forced. It is quite obvious that Ms. Lawrence’s acting is much greater when she has other characters to bounce off of, and situations like that are just too few and far between in this movie due to the source material.
Pair this with a setting where everybody is either wearing a mottled grey jumpsuit in a dimly lit subterranean network of bomb shelters or rags and tatters in a war zone filled with grey rubble and the remains of what they used to call human, and the setting seems much more bleak than before. In the first two movies, the Capitol exists as a significant chunk of the setting, making this an intriguing Crapsaccharine World. Here, it’s just bleak setting after bleak setting in an utterly Crapsack World with an emotionally damaged main character who doesn’t really do much of anything. It only serves to make the audience completely apathetic about anything you’re trying to show.
Something was definitely lost in the shift between Catching Fire and Mockingjay. In the former, the brightly colored setting of the Capitol and the arena greatly contrast against each other which intentionally serves to unnerve the viewer to great effect. In the latter, that contrast simply isn’t there and once everything is open to air, it’s just an overall unengaging experience.
Overall, the only major character who wasn’t a bore to watch was Plutarch Heavensbee, as played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman. They say you shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, so it’s a good thing he’s the best actor in this film. He managed to steal every scene he was present in, admittedly not too difficult seeing his costars. This is an excellent final performance and Mr. Hoffman will be well remembered for this swan song.
One nice world building detail is that we finally get to see districts other than District 12, but sadly they’re all generalized to the point of being a Planet of Hats. That isn’t just a problem with the movie, it’s a problem with the series as a whole. The Capitol is technicolor hell, Districts 1, 2, and 4 are all rich bastards, District 3 is where the nerds lives, District 5 is the electricity land, District 7 is where the lumberjacks live and Districts 11 and 12 are poverty-striken developing nations. It shows a clear lack of effort on the part of the writers, and since the protagonist didn’t really have anything to do in this movie, they might as well have developed the other locales.
Overall, this simply isn’t a movie I can recommend you see in theaters. Part 2 is shaping up to be much more exciting, so you should rent this from Redbox on the cheap right before Part 2 comes out in 2015. But paying $15 for a ticket to a sub-par performance that rivals melatonin in treating insomnia? No, this movie just simply isn’t worth it.