Just when I start singing their praises…
Part one of Mockingjay, the third installment of the Hunger Games series, is a major disappointment, primarily because it is abundantly clear how much the adaptation is stretched in order to split the release into two parts because that’s what Harry Potter did.
The movie follows Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) as she adjusts to life in the once-secret District 13, a fascist military district dedicated to overthrowing the totalitarian Capital. Everdeen struggles to make the adjustment, partially because she is being used as the main subject of the district’s propaganda films to incite further riots in the other districts, a series of uprisings which started after she broke the Hunger Games in Catching Fire. She is also worried for Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), who is forced into similar propaganda by the reigning government as part of a psychological war President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland) wages on Everdeen personally.
The film ends a little less than halfway through the plot of the book going by page number, but about a fifth of the way through going by plot points. The first two movies did an excellent job of only filming what was filmable and not trying to allot every individual chapter the same amount of attention. Mockingjay makes a major misstep here.
Additionally, this part one only runs 123 minutes, as opposed to the first films’ 140-plus minutes. There is simply no reason this could not be cut into one movie.
Despite taking all the time in the world, Mockingjay also misses its primary conflicts. The literate will know that the story comes to a head as Everdeen realizes the rebellion leader, President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), is just as much a dictator as the Snow, but that political conflict and cognitive dissonance is never addressed and barely hinted at. The movie focuses on Everdeen’s internal conflict, wanting both to promote civil war with an already brutally violent government while also preserving as many lives as possible.
Instead of having tributes trade blows, Everdeen and Mellark trade commercials. Lawrence has developed a talent for long shots in which she goes through her emotions for 30-45 seconds, often without lines, an extremely difficult feat for an actor, but also extremely ineffective if its used more than once. The strong, survivalist character the franchise has cultivated for six years spends most of this movie crying.
There’s not a lot of martial conflict in the part of the story that’s covered, but it’s shot just like the first two movies, which used excellent, backdoor-deal scenes to create tension leading up to a big action-survival payoff that took up half the movie’s runtime. That strategy doesn’t work when the action-survival payoff hits theaters late next year.
With a clear disrespect for the audience and failure to capture what makes this part of the story interesting, it is impossible to recommend this film.
Joshua Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, journalism and film student at the University of North Texas and news editor for the NT Daily. I’m a real pot of coffee by day, bottle of wine by night type of guy. I’ve had a change of heart about reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter when I can be bothered to make one, and shoot questions to email@example.com.