On the Silver Screen – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

Nov 22, 2014 | Posted by in Movies

The film adaptation of the final Hunger Games novel Mockingjay begins here with part 1 of a 2 part story set to round off the series. Doing things this way is becoming something of a trend among Young Adult franchises to pretty mixed results thus far. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pioneered this approach and managed to craft an entirely disposable first installment where not much happened with most of the action left for the second film. The final Twilight book Breaking Dawn took the opposite approach -as far as I can tell without actually having seen it myself- with the first film containing most of the plot and the second spending the majority of the run time doing not very much.

It’s not a good pantheon for Mockingjay to join and simply comes across as something of a soulless cash grab made for entirely financial reasons rather than creative ones. It makes sense from a bottom line point of view as a fan favourite franchise will make double the money if you split the final installment into two parts. The movie studio will be laughing all the way to the bank while we have to suffer the tedium of watching a plot stretched thin to fill two films.

It is my view that Mockingjay part 1 comes down on the side of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 1 by taking story that could be told in about half an hour and stretching it out to two hours with the promise of delivering the goods in the final installment. It seems that they’re going to keep doing this but never getting it right as evidenced here. The third Hunger Games book is by far the weakest of the three and if there were any of them that lend themselves to doubling up on film releases it would actually be the second one for me given that I felt that there was far more interesting stuff going on there.

MockingjayAs a book series, The Hunger Games is important for literature in general as it presents a strong, fully realised female lead who acts as an effective role model for young women. Katniss is smartly written and a complex character who carries these books wonderfully. Not to mention the fact that the books also encourage the reader to be suspicious of mass media, authority figures and presents a fairly on the nose class struggle within society. In essence it takes things that can be harmful in our society and presents them in a manner so extreme that it is designed to horrify the reader as well as make them think about their place in the world and what society is doing to them and others. It’s a provocative message to give to young people and it’s great that it’s reached so many people.

Unfortunately the films have almost entirely failed to capture this in any meaningful way. The first film suffers from really poor pacing and pretty clumsy direction that makes the games themselves descend into a mess of rapid cutting and confusion. Katniss is entirely robbed of her internal monologue that defines her character so completely in the books. This basically amounted to watching Jennifer Lawrence observing things without saying much which can be effective when used sparingly but in abundance doesn’t work. It comes down to what works on page not working on screen. Katniss is a woman of few words but her internal monologue lets the reader empathise with her character on a personal level, learn about the world she lives in and completely see it through her eyes. The film doesn’t build the world half as well and comes across as generally confusing to those who haven’t read the book.

The second film is better but brings along most of the problems from the first one. Katniss says more but still manages to say little of worth making the whole thing feel a bit fruitless. It doesn’t really do a better job of establishing the world and generally expects the viewer to just get on with it which would be fine if they’d managed to build the world effectively in the first one. It feels a bit more rushed than the first one but generally it clicks better as a story and as a film.

I’ve spent all of this review talking about the books and the first 2 films because I’ve never reviewed these before and felt that I should share my views on this series before moving on to the first part of the conclusion. It might help to contextualise my thoughts on this franchise.

As I said above I felt that this film was half an hour of plot stretched across a 2 hour running time which makes the narrative suffer in lots of ways. There are really effective things about the story and how it is told. Katniss’ role as a symbol for the rebellion following her rising popularity across her two stints in the games -as “The Girl on Fire” and later “The Mockingjay”- is covered really well and lays the groundwork for a battle against the establishment using the weapon of propaganda against them. It’s really relevant in modern society to fight battles by gaining support through social media and giving people a relatable symbol to rally behind.

The best parts of the movie involve them crafting Katniss’ persona and getting it entirely wrong initially. Eventually it’s realised that spontaneity is the reason people warmed to her and decide to forge ahead with a plan that allows her to be genuine. There’s a particularly effective scene where Katniss gives an impassioned speech about the evils committed by the government with so much enraged sincerity that it’s clear why people would be inspired by it. Jennifer Lawrence sells this scene perfectly and it marks a sense of dramatic maturity for the series.

Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) acts as the establishment’s version of Katniss in that he provides the voice of their policies and tries to rally people to leave things the way they are. This dichotomy between Peeta and Katniss combined with their history should be the narrative and emotional heart of the piece but it’s basically buried underneath all of the other plot that needs to be dealt with. Hutcherson plays the stoic certainty of Peeta really well and actually comes across as being genuine when he speaks publicly which actually works as being really unsettling. It’s clear that a shift in his character has occurred but the reason why remains unclear until towards the end.

Moments like this are very few and far between unfortunately with most of the bloated running time consisting of the characters hanging around in a bunker planning what they’re going to do rather than actually doing it. There are moments of progression with some fairly forgettable action scenes but on the whole it’s scene after scene of people planning to do things. There’s essentially no third act here which means that there could be an awkward disconnect if the next film begins at act 1 all over again. If splitting a story in two then each film should stand alone as a film.

The supporting cast are a mixed bag here with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julianne Moore as the figures of authority in the rebellion being the standout performances. Hoffman in particular steals every scene he’s in with his presence and serves to remind us what a loss to acting he is. I’d forgotten Woody Harrelson was in this until I checked IMDB for the cast list so I’m going to say that his role was vastly reduced and clearly not memorable to me. Same applies to Elizabeth Banks who appears a little more but not by much. She certainly doesn’t have any massive effect on the story as told. Liam Hemsworth makes for a really boring friend/love interest for Katniss. Gale is simply there but doesn’t actually really do anything. Lastly Donald Sutherland is a really boring villain as President Snow who doesn’t even have the courtesy to ham up his sloppy dialogue to make his scenes at least a little entertaining.

  • 3/10
    Mockingjay - 3/10


A complete waste of time as the first part of a story. This film takes 30 minutes worth of story and spreads it so clumsily across 2 hours that it can be a chore to watch sometimes.

There are some good moments like the exploration of Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss as a symbol to rally the troops against the establishment and attempts are made for some kind of social commentary. Unfortunately it all gets buried under the surrounding blandness and fails to make any real impact

Most of the film amounts to the characters sitting in a bunker for 2 hours planning to do things but barely doing any of them. There’s a definite sense that this is a cash grab and only serves as a placeholder for the -hopefully- faster paced and more exciting second part next year.

Strong performances from Josh Hutcherson, Jennifer Lawrence, Julianne Moore and Philip Seymour Hoffman aren’t enough to elevate this uninteresting material to anything resembling average. In general they should have left it as one slightly longer film.

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