Splitting the final film of a popular book-turned-movie series into two parts is all the rage these days, as the makers of the Harry Potter, Twilight and now The Hunger Games series have all opted to do so. Detractors decry the overt commercialism of these moves, while supporters rejoice in an extra chance to spend time with their favorite characters.
Whatever side of the debate you fall on, the results have been iffy at best. But The Hunger Games is looking to buck that trend with Mockingjay - Part 1, the first step toward all-out revolution in the world of Panem.
Instead of just throwing Katniss into war, they make her struggles fully real for the audience, which results in a more powerful drama.
The film throws the audience directly into Katniss Everdeen’s (Jennifer Lawrence) new reality: living underground in the recently revealed District 13. There, 13’s President Coin (Julianne Moore), former gamesmaker Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and others try to convince Katniss to become the face of the revolution against the Capitol, something she is loath to do.
But when she sees videos of Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) suffering at the hands of President Snow (Donald Sutherland), along with what happened to her former home in District 12, she complies. With the help of Effie (Elizabeth Banks), Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Katniss starts to become whom she is meant to be, whether she likes it or not.
One’s enjoyment of Mockingjay - Part 1 depends on two factors. First and most obviously, you have to know that you will not get closure in this film. Second and most important, there is very little action. The first part is all about setting up the battle royale in part two, and the filmmakers have saved most of the big set pieces for that film.
That said, there’s much to love about part one. Commercial qualms aside, splitting the final film in two is good for both lovers of the books and movie fans. By devoting almost an entire film to Katniss’ uneasiness at being the virtual leader of the revolution, director Francis Lawrence and his team were able to really delve into details that would be glossed over otherwise.
Instead of just throwing her directly into war, which would happen if the whole story was told in two-and-a-half to three hours, they make her struggles fully real for the audience, which results in a more powerful drama. It also makes the few action scenes in the film impactful in a way that they wouldn’t be if the movie were full of them.
The filmmakers also deserve credit for not sugarcoating the darker parts of the story. The film definitely falls in the PG-13 range, but the themes it covers make it feel closer to an R. The film is definitely not for younger children, and even older viewers may find themselves shocked at various violent acts, implied or otherwise.
At this point in the series, the interactions between the characters are as important to the story’s success as any plot twists. Despite their somewhat dire circumstances, it’s a pleasure to see Katniss, Effie, Haymitch, Gale and others band together to get things done. They all feel essential to the plot, especially in a film that features more dialogue than fighting.
The film is an actor’s idea of heaven and nearly all of them rise to the challenge. Lawrence is as great as ever, as is the late Hoffman, Banks, Harrelson and newcomer Moore. Even actors in smaller roles, like Jeffrey Wright, Sam Claflin and Natalie Dormer, make the most of their moments in the spotlight.
There is no real resolution in Mockingjay - Part 1, but it delivers more than enough to satisfy fans while they endure the yearlong wait for Part 2. War is coming, and the calm before the storm is the perfect way to prepare the audience for the end of the story.