Monday, December 8, 2014

New Release! The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 (2014)

Have no fear! This review contains no spoilers!

Director: Francis Lawrence

This is certainly not a series that, on my own, I would have sought out. However, when the book series had reached the level of popularity that couldn't be ignored, I caved and read the first book, The Hunger Games. It was decent enough, for a young adult novel that relies mostly on borrowed ideas melded together in a plot-driven action tale. I began the second book, Catching Fire, but grew bored rather quickly and gave up.

I saw the first film, which I thought was entertaining enough, and rather true to the source novel. The second film was a little more of a chore to watch, taking nearly an hour to get past a dull emotional slog that only fans of the books could probably find engaging. Still, it was decent enough that I was OK with the prospect of joining some family members to take in the recent installment of the films: Mockingjay, Part 1.

If you've read any of the accusations leveled towards the movie that it is a blatant money grab, I can't completely disagree with them. One can argue that this two-hour-and-twenty minute movie really had only about an hour of solid material in it. While it does move the plot forward, it does so intermittently, with a lot of bland, emotionally drab filler in between.

Without giving anything away, the heroine of the series, Katniss Everdeen, has survived the rigors of her second Hunger Games, as chronicled in Catching Fire. However, she is now embroiled in a nation-wide revolution to overthrow the seemingly invincible aristocracy based in the Capitol. While there are some action sequences in the movie, illustrating the revolution's military movements, much of the movie focuses on Katiss's involvement in a large-scale propaganda war. These media-driven machinations play out through television screens, which I found watered down most of the emotional impact they might otherwise have.

Sorry, but no amount of future chic clothing or icy glares can
add  the gravity that this film was trying so desperately to
convey to us viewers.
A much larger problem is the development of Katniss's character. For someone who made her name with a completely selfless act of altruistic sacrifice by taking her sister's place in the Hunger Games two years prior, she becomes annoyingly self-absorbed. Sure, she's had some horrible things happen to her, but she starts to act and behave in ways that don't conform at all with who she was or what she was about as this series began. Change is one thing, but what Katniss becomes smacks a little too much of weak writing in the name of contrived drama. It felt as if the writers, whether it was novelist Suzanne Collins or the movie's script writers, were trying to appeal to teen readers' base egoism. It's also probably just simple misfortune for everyone involved that Jennifer Lawrence has, since first bringing Katniss to life a few years ago, outgrown this role in every way. At this stage, she's far too strong an actress to be playing an inexplicably whining teen.

Mockingjay, Part 1 may ultimately fit better within the larger scale of the entire series, once the final film comes out next year. For now, though, it is easily the weakest of the series, and it is one that only people familiar with the series should bother seeing. First-time viewers who have neither read the books nor seen the first two film adaptations will likely be left wondering what the fuss is about.