Review: THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY - PART 1 Slows Series To A Crawl
With two global smashes that have banked $1.5 billion between them, the Hunger Games series has captured the imagination of spectators around the world with a well-balanced combination of spectacle and emotional depth. Mockingjay - Part 1, the first part of the last book in the series, breaks with the format set up in the previous chapters by not offering any 'Hunger Games' and, though still sporting a blend of set pieces and character-based moments, glacial pacing and a morbid, self-serious tone make this a pale successor to the colorful and engrossing Catching Fire.
Following her rescue by rebels at the end of the last games, Katniss Evergreen is brought to the secret underground camp of District 13, where rebel leaders ask her to be their 'Mockingjay'. Fretting over the fate of Peeta, who remained behind in the Capitol, Katniss is brought to her home District 12, which has been completely ravaged, in order to reawaken her revolutionary spirit. Once she takes up the rebel leader mantle, she visits battlegrounds with a production team to shoot propaganda videos, while at the same time Peeta is revealed to be alive when he appears on air, urging rebels to put down their weapons.
Two-parters are a tricky proposition. Sometimes a big story is clearly split into separate parts (such as the Lords of the Rings trilogy) but these days books that stand as single works are being broken down into separate films, and the results have not been welcomed by all (such as the soon to conclude The Hobbit trilogy). The last Harry Potter and the final Twilight books were both split in half, and following the bags of cash they brought home, the concluding tome of Hunger Games has unsurprisingly undergone the same treatment.
However, there really isn't enough story to warrant this move with Mockingjay. Not a great deal happens in Part 1, which leaves much of the running time to the relationships that form the core of the film. This former strength of the series is stretched to THE breaking point through tedious repetition and by being too central to the plot. As ever, Jennifer Lawrence excels in the lead and can ably handle the material thrown her way but even she can't save Katniss from seeming like an overly emotional wreck as a lack of action confines her to large stretches of melodrama. In addition to J-Law's anchoring presence, strong support is once again on hand in the form of Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Jeffrey Wright, new addition Julianne Moore and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, to whom the film is dedicated.
The most interesting aspect of the film is the war of attrition between the rebels and the Capitol as they both produce a series of highly constructed videos that are aimed to manipulate their intended audiences. We've already seen this through Stanley Tucci's gregarious MC during his hosting of the games in previous instalLments, but here the freedom fighters descend to the same tactics to get their point across. The Hunger Games films once again explore the powerful effect of media, showing it as a dangerous force that bends to people's designs, but not only for the power-hungry.
If pushed to describe the film in one word, that might have to be bloated. With scenes that make their point early and drag on far too long, and others that either repeat information we've already been fed or offer us nothing at all, Mockingly - Part 1 is a super-sized but far from filling addition to the franchise. At one point, not one but three reaction shots are used to give a sense of the destruction of District 12, in a scene that comes almost an hour after we first witnessed the location's annihilation. That propensity to rehash and drag out spoils what is otherwise a handsomely produced film that attempts to say something about our society and human nature, which is more than could be said of the majority of effects-driven spectacles.
Next November's Part 2 will surely pick up the pace and feature a bombastic climax to the battle between the oppressed and the oppressors, but let's hope this financially-driven narrative chop will have left enough in the back end to drive the franchise to a strong finish.