'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1' Doesn't Live Up To Its Own Expectations

Ensign Lestat's Film Log, 06/12/14

'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1' has landed with much fanfare. It's release was always going to be huge, it'll rake in a fair amount at the global box office. However, try as I might, this film just doesn't work for me.

I've mentioned before that what attracted me to the first film was its subversive nature - a strong female hero with self-taught skills who holds her own throughout. The second film in the series, 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' ruined some of that subversion - the love triangle became front and centre, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) became less independent, more of a tool for the powers that be. She went with the tide, rather than create it. It was entertaining, but I found it very disappointing.

As soon as I heard that the Mockingjay book would be split into two films, I knew the first one would be tedious, at best. Every young adult franchise has decided it must split the final book in two, because 'Harry Potter and the Death Hallows' did it. The two-part adaptation of that book didn't work either. Part 1 had no momentum, and the addition of several cringe-worthy scenes didn't help either. But, as is always the case with Hollywood, they have a one-track mind, and that one track only leads to money. Why rake in moolah for only three films when you can do it for four? It doesn't matter if the quality dips drastically, people will see it. Only true.

'Mockingjay' takes off from the end of 'CF'. Katniss and her family are now holed up in the erstwhile District 13, and her pseudo-boyfriend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) is now part of the District 13 SWAT team (ok, they're not an actual SWAT team, but they sure as hell act like one). We are introduced to one billion new characters - D13 President, Coin (Julianne Moore), military head Boggs (Mahershala Ali), D8 leader Commander Paylor (Patina Miller), and Katniss' very own TV crew led by Cressida (Natalie Dormer) and three other camera crew. Those are just the ones I remember. There are way too many characters in this film, and I felt, throughout, that no one got enough screen time, even though the film goes on for two hours.
Boggs and Cresida - two of the many new characters.
Essentially this film follows the rebellion, and Katniss becoming a symbol of the same. But she gets to do very little rebelling. At first she's petulant and angry because Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) has been captured by the Capitol, and she fails to heed anything but that. She's not a part of the rebellion, she reacts, but doesn't initiate anything. Her not being a proactive character immediately deviates from the uniqueness of her character in the first film.
Peeta - Prisoner of War.
I haven't read the books. However, avid fans have said that the film is a very faithful adaptation of the book. The source material itself does not reflect how unique the character of Katniss could have been. While the whole concept of a death match being made for entertainment is horrifying (and the fact that the players, or tributes as they're referred to, are prettied up and glamourised before and after victory, is an apt commentary on the effects of reality television), the films appear to focus more on that celebrity machine rather than the actual plot and the development of the characters.

In 'MJ1' a lot of time is spent on Katniss' propaganda videos, but not enough on how Katniss is progressing the rebellion, or the actual rebellion itself (most of which is told to us or implied). The rest of the cast literally spend the entire time standing about.

Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) is barely on screen, and his mentor role takes a backseat to his non-existent role.
That's the extent of his usefulness.
President Coin looks irritated for the most part, only coming alive during the raid scene (when she's barking orders at everyone) and spends most of her screen-time making grandiose speeches to the hapless public.
Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) looked awfully pleased with himself throughout the film - as if he was biting back a laugh about a joke only he knew. Beats me why he looked this way, but he was hardly on screen, and when he was, it was to project the non-existent greatness of Katniss.
D13 leaders.
Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) returns to talk about fashion, and she was really annoying. More important matters could have been discussed while she was fawning over her lack of wigs and Katniss' warrior outfit. Who cares, anyway?
Donald Sutherland's President Snow appeared a couple of times, sneered at the camera, and then disappeared. I can't remember if he did anything significant, except at the end when he informed the heroes that he knew their plan all along.
President Snow.
I was really disappointed in Dormer's role. I'm not a big fan of hers - she only ever seems to do one thing in her roles, but she's talented. I was sure the trailers and promos hinted at her being part of the military, so it was really weird to see her directing the propaganda videos and egging on Katniss like some soulless talk show host. What a waste!
Beetee (Jeffrey Wright) was one of my favourite additions to 'CF' because Wright just has a way of being the super-coolest person in every scene he's in. Where we could have developed a seriously great arc for him (he lost his life-partner in 'CF' and we see that he's in a wheelchair due to the lightning strike at the end of the previous film), all we get is a semi-Q figure, providing the SWAT teams with gear. A complete waste!
Always the coolest in the room.
I want to pause here and mention, most of the characters appear together in round-table meetings, but nothing strategic is discussed here. They discuss how Katniss should behave on camera. Not, how to attack Capitol and free the Victors, not how to aid the rebellion without being discovered - nope, Katniss being likeable on TV is of highest importance. Without the Games in this film, we have nothing to break the monotony of the story. Whatever action is taken happens all of a sudden. Suddenly a rescue op is being carried out for Peeta - no clue who strategised or how, it just happens.
Peeta is seen in a grand total of three and a half scenes - where he pleads his lines about stopping the rebellion, while diminishing in stature. CGI and makeup make him look emaciated, but that's it. When he's rescued, he tries to kill Katniss (and almost succeeds). We are told (not shown) that he's been brainwashed into believing she's the enemy. Great. And that's the entirety of his role. 
Much was made of him being a damsel in distress, and it's an important subversion of the trope, except, he is one of many to be rescued, and he's rescued by a SWAT team of people who are not Katniss. Heck, in that sense, 'Captain America: The First Avenger' subverts the trope much better (the Captain goes on a solo mission to rescue his tortured male friend in distress). 

Gale literally follows Katniss around like an oversized puppy - only coming into his own when he's away from Katniss on the rescue op with Boggs. Gale hardly appeared in the first two films, they could've given him more to do in this one. He's shown to suddenly be a military man - it would have made sense to at least show us his training regime to know how come Boggs is so reliant on him. 
Gale - The silent soldier.
He gets to narrate to us his last moments in District 12 - this would have worked best if the narrative had been mixed with flashbacks, effectively giving Liam Hemsworth the chance to actually act instead of brood (what is with these brooding heroes, anyway).
Finnick - depressed and worried.
Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin), who was such a delightful revelation in 'CF' mopes about in a depressed state over his also-captured girlfriend Annie. The only time he's given something to do is make a distracting tell-all propaganda video (more on that in a bit). I get he's depressed, but he was in on the rebellion well before Katniss, so how come he sits about doing nothing? And if he's worried about Annie as much (if not more) than Katniss is about Peeta, why isn't he lashing out like she is, or why isn't he forming as assault team - he was more than capable of doing so in the previous film.
When he's finally asked to do something, it's at the very end of the film. The power in Capitol has been cut by the rebellion, but Beetee is able to switch on some power in the building holding the Victors. To distract Snow from this, Beetee broadcasts Finnick's propaganda video. Trouble is, while Finnick is talking, we are following the op. The editing is very distracting - it was hard to concentrate on what Finnick was saying, because the rescue op was obviously way more interesting. Not only were we focusing on those two, but also on Katniss and the D13 team orchestrating the entire thing - way too much in one scene.

Apparently the rescue happens off-page in the book, so I'm glad it got some much-needed screentime here. But, did we need to concentrate on what Finnick was saying? Had he just been giving the audience information that we were previously privy to but the Capitol audience were not, I think it would have made a lot of sense. Or if his narrative directly related to the goings-on in the rescue (which is far-fetched, indeed). But Finnick tells the audience about Snow's heretofore unknown dirty secrets, and I was able to catch very little of it.

Apparently, Snow had an eye for attractive Victors and pimped them out. Finnick was definitely one of them. That's a disturbing turn indeed, and made me question the world more.

Johanna Mason (Jena Malone, seen for a grand total of half a second in this film) in 'CF' was vehement in wanting to live her own life after having played and won the Games. We know that the Victors continue to go on silly tours every year, where they are treated as royalty. Hence I get Johanna's anger at having to participate yet again. But, if what Finnick says is true, then life after the Games appears to be a greater hell than in them! Unless Johanna was not one of Victors to have caught Snow's eye, hence was unaware that this stuff happened.

What I find interesting is that a female writer always throws a curveball when it comes to the characters and their experiences - I mentioned how I loved that athletic and gorgeous Finnick is devoted to a mentally unstable woman, and that you were unlikely to see that in a story written by a male (not true for all of course, in Ed McBain's 87th Precinct series, Detective Steve Carella loves his wife Teddy, and she's hearing impaired). So, I found it interesting that Suzanne Collins gives us this home-truth about Snow through Finnick - we are far more used to seeing a female character make a revelation like that. It's still dark though, and causes a lot of problems for the overall world of the book.

'MJ1' still has some action, but absolutely no pace or momentum. It concentrates on the characters, but doesn't develop them. It expands the world, but doesn't fill it. There's way too much going on, with nothing happening. In conclusion it loses its own plot, which is a real shame, given that Katniss was supposed to be the hero that young girls were supposed to look up to.
There should have been more of this in the film.


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