By Iris Wang, Staff Writer
Cartoon by Alex Shimotake, Cartoonist
In Mockingjay: Part 1, the dystopian nation of Panem is thrown into chaos after the destruction of the Hunger Games. The Districts are rebelling, the Capitol is retaliating mercilessly, and District 13 is preparing for offensive maneuvers. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) becomes the emblem of the rebellion led by District 13 against the Capitol, while struggling to maintain her public image as she suffers from PTSD and fear that the Capitol is torturing Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), her fellow District 12 tribute and fake-turned-real lover.
Compared to its two predecessors in The Hunger Games series, Mockingjay: Part 1 suffers from an overall lack of cohesiveness and purpose to the plot. However, it is carried by its talented cast and convincing special effects, which make it a still highly enjoyable and memorable film.
Mockingjay: Part 1 remains relatively similar to its book counterpart. However, the faithfulness of the film adaptation leads it to inherit some of the book’s weaknesses, such as a lack of a strong, compelling storyline, especially near the beginning of the story.
In addition, like in several other lucrative film franchises that are adaptations of popular YA novels, the producers of The Hunger Games franchise decided to split the last book of the series into two movies, for what were clearly only financial reasons. Especially since Mockingjay is a relatively short novel, the already-weak plotline is further degraded in this movie because the most exciting, climactic action in the book appears to have been saved for the final film. As a result, Part 1 is a rather clumsy hodgepodge of angst, filler action, and fluff.
One redeeming aspect of the movie was the way it flushes out parts of the storyline in a way the book, which was told from Everdeen’s perspective, couldn’t do so. Scenes showing rebellions in the Districts and President Snow’s doubtful personnel help to realistically depict the gradual decline of the Capitol’s regime. One particularly moving scene is Everdeen singing “The Hanging Tree,” a haunting folk song that becomes a sort of rallying anthem for the districts. While the book only mentions the song once, the movie utilizes it and turns it into a memorable theme.
Everdeen, scarred by traumatic experiences, spends most of the movie on the bench instead of in the middle of the action, making her a rather unlikeable protagonist in this film. The audience’s sympathy for her is founded not in her actions but rather by the memory of Everdeen’s admirable fierce independence and bravery in previous films. In the most dramatic scene, a rescue mission for the victors held captive in the Capitol, Everdeen stands by helplessly, watching events unfold on a screen.
The few parts where Everdeen does take action seem forced and drawn out, as if they were added to the script purely to give her a chance to redeem herself to the audience. Even these scenes–Everdeen finding her sister, Everdeen shooting down a hovercraft with explosive arrows she was conveniently provided with moments before–are subpar.
Nevertheless, Everdeen is well portrayed by Lawrence, who has matured over the course of the franchise. She shines in this film as a traumatized Everdeen, who is trying to balance the demands of her “Mockingjay” role and her true self: a scared teenager who just wants to protect her loved ones. While angsty scenes in movies tend to quickly become repetitive and dull, Lawrence’s talented acting manages to keep them raw and painful.
Mockingjay: Part 1 features many important supporting characters played by an impressive cast. Among the most notable are Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), who is given an expanded role in the movie and provides necessary mild comic relief, and the chilly, calculating President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore). Plutarch Heavensbee is played brilliantly by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, who passed away this February and to whom the film is dedicated.
The producers of this film spared no expense when it came to special effects, and it showed. The vast scale and militarism of District 13, which is an extensive underground bunker, and the mass death and destruction caused by Capitol bombings, are startlingly realistic. In addition, the computer-generated imagery of Hutcherson is very well done, as over the course of the film, Peeta Mellark’s condition in captivity steadily deteriorates. The soundtrack is also catchy, and the film achieves a good balance between the excessive shakiness of the camera in The Hunger Games and its unrealistic smoothness in Catching Fire.
Overall, despite its weak points, Mockingjay: Part 1 is an appealing penultimate film with a powerful cast and high-quality visuals that leave fans eagerly waiting for the next and final installment of The Hunger Games saga.