I must admit that when I heard that the studios were breaking down Mockingjay, the final installment in the Hunger Games trilogy into two movies, I was a bit skeptical as to how it was going to be done. Mockingjay was not longer than Hunger Games and Catching Fire, and did not have that much of material to spread into two films. Still, because Lionsgate did such a great job with the Catching Fire movie, I was compelled to check out the first part of the finale.
After the Quarter Quell ended with the rebels extracting Katniss and some of their allies from the games, Katniss wakes up in District 13, a district that many have believed to be decimated by the first war. She learns that after her act of defiance at the games, the Capitol retaliated by bombing District 12 and the remaining survivors are at being harbored by President Coin, the leader of 13. Because of her strong connection with the people in the districts, Katniss is asked to become the symbol of the revolution as the Mockingjay. Still worried about Peeta, who was left at the Capitol along with Joanna and Annie, Katniss strikes a deal to lead the revolution in exchange for Peeta’s safe return. But knowing President Snow, he does everything in his power to keep the rebellion from gaining control and if he has to kill a couple of thousand people to do it, so be it.
Catching Fire was leaps and bounds better than The Hunger Games but Mockingjay Part 1 had a different appeal. It was great in the sense that it felt like as the franchise progresses, the filmmaking evolves along with it. Whereas in the first movie, there was still a hint of innocence in some of the characters, that innocence and optimism that was tested to its limits in the second movie, and the third installment makes no bones about its quiet maturity.
The feel of the movie in itself was more serious, darker and more intense, and in this sense, it was more in line with the grittier depiction of war in Suzanne Collins’ book. As homes are destroyed, families divided and the people in the districts becoming more oppressed, Mockingjay makes no apologies about raising the stakes with powerful performances by its lead stars coupled with excellent filmmaking from Francis Lawrence, who also helmed Catching Fire. I think having the same director who understood the essence of the source material was a great asset in the filmmaking process as Lawrence was able to bring vision and consistency to the remainder of the franchise, same as what David Yates did for the Harry Potter movies.
While there were times that I thought Jennifer Lawrence was over-emoting as Katniss, I must admit that in the moments where she needed to shine as the leader of the rebellion, she did so with such intensity that no one would wonder why she is one of the youngest Oscar winners. I’m glad Phillip Seymour Hoffman was able to complete this installment before he died because he brought so much to the table as Plutarch Heavensensbee, the gamemaster, who knew how to play everyone. And the best part was he did it with such ease that it felt so natural. On the other hand, Elizabeth Banks was the perfect comic relief, yet, she provided a sense of wistfulness to the movie which was refreshing given the heavy content of the film. Woody Harrelson just kills it everytime and I’m interested how Josh Hutcherson tackles Peeta going to pieces in the next installment.
Among the great strengths of the movie was great character development – Gale was obviously being set up for what will happen in the final movie and while there was nothing much for his character in this installment, Liam Hemsworth delivered a moving performance (well, as much as the material would allow). I felt like Julianne Moore was not the best choice for the role of President Coin. She’s probably one of the best actresses in Hollywood and I love her but I felt like someone with a sterner look and a more rigid approach would have suited the role better.
The film had great buildup to the revolution. There were lots of cool scenes leading up to the attacks and I especially loved the tree climbing lumberjacks in District 7 and Les Miserable-lesque attack on the dam that supplies electricity to the Capitol. The scoring also helped set the mood of the story, and helped build the suspense when it was needed.
As expected, Mockingjay wrung out every part of the material that could be fleshed out and milked the source material for even the most minute detail, even those that the book did not expound on. It’s a good thing for fans of the book as Mockingjay followed the material quite faithfully. In doing two movies, there is little room for omission and plenty of space for embellishment so fans will have to see for themselves what will happen in the last film.
All in all, I think The Hunger Games franchise just keeps getting better with each installment and Mockingjay is so far the strongest film in the set. It’s a good indication for what’s to come and I hope that the final movie does not disappoint seeing as how the momentum is at its peak.