[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B00O82WM5C][/pullquote] It’s safe to say that The Hunger Games has joined the ranks of the powerhouse Young Adult franchises. It’s also safe to say it is clearly the absolute best the genre has to offer. While Harry Potter is wildly inconsistent in terms of film quality and Twilight is just completely awful, the first Hunger Games film was flawed but clearly had a lot of potential. It wasn’t until the sequel, Catching Fire that the series came into its own. Finding a fantastic director in Francis Lawrence, it ditched the slightly dodgy plotting and incomprehensible shaky cam action scenes of its predecessor and was an emotional, well written, and extremely fun adventure leading up to an obviously explosive and massive finale for the series.
Now, the next instalment has much to live up to. It could easily go the way of the Harry Potter series, slowly sliding into a sense of delusional self-satisfaction with its own epicness, even when it is failing miserably, or go the way of Twilight and just find new and creative ways to be blisteringly awful. With new writers but the same returning director, can The Hunger Games: Mockingjay end the franchise in a way it clearly deserves?
Oh, sorry, my mistake, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. I see, it’s one of those then.
After successfully escaping the games in the previous film (and inciting an uprising in the process), Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself in the care of District 13, a previously thought destroyed area of the dystopian nation of Panem. 13 want Katniss to be the face of the rebellion, but she insists she never wanted any of it. However, after learning Panem’s leaders The Capitol have captured Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), her partner from her first Hunger Games, and are using him as a weapon against the rebels, she agrees to help 13 in return for his safe rescue.
Let’s begin with the positives, as there are many. Once again the series continues its very high standard of writing and acting, with Danny Strong and Peter Craig delivering a script with more humour than the franchise has previously had, but make it work because they have some wonderful performers on their hands.
Jennifer Lawrence reminds why she is such a cherished icon at the moment, as she feels genuinely born to play this character. She delivers so many facets of Katniss’ personality with just her face and body language, and she makes the character’s very flawed nature still likeable and someone you want to root for. Also, Mockingjay Part 1 is the perfect example of why the world losing Phillip Seymour Hoffman was a terrible thing, as the man really was a superb actor.
The cinematography is lovely, complimenting Francis Lawrence’s once again great direction. There does seem to be moments of the first film’s infamous shaky cam returning, but it’s never too in your face or noticeable. Lawrence finds a way to move the camera that makes even slightly dull conversations feel dynamic and interesting. This is also helped along by an excellent score by the unparalleled James Newton Howard, who crafts wonderful and atmospheric music to perfectly compliment Lawrence’s beautifully shot scenes.
Mockingjay Part 1 should spark a revolution of Panem proportions
However, despite these positives, there is a big, looming elephant in the room when it comes to this film; its very existence is questionable. Now, the last two films did a perfectly good job of adapting the books into film, cutting some things but keeping the overall spirit and sticking to the books very well. What they did not need was four hours of running time (assuming Part 2 will be the same length) to tell a good story. Mockingjay Part 1‘s problem lies in its very title; it doesn’t need to be two parts.
While watching, there’s this constant feeling that the story being told here easily could have been edited down and told in an hour. The stretching out of a story that clearly only needed one film isn’t as, say, The Hobbit, but it’s still hard to sit through without having the niggling feeling that you’re not watching a film that they really wanted to make in this way, you’re watching a marketing exercise.
Mockingjay isn’t even a particularly long book by YA standards. Hell, it’s shorter than Catching Fire! It faces the exact same problem Twilight, Harry Potter, and the aforementioned Hobbit face; it doesn’t end. It just gets to a point that would be a middle point in a normal film, and then the credits roll. It’s supremely frustrating and unsatisfying when it’s obvious that creatively this would have worked so much better to just be the final film, but because they wanted the extra box office revenue they decided to forgo the method of making a genuinely good film to make a few extra bucks.
So even though this film is good and worth watching, It’s impossible to recommend on principle alone. Paying to see it in the cinema is only encouraging this kind of thing, which has now become a trend that needs to die. What I recommend is waiting a year, and when the second one comes out, watch this right before it. They’ll lose the box office revenue, so we can show them that this doesn’t benefit anyone other than Lionsgate’s stock holders. It feels like the audience is being used as cattle rather than being given a good product that they are willing to pay money for.