“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1”
2 hours, 3 minutes
I have to say I’m off my game when it comes to major event movies this season. I knew the latest installment in the “Hunger Games” series, “Mockingjay” was coming out, I knew it was only going to be part 1 of 2, and, if you’d asked me, I would have said that it would probably make a lot of money.
But, really, it hasn’t been on my radar. I was focused on “Interstellar” and “The Hobbit,” and Katniss Everdeen hadn’t really crossed my mind. Thus it was that on opening night, on one of the rare opportunities my wife and I get to go out together for a date night, I, the guy who is usually on Fandango two days before the movie and is constantly pestering people all through dinner that we have to get to the theater early, completely forgot to get tickets ahead of time and made no particular fuss about arriving at the theatre in time to beat the crowds. Needless to say, the movie was sold out.
My plan B was to go, by myself, to the 10:30 showing the same night. Surely there’s no way a showing that doesn’t even let out until almost 1:00 in the morning is going to sell out, right? No need to go online and get tickets ahead of time, despite having been burned already once that evening, right?
You can see where this is going. People in line at the completely sold-out late show looked at me with a mixture of pity and disdain and said, “You know what you should have done? You should have gotten your tickets on Fandango.” Thanks.
Needless to say, I did eventually get to see the film, and boy was it worth the wait. I had read some early disappointing reviews of this movie, but I have to say I completely disagree. Tense, mature, and compelling, “Mockingjay” is the best of the series so far. There were many negative reviews that spent a lot of time complaining about the split between“Part 1” and “Part 2” and while, yes, that’s annoying, perhaps in some cases it’s really necessary. This film ends on a strong note, not a disappointing cliff-hanger like the last “Hobbit” movie did, and with such strong story-telling, I’m all for getting five hours instead of just two-and-a-half.
The movie opens with Katniss recovering in District 13, long thought destroyed, now revealed to have retreated underground — a regimented, military-based society whose prime purpose is to bring the capital down. Her destruction of the games arena at the end of “Catching Fire” resulted in her escape, along with Finnick and electronics genius BeeTee, but fellow tribute Joanna Mason and Peeta were left behind. Now a tool of the Capitol’s propaganda machine, Peeta regularly appears on television to argue against the revolution.
District 13, it appears, has similar plans for Katniss. The idea is to doll her up and produce posed productions with her as the star, the hero of the people and the new leader of the revolution. Uncomfortable in the hero role as ever, Katniss finally relents, but it quickly becomes obvious that the girl can’t act her way out of a paper bag. It’s authenticity that brings out the fire in Katniss and it’s into the field we go. Her team of a director and cameramen, as tough and cool a bunch as you’d ever find, head into the fight, but Katniss soon sees that she can be of no real help. That is until Pres. Snow decides to bomb a hospital and Katniss leaps into battle. Screaming at the camera, “If we burn, you burn with us!” she creates a battle cry for a revolution, and later, when singing a sad melody, she creates an anthem, as well.
Peeta is at the forefront of her mind, however, and Katniss will do anything to get him back.
This the first of the “Hunger Games” movies that doesn’t actually feature the titular Hunger Games. That’s a good thing. That schtick was getting tired. What it does instead is introduce a raft of well-written, well-rounded characters into the pressure cooker. Of the lot, Julianne Moore is excellent as President Coin, a desperate woman who will do what it takes to succeed. I was also impressed with Philip Seymor Hoffman as the beleaguered Plutarch Heavensbee, former gamesmaker and now permanent revolutionary.
But as usual, Jennifer Lawrence is simply spectacular as Katniss. The character, as written for the film, and as portrayed by Lawrence, is better than the one in the book, who tends to be more than a little whiny.
More than just genre fiction, “The Hunger Games” movies are major pieces of social commentary. In the first two films, we were laughing and cringing at reality television, but “Mockingjay” goes beyond that petty commentary, and says far more about using television as propaganda, disguised as the news, or as entertainment. Even Katniss’ clothes, heavily hyped in the trailers for this film, are described as a costume, one designed to evoke a response.
In short, the film is amazing. I’ve been pleased with all the entries so far, but the last two films show that the maturity level seems to be rising and rising. If Part 1 was any indication, Part 2 will be stellar when it comes out this time next year.
And yes, I’ll get my tickets on Fandango.
“Mockingjay” is rated PG-13 for adult themes, language, and some action violence.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.