Friday, January 2, 2015

Movie Review: "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1"

I loved Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy (I practically devoured each book as it was released), and saw the first two film adaptations (The Hunger Games and Catching Fire) within the first few days of their release. So why did I wait more than a month to see the third installment?

Two reasons, I guess. First, as those of you who know me well probably know, I spend most of December-February watching all of the movies that receive major Oscar nominations (I don't like to miss any—don't judge), so I have been cramming lots of those in. But my main reason for delaying seeing the first part of Mockingjay (much like the last Harry Potter film, it has been broken into two parts) was that of the trilogy, I found this book to be the biggest downer, and that's saying something, considering the subject matter of the series!

When we last left Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), she and her fellow Hunger Games victors were forced into competing in the Quarter Quell, sort of an all-star, everyone-but-the-winner-dies competition. But after she and a few of her allies realize how they are being manipulated, Katniss' act of rebellion ends the games. She and Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) are rescued, leaving three allies—including Katniss' teammate/supposed love, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson)—behind to fend for themselves against the evil Capital.

Katniss' rebellion has once again encouraged the citizens of Panem's other districts to rise up against the Capital and dastardly President Snow (Donald Sutherland), but Snow and his soldiers are quick to destroy any uprisings as violently as they can. Katniss is persuaded by District 13's President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and former gamesmaster Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) to serve as the symbol of what they hope will be the new Republic of Panem. But Katniss is desperate to rescue Peeta, especially as she sees him increasingly being used as a pawn by Snow.

The first part of Mockingjay sets the stage for the final clash between Katniss, the rebels she has inspired, and the Capital. She sees just how far Snow is willing to go to destroy not only the things and the people she loves, but anyone who dares follow in her footsteps. It also follows Katniss as she tries to determine whether her feelings for Peeta were simply part of the game, or whether she truly cares about him beyond loyalty—or if she'd rather be with her childhood companion, Gale (Liam Hemsworth), who is tiring of being a substitute.

Mockingjay — Part 1 is another well-done installment of the series, although, as the book was, it is much darker, and a bit more of a downer than the other movies. But it is still tremendously compelling, because of the richness and complexity of the world that Suzanne Collins created when she wrote the books, as well as Francis Lawrence's assured direction, and, of course, the performances.

Jennifer Lawrence continues her quest for world domination (just kidding) with another strong performance as Katniss. She truly has embodied the mixture of courage, vulnerability, insecurity, confusion, and anger that is needed for this character, and while she glowers a bit more in this movie, she still lights up the screen. Hoffman, whose role is far larger than I remember it being in the book, is sufficiently manipulative, and his performance once again reinforces what a tragedy his death last year was. Moore brings iciness and an underlying bit of heart to her role, and while Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks, as Katniss and Peeta's advisers/friends, Haymitch and Effie, don't have as prominent roles in this movie, seeing them onscreen feels like old friends have returned home. It's good to see Hemsworth with a little more to do and say in this film (although it's a shame Hutcherson doesn't get much to do), and Sutherland is his usual dastardly self.

I'm dreading the last part of this movie, because I don't want the series to end (I've just gotten over not having any more books in the series), and I remember some of what is coming. But that being said, this film, and the others that precede it, are bleak yet dynamic, enjoyable yet haunting. It's a series of film adaptations definitely worthy of the books they were borne from.

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