If you are unaware of how Hollywood works nowadays just look at the title of this film. We’re told the franchise, the book in the franchise, and what PART of the book the film is about. Are you kidding me!?!?
Mockingjay picks up where the exciting Catching Fire left off. I was extremely surprised by the nuance and urgency of that film, and I liked it a lot. It was actually among the top 25 films of last year in my book. So picking up after Katniss destroyed the games, she meets up with the rebellion and they discuss how to take down the capitol. She struggles with ramifications of the events that occured. That’s pretty much it. There are no Hunger Games in a movie that plasters its franchise name over the title of the actual book. LONG SIGHHHHH. Breaking the book into two parts proved to be an extremely poor decision. Sure they’ll make more money, but they just made an extremely mediocre film that had the potential to be a good first act in a bigger movie. The urgency, excitement, and well-rounded characters found in Catching Fire are missing here. The cinematic dystopian world and exciting action are gone in this installment. The conflicts in Mockingjay are almost all dialogue driven and revolve around the aftermath of the climax of Catching Fire. I was left waiting for something substantial to happen and nothing ever did.
2 hours is devoted to Katniss dealing with these issues. At most this should’ve been an hour because that’s all this narrative and story can sustain. The colorful and vibrant cinematography of Catching Fire is completely lost as we’re stuck in a brown claustrophobic underground city for most of the runtime. Reminds me of the Matrix sequels… A breath of fresh air comes when Katniss goes above ground to view the destruction of the war. There’s some interesting propaganda issues lightly explored, but they don’t go anywhere with it. Once above ground we’re given a decent action sequence, but even this is nothing to get excited about. The other couple of action set pieces are small moments lacking scope or interesting direction. There is nothing cinematic about this film. It feels like a glorified TV episode.
What keeps the film from completely failing is the cast’s talent. Unfortunately the actors are given little to flex their acting muscles with. The late great Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Julianne Moore are acting masters. They turn run of the mill dialogue into stuff you feel you need to listen to, but it’s not really that important and boring frankly. Sam Clafin as Finnick Odair was a fantastic character in Catching Fire. Here he’s a glorified background character. Jena Malone’s scene stealing Johanna Mason has about 5 seconds of screen time. Peeta and Gale’s roles in the story here allow for no character arcs. Newcomer Natalie Dormer (GAME OF THRONES!!!!!) plays Cressida, a badass chick who never is allowed to be a badass chick.… Crossing my fingers for the second film because Dormer rules! The conflicts in this film are strong enough to support a first act of a film. Here the script stretches them over a dull 2 hours. Jennifer Lawrence has a powerful enough screen presence to hold your attention, but she looks off into the distance sad about 50 times here, which is really pushing it. Give me a great heroine dammit!!!! Almost all Katniss does is struggle with the events of the last film, which never allows this film’s narrative and issues to get rolling.
I’m extremely disappointed with the end result here. Not that this a terrible movie because it isn’t, but it’s borderline bad and it could’ve been a part of something so much better. This could’ve and should’ve been the first 45 minutes in a fun 2.5 hour film. I’m really hoping the second part can kick things into gears because this thing has loads of talent. Unfortunately it wasn’t utilized here and the film ends up quite dull and vanilla. Mockingjay is a big step down from Catching Fire, and a poor film that I’ll forget about quickly. There’s nothing cinematic about this story and the conflicts never ignite. No images or words have resonance beyond their function in the moving of the plot and reflection of the previous films actions. Most of the issues in this film stem from the script and source material having little to offer. Especially in cinematic terms. This is a case where I wish they had taken artistic liberties and changed the entire first act of the source material. Either that or don’t break a book into two parts when it can’t sustain it.
For reference: The Hunger Games (C+), Catching Fire (B+)