Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I Review

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I Review
The games, as we know them, are over. There is a war on the horizon of Panem. The sides are revving their engines, ready for what comes. The districts of Panem have suffered from The Capitol long enough, and make no mistake about it, bloodshed is coming.
 
Anybody thinking that "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I" is going to be anything like the previous movies, should let that idea go right now. This is a very different entry into the series. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is still fighting for her life and for her people, make no mistake. But its a different kind of fight. The games are over right now, and Katniss is becoming a spearhead for a widespread rebellion, across all the districts of Panem. At first, she could care less about this responsibility, but once she discovers that President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has mentally rewired Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) to use as a pawn for The Capitol, all bets are off. Katniss, along with her long-time friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) go district to district, spreading propaganda for a rebellion.
 
We also meet several new characters this time out. It seems District 13, believed to be decimated, has its own leader in President Coin (Julianne Moore). She's the person who is really pushing Katniss to spread rebellion. I will be honest and tell you that I have not read the books, so I really don't have a good idea of how this will end. But I have a sneaking suspicion that President Coin will be bad news, and I absolutely love how Julianne Moore tiptoes the line between being good and bad, I hope that is an arc that pays off big time in the last half. We also meet District 13's security enforcer Boggs, who is brought to tremendous life by Mahershala Ali. Natalie Dormer plays Cressida, who helps Katniss spread awareness on the rebellion, and she does really good work here. Fans of The Mighty Ducks should also like the fact that Elden Hensen appears as an ally to Katniss and Cressida and creates a great character by never talking. (Apparently, he got his tongue ripped out at The Capitol, ewww.)
 
Everybody does great work in this chapter. It is safe to say that Jennifer Lawrence has become Katniss, even more so than she has become Mystique for Fox. I love that she is willing to be so de-glamorized for this role, I love that everything she does onscreen levels me emotionally. Most of all, I love that Lawrence makes the audience feel everything she is feeling, as there were several times during this movie where I was ready to cry. Liam Hemsworth is not an actor I have always liked, but he is done really good work on this franchise so far, and especially in this movie, he should be proud of what he's done. We only see Josh Hutcherson a few times in this chapter, and this is a much different Peeta we see. I think Hutcherson transitions well, and he's becoming the most exciting talent of his generation. As for Stanley Tucci, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks? Oh yeah, magic, just magic.
 
I also have to say that this is the most evil President Snow we have seen so far, and Donald Sutherland nails it. Each and every time.
 
The big problem I have is a problem I think will either make or break these massive, ongoing franchises which feel the need to split their finale's in half. While "Mockingjay Part I" is a very good movie, a very emotional movie, all the movie does is set up for the second half. There is not one arc in this entire movie that gets resolved in this half, and I didn't think the movie really ended on a cliff-hanger, so what's the point of splitting it in half? Too many decisions in Hollywood are being motivated by money-making, and I think some of these decisions are going to become phony-looking to the audiences. "Mockingjay Part I" essentially feels like a two-hour television show, with a year-long wait to the finale.
 
When David Yates did this with "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," not only did he find a good place to end the film, leaving the audience with a massive cliffhanger, he also brought resolution to some big emotional points. So it made thematic sense to split the film in two, even though it was also a big cash-grab. Peter Jackson was a mad bastard to split the three hundred page "The Hobbit" into not two, but three movies. But even though "The Hobbit" is such a short book, three big events take place. Bilbo finds the Ring of Power, Bilbo meets Smaug the Dragon, and elves, dwarves, men and goblins throw down for all the treasure. Each film is punctuated by each of those special events, so even though its annoying to sit through three Hobbit movies, Jackson is at least paying each film off with a sound resolution and nail-biting cliffhanger. I don't think "Mockingjay Part I" did that, I think the film is all set-up and no payoff and it made lessened the experience for me.
 
So even though "Mockingjay Part I" is a strategy to make Lionsgate tons of money, its still an emotional rollercoaster. All the performances are top-notch, the cinematography is lush and beautiful and the scenes of violence are striking. There is a moment between Peeta and Katniss where everything changes, and if you haven't read the books, you will know it when you see it. I was shocked just by how brutal the scene played out. I give director Francis Lawrence credit for never backing down on the big emotional beats in the movie, no matter how painful the outcome. I think fans of this series will be satisfied with this entry, but they maybe anxious to graduate from the series next year.
 
FINAL GRADE: B+
 



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