It was puzzling when Harry Potter producers split the book series’ climactic final novel into two parts for the cinematic adaptation, turning the seven-book series into an eight-film franchise – but it was absolutely necessary given the sheer amount of content that needed to be covered and the crucial tone that needed to be set up by said content. It worked out well for Potter, but we all cursed those producers when the damned Twilight folks decided they needed to follow suit. Breaking the final Twilight book, Breaking Dawn, into two movies meant that we were given a full feature soap opera solely dedicated to two people getting married, having sex and getting pregnant, and a second feature all about people trying to kill the baby. The need to divide it into two was non-existent. So, where does equally book-splitting Mockingjay lie? Smack dab in betweenPotter and Twilight.
Mockingjay – Part 1 isn’t filled with the non-stop fluff that Twilight carried, but it certainly isn’t as plot-progressing as the first half of Potter‘s climax. While the story doesn’t necessarily need to be broken into two movies, it requires two in order to convey the emotion, tone and character sentiment that we need to feel in order to make the entire Hunger Gamesfranchise work and end on a strong note. Know that Mockingjay – Part 1 isn’t wholly riveting – although there are plenty of tense moments – but it’s a lead-up to something huge.
In Mockingjay – Part 1, we pick up right where Catching Fire left off. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is now in District 13, a colony of Panem that was thought to have been destroyed long ago. She has learned that because of her insubordination, her entire colony of District 12 was completely wiped off the face of Earth. Her mom, sister and boy-toy Gale (Liam Hemsworth) made it to refuge in District 13, but most of their people are now gone. The distress that this brings Katniss, the thought that it was all because of her, is hard to deal with. At the same time, she’s an emotionally torn mess because her District 12 partner in the Quarter Quell Hunger Games arena, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), along with another pair of allies is being held captive in The Capital by the merciless and cruel President Snow (Donald Sutherland).
Katniss has many struggles, one of which is the thought that she is been viewed as a rebellious leader by countless people. If Mockingjay – Part 1 does anything, it poses and starts to answer the question: is Katniss really the leader of the rebellion? Get ready to learn whether she’s that strong figure or not, whether she can single-handedly save the Districts from Snow’s wrath. You may think that you know the answer to this question, but you’ll be surprised to learn there’s no short or easy answer. This isn’t your typical larger-than-life heroine tale. This isn’t Keanu Reeves waiting to find out if he’s really Neo, “The One.” This is a teenage girl that’s been unknowingly placed on a pedestal and forced to kill against her will. She is torn up inside by the horrors she’s seen and done. And while she can see that there’s a greater good to support through her actions, becoming that leader just might break her entirely. The answer to this question might not at all be what you’re expecting.
The only things that Part 1 lacks are a bit of narrative direction and a climax that actually closes it off as its own movie. There isn’t much of a plotted story; instead, it’s like a series of reactions. We can’t tell where the movie is going because the entire narrative is a repeating cycle of events: something catches the characters off-guard, we see their reactions, repeat. Regarding the climax, there simply isn’t one. There’s a moment of tension prior to the mild cliffhanger and the closing credits that tries to be a climax, but it doesn’t work. In fact, it doesn’t even involve our central character. Like the audience watching the movie, Katniss is simply a spectator watching this event happen with absolutely no ability to change the outcome. Because there’s no climax, Part 1 does not stand well on its own. While the character and emotional build-up of Part 1 is necessary, the producers should have simply made a three-and-a-half-hour Mockingjay. If Lionsgate was worried that audiences wouldn’t show up for a movie that long, they should have looked at the Lord of the Rings movies and reconsidered.
I’m on-board with the Hunger Games franchise. The first installment was decent, the second was fantastic, and the third is pretty good – but it’s hard to rave about something doesn’t feel complete. I wish that Mockingjay – Part 1 would have/could have done more, but with the franchise track record, I’m still devoted and cannot wait to see what happens in Mockingjay – Part 2.
(Photo credit: Lionsgate)