The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 1Title: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014)
Director: Francis Lawrence
Runtime: 123 minutes

I had originally planned to review the first two films in the Hunger Games series before seeing The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, but time got in the way and I figured I’d rather save that for when the final film comes out next November. With that said, I did rewatch the first two films and still enjoyed them.

Let’s be clear: I’ve read the Hunger Games books long before they were films, and I hated Mockingjay at that point. Tonally, it’s a very different film. There are no Hunger Games events, and instead the entire book/film is a slow-burning, political piece, which is obviously where the series was headed, but I felt after finishing the novel that things could have been done much better.

After the events of Catching Fire, we find Katniss recovering inside District 13’s underground base. Her boy toy is there, as is her mother and sister. Peta is believed to be dead and the woman in charge of this group wants Katniss to become the Mockingjay and campaign for them. What follows is a heavy-handed and often sloppy tale. I won’t waste time going into details, but the final twist, which I had forgotten from the novels, actually seems to work better here, but the final scene is comedic gold and it really shouldn’t be.

Director Francis Lawrence returns from Catching Fire, and for some unknown reason the terrible shaky cam from the fist film is back as well. That’s not what bothered me, though. Here’s the thing about the entire Hunger Games series: it makes mega bucks between ticket sales and merchandise, and yet we still get some of the worst sets I’ve seen in a film in a long time. The bricks during the war scene had me laughing because they look like something from a high school play. What’s worse is that there is almost no CGI or explosions to speak of, so I cannot fathom what the budget went into here. I imagine most of the budget will be felt in the second part of the finale, which will make a crap ton of money based on the same principals I mentioned before.

The only glue holding this shaky film together is Jennifer Lawrence. She gives a really great performance during her two major scenes, but that also comes at a cost. While her performance is good, things still come off hammy and awkward, much like the failed video we watch them try to complete in an earlier scene. Everyone turns in a typical performance with no one going above and beyond. Poor Philip Seymour Hoffman seems like he’s in a daze during most of his scenes, but every once in a while he actually performs.

With a “short” – for this series, anyway – runtime of two hours and three minutes, Mockingjay – Part 1 feels like a three-hour affair. This is odd because the first half hour of the film feels like a chopped up mess. Weird nonsensical cuts, little explanation, and most of the time I had no idea why we were just hopping around. Katniss is visiting the ruins of her former hometown, then suddenly, she’s opening the front door of her house and everything is immaculate. The transitions seem to have gotten lost somewhere along the way. Thankfully, the rest of the film is more focused in that sense, but it just seems to meander on with no real purpose until the big twist at the end.

Now that I think about it, Mockingjay – Part 1 pretty much met what my expectations should have been. The source material was kind of weak to begin with, and then trying to adapt that into two separate films must have been hard. I do have to say that the dialogue is really bad here. There’s a scene near the end where Katniss awakens, and this guy says to her, “he’s fine. I had to get him off.” Maybe I’m a big ol’ perv, but, seriously? Does that sound like a good line? How did he deliver that with a straight face?

For what it is, Mockingjay – Part 1 is a mostly competent film. Its flaws shine bright, though; much like the flaws in the novel it’s based on, and it’s a shame that things didn’t get retooled a little. Is it worth running out to see in the theaters? Not really. In reality, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 could have been a whole lot worse, and fans would still flock to see it anyway. Part 2 was filmed at the same time as this one, though, so no matter how much money this makes, we all get to see that big finale anyway.