For those of you just tuning in, Mockingjay: Part 1 is the most recent installment of the absurdly popular Hunger Games franchise, which is the sort of franchise where everything happening around it in the real world, in both the advertising and events of actual importance, makes it sound more interesting than it actually is.
Continuing the story of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and her two not-boyfriends Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), it’s time for the revolution in Pan-em, the land of very segregated districts, to begin properly. Peeta is in the hands of the very threateningly-named President Snow, Gale is jonesing for the opportunity to murder some members of the ruling class, and Katniss is dragged kicking and screaming into being living propaganda for this revolt. A bunch of people die so that Katniss can start giving a fuck, a rescue op is planned, and Katniss’ sister nearly dies fetching a cat.
As you likely already know, the problem with these drawn-out franchise films is that none of them are standalone films. Arguably the first in any given franchise can probably stand by itself, but all the other installments are so dependent on you seeing the previous films or having read the books that the narrative structure doesn’t even vaguely resemble something that could make sense on its own. Mockingjay: Part 1 is all of the pain and none of the payoff.
Look, I’m not suggesting a film absolutely needs to stick to a three-act structure in order to be great, there are plenty of examples where this is decidedly not the case. I won’t even go so far as to say that a film must be able to stand on its own in order to be good; Empire Strikes Back, often pointed to as the best of the original Star Wars trilogy, is supported at both ends by the trilogy’s other films. However, this recent trend of splitting books in half to put them on screen deprives us of even the resolutions and satisfactions present within the source material. By its very nature, Mockingjay: Part 1 feels incomplete, because it is incomplete. It feels as though I am watching the latest installment of a high-budget miniseries on television, and I simply have to take it on faith that it’s all going to pay off in the final episode. As Mockingjay: Part 2 is slated to release November 2015, this means I’ll have to wait a year for all the stuff I just saw to resolve. I knew that going in, of course, but it means that the film is lacking in narrative satisfaction. To enjoy it, you must be content with simply watching a series of events unfold, with no especial climax or resolution.
That series of events, however (I didn’t make a Lemony Snicket joke; aren’t you proud?) is extremely well-executed. I have no attachment to The Hunger Games, and frankly give no fucks about what will ultimately happen to Katniss, Peeta, and Gale; they’re just three pretty white kids who angst a lot. I have no dog in this fight. If they all die screaming, at most I will frown and sigh. But, the film did successfully produce the kind of anxiety a person only experiences when they’re invested. The sequences of violence and revolution are engaging, upsetting, and brutal. Katniss sings a creepy song and it transforms into a bunch of nameless revolutionaries striking a blow at their oppressors; if only the rest of the film had that kind of forward movement. If only Katniss actually did something.
Which brings me to the other big issue with this movie, the same as the other Hunger Games films: Katniss just isn’t a compelling protagonist. She’s jerked around a lot by necessity, because she only acts in response to people jerking her chain. Her tunnel vision is nigh unconquerable. The gal is just not motivated unless she’s watching someone die in an incomprehensibly horrifying way. Her myopia might be excusable in movies one and two, but this is movie three out of four. When is she going to sprout some growth and development? At what point do her ethics extend to something beyond what is directly in front of her oblivious face? When does she become aware of the world around her? When does our hero start to actually give a fuck? Gale gives a fuck. Peeta is clever. Katniss is just abrasive and only experiences moral outrage when others don’t permit her to ignore it. Get your shit together, Katniss.
Mockingjay: Part 1 is the best a movie of its ilk can possibly be, which is both to its credit and says something sort of tragic about YA movies in general. Like so many movies made these days, it’s bound by the constraints of its source material and suffers for it, but manages to pull off some very well done and great sequences despite that. The final film in the franchise will grant some previously non-existent closure, and then we can all, finally, move the fuck on to something else.Liked This? Share It!