Mockingjay, Part 1 review: Hunger Games' Katniss & co's exploits aren't tedious at all
by Aditya Kundalkar
Making sequels can’t be easy. Maintaining the fragile arc of a story for the duration of one film is hard enough. That’s where the makers of the Hunger Games movies have an advantage. The books, and therefore, the story arcs, already exist. Of course, the translation of pages into films has its own problems and there’s the additional headache of making sure a sequel connects to the films that preceded it but also works as a standalone.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I doesn’t start with a “Previously on Hunger Games ...” supercut, but we are shown everything we need to know in the first 20 minutes or so: Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is recovering from PTSD in the erstwhile District 13, now an underground rebel stronghold. She’s also dealing with the loss of her home, District 12, and her lover, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). Of course, he’s not actually dead but neither Katniss nor Peeta knows the other is still alive. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has enslaved Panem citizens and publicly executes anyone who displays the Mockingjay symbol. Meanwhile, President Coin (Julianne Moore) of District 13 is planning to rally all citizens in a massive rebellion to overthrow Snow.
So far, it sounds like a cookie-cutter science fiction film set in a dystopia. Yet the Hunger Games universe is different from we usually see in other movies in one crucial way – it’s a lot like ours. And that’s what makes it interesting.
By now you probably know that The Hunger Games is like a reality show in which Katniss, Peeta, and the other players are made to follow a script. In this movie, President Coin wants Katniss to be the face of the rebellion in her “propos” (propaganda films) – maybe like the casting director who wanted Jennifer Lawrence to be the face of this franchise? Katniss’s attempt to emote in front of the camera is dismal, so she is sent to District 12, film crew in tow, to see for the first time the charred remains of her home. “Tell us what you can see,” says camera-wielding Cressida (Natalie Dormer), eager to capture raw emotion, echoing TV reporters who ask everyone from a bystander to a trauma victim, “Aapko kaisa lag raha hai?”
In another scene, Katniss’s fellow warrior, Finnick (Sam Claflin), confesses he’d never believed she and Peeta were ever truly in love; that maybe it was all just an act, to make the Games exciting for the audience – just like the cinema audience are led to believe that they are indeed into each other. But no, no nude pictures of Katniss are leaked on Panem’s Internet, but that’s probably because no one seems to have smartphones. Some parts of this world just aren’t that believable after all.
The best performances in Mockingjay: Part I come from the supporting actors, perhaps because they have more interesting roles to play. Take style-conscious wig-lover Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), for example, who defects from the Capitol to join the rebels and is tasked with designing Katniss’s Mockingjay costume. Visibly disgusted by the underground squalor, which is literally beneath her blue-blooded status, she delivers some of the best lines in the film.
President Coin’s trite speeches to the rebels are made bearable thanks to the presence of her speechwriter Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and the manner in which he contentedly mouths the words. Part sycophant, part manipulator, and always funny, his character is even more special now than it would have been were he alive today.
Although this film is part one of two, it doesn’t feel tedious. There aren’t any endless scenes of waiting in dark, snowy places (a la Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1). There are no epic fight scenes or lengthy monologues, barring President Coin’s speeches. The movie ends with a scene that’s incredulously redeeming. yet leaves you feeling curiously hopeless.
If you’ve read the books, you’ll know what’s coming in part two. If you haven’t, November 2015 might seem really far away.
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Updated Date: Nov 28, 2014 12:17:36 IST