By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Perhaps the biggest argument against The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part One is the decision by Lionsgate Studio to split the film up. Is there enough narrative to make the 390 page book fit into two films? Usually one page of dialogue in screenplay equates to one minute of screen time. A basic formula to book writing suggests that 50 to 70% of what’s written be spoken. Based on that math, there’s enough content for one movie. Ever since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows started the trend (that book has about 600 pages), Twilight Breaking Dawn followed (629) — just how many more young adult book series must imitate this cash cow formula? Sadly, most of this film felt very drawn out before the story that matters finally takes flight near the end of the second act.
As a film series about a growing resistance about what a gladiatorial combat sport represents to win succession just to help feed a victor’s village, the challenge against the status quo is inevitable. It’s a shame this movie could not take cues from Ridley Scott’s Gladiator and push a bit of original content than to simply adapt Suzanne Collins’ books targeted to young adults to read. There has to be some appeal to other audiences, like the image of the flaming bird, intentionally posed like a phoenix rising from its ashes to symbolize the rebuilding of a civilization. Throughout all the films, it is posed to strike, take flight or rise. All of which represents the stages of a pending war.
All the subterfuge and propaganda that viewers are watching in this latest film sets up a huge fight to finish this series with a bang. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) — who got separated in Catching Fire — are being used as pawns. Both are reluctant champions in a fight that Madame President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) of Sector 13 and President Snow (Donald Sutherland) from the Capital are waging. The costume that Katniss ends up wearing takes on familiar tones, like she’s to become Joan of Arc than a protégé of Green Arrow. All these historical anecdotes is not all that surprising when considering which legends from Western Civilization the original author took inspiration from. To see the filmmakers continue down this route is welcome.
Thanks to the events from the previous two films, the feelings for rebellion will no doubt give more power to the people. With Mockingjay – Part 1, that point is hammered in too much. Better subplots could have been used and others could have been dropped like exploring the feelings Katniss has for Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth). The importance of Buttercup the cat is questionable; writers never did explain how he changed from a black and white tuxedo cat from the first film to a ginger tabby.
If there’s anything to like about this third entry, that’s in the tone. The dogs of war are unleashed and the drama moves away from the opulence that exists in how the Capital stages the Hunger Games to become a true dystopic vision ala George Orwell’s 1984 with a healthy dose of Metropolis style architecture mixed in. When a good part of the film takes place in a huge underground bunker, the “prison” feel certainly shows that there’s a sense of being contained in director Francis Lawrence’s vision.
In this film’s case, some viewers may well want to escape the theatre near the 100 minute mark. The pacing is uneven. Some moments are better after viewing Catching Fire before going into this film, and other sections are simply dragged out — especially with the dialogue. A lot of that can easily be edited down. When the film begins with a monologue, some viewers may realize that this movie is going to be a long one. That’s great for character development but not for viewing leisure. Katniss’ importance feels diminished with this film; she’s more doe-eyed and doting, concerned more about being reunited with Peeta than in becoming a resistance leader.
Hopefully with the final film, this character can emerge as a strong role model for a new age. All the signs are there, but until she is free from the reign of Alma Coin, just who she is nothing but a pawn. She’s no hawk-eyed sharpshooter like Oliver Queen yet.
3½ Stars out of 5