Reviewed by Noah Foster-Koth
Ever since the blockbuster Harry Potter finale was divided into two installments, movie studios have been eager to stretch their adaptations of single books across multiple movies. The last Twilight book got the two-film treatment, and Peter Jackson famously expanded Tolkien’s Hobbit novel to occupy nearly nine hours of screen time. In the past I’ve been critical of this practice, but Mockingjay, the final book in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, may actually benefit from being portioned into two films. We won’t know how Part 2 fared until next year, but Part 1 is a quick snack of a movie.
Mockingjay may not have the same inventive set pieces that Catching Fire did, but at least it’s not a retread of the arena action audiences saw in the first two films. Having survived two turns as a gladiator in a futuristic arena where teens fight each other to the death, Katniss Everdeen (an excellent Jennifer Lawrence) decides to join a rebel militia intent on bringing down the oppressive Capitol. In another film the rebel underdogs would be the undisputed heroes, but part of the intrigue of Mockingjay is that their leader (played with a calculated iciness by Julianne Moore) may be just as power-hungry as the enemy. Audiences won’t find out for sure until Part 2, but it’s a treat to watch the two iron-willed women match wits and debate the importance of rescuing Katniss’ lover Peeta (Josh Hutcherson).
By now Jennifer Lawrence has perfected her performance as Katniss Everdeen, the franchise’s heroine. It’s a credit to both Collins’ character and Lawrence’s portrayal of her that Katniss is still an interesting lead after three movies. The “Girl On Fire” is a woman of action who can kill with a bow and arrow, but ultimately it’s her determination and grit that mark her as a leader. These traits sound trite in writing, but I can’t remember the last time I saw another actor make them so compelling.
Whereas the last Hunger Games film was a tropical survival story, Mockingjay is a bleak war movie that spends most of its time underground in the rebels’ concrete bunkers. The change in venue does mean that the movie isn’t as visually eye catching as the previous Hunger Games films, which were set in lush forests and decadent cities. Mockingjay compensates by adding scenes of espionage and war room power struggles that weren’t present in the last film. The conflict between characters is therefore less physical than it has been in the past, but that doesn’t prevent the film from being fun to watch.