Fluff Before the Storm – Mockingjay Part 1 Review
FLUFF BEFORE THE STORM
While Francis Lawrence’s Catching Fire reinvigorated the franchise and helped it do as the title says, Mockingjay – Part 1 does the complete opposite. It dulls the momentum of the narrative and almost snuffs it out. It makes an excellent case that not all final books should be split into two adaptations.
It starts out interesting enough. Katniss Everdeen is exhausted. Dragged into a revolution for control, she struggles with the guilt of leaving Peeta and the other Victors to the mercy of the Capitol. She interacts with the people she knows and learns about the choices they’ve made for the rebellion and the choices the rebellion has made for them. The film highlights how, despite being surrounded by her loved ones in a protective bunker system, lonely she is. She feels naked and unsafe despite the jumpsuits and steel walls. It is in these small character-building moments where Part 1 truly shines.
Unfortunately, these moments cannot carry the film on their own. Too much time (a consequence of the split) is spent on the fallout from Catching Fire. We get tons of exposition on how the nascent rebellion has affected various districts; yet none of them have any impact. Things finally heat up as Peeta’s condition worsens and an attempt is made to rescue him. However, the full impact of Katniss’ struggle to come to terms with Peeta’s radical change is cut short.
Even the cast was underwhelming this time around. Jennifer Lawrence’s acting is uneven, which is sad considering she has pretty much mastered this role. She succeeds in some moments but it feels like she’s bored most of the time. Especially during the awkward Katniss moments where she’s pretty much herself! (or at least her much-loved public self) Heck, even her much-acclaimed “Hanging Tree” scene feels like she was under cruise control. Character actors such as Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Julianne Moore are a welcome presence but they didn’t do much with the material. The standout was definitely Josh Hutcherson. While he was overacting in Catching Fire (spittle and all), he nailed it this time around. Before, he struggled to keep up with the heavyweights in Catching Fire. Now, he finally had that much needed screen presence to pull it off.
While I always thought Catching Fire was much better written, Mockingjay certainly wasn’t terrible. Francis Lawrence picked up the franchise from the average Gary Ross and really brought the material to its full potential in Catching Fire. The only highlight of his direction in Part 1 was the tense rescue scene reminiscent of Zero Dark Thirty. The special effects looked rushed and choosing that certain part to split the adaptation was a poor choice from the screenwriters.
Overall, the film lacked any distinctive flavor. The cast and crew were simply going through the motions of another major blockbuster deadline. Splitting should not be a major hindrance. Look at The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Peter Jackson’s film breathed with life despite the stretched plot. The film succeeds in small character moments but it is mostly nothing. Just fluff before the storm.