Full disclosure: I haven’t seen the first two Hunger Games films, nor have I read the books.
That said, the film does an admirable job bringing new viewers up to speed. Our heroine, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has just destroyed the titular Hunger Games, dealing a symbolic blow to the Evil Capitol. Rebel forces have rescued Katniss, but they failed to rescue her true love Peeta, who’s now in the Evil Capitol’s clutches.
In offering a plot summary for this installment however, I am at a loss. Watching it felt like watching the deleted scenes from another film. A better one, where things actually happen.
Here, we see Katniss fret about Peeta, walk through some rubble-strewn towns, and fret about Peeta some more. The threadbare plot culminates in a tepid rescue mission that leaves the characters more-or-less where they started.
In writing, one should omit needless words 1. In film, one should omit needless scenes. By this rule, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 should be twenty minutes long instead of two hours.
With few exceptions, every scene should further the plot or enhance characterization. Consider the scenes depicting Katniss’s struggles in filming staged propaganda messages. These scenes setup later scenes where she delivers a stirring call-to-arms once she’s on the ground amidst the dead and wounded. As a whole, they exist to show Katniss’s honesty and empathy. But these are traits we already know she possesses. Cutting these scenes wouldn’t affect the story or diminish the depth of Katniss’s character. They’re redundant.
There’s also a misguided focus on the rebel’s exploitation of Katniss. There are scenes of rebel leaders strategizing. One of the chief aids is, essentially, a publicist. There’s an interesting angle here, but the film paints its factions in such broad strokes it loses any shot at credible political commentary.
A movie doesn’t need explosive action or labyrinthine plot to succeed, but it does need a purpose. This film has none, save to gouge fans for the cost of an extra ticket.
Jennifer Lawrence is a talented actress capable of commanding our attention on screen, but one wouldn’t know it from watching her here. Between the ill-fitting jumpsuit and pale makeup, she looks every bit as listless as the script. Her supporting cast includes Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julianne Moore. Both avoid rolling their eyes at the dialog, a feat I consider award-worthy.
In the end, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 is a non-movie. Fans of the series should skip straight to the real finale in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 (2015).
Courtesy of William Strunk Jr’s classic style guide, The Elements of Style.
Grade: F ↩