ANDREA'S REVIEW OF THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 1
Like many stories that entrance us, it's simple on the surface. And the heroine Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence, in case you've been living under a rock) is one who often makes the most selfish choices and refuses to see the bigger picture, but attracts our sympathy and demands our attention and respect nonetheless.
It's more important than ever, since “Mockingjay” has far fewer of the action scenes its audience has become accustomed to, and instead has to rely on its star power. Luckily, that power includes returning talent such as Woody Harrelson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Elizabeth Banks, and Jena Malone, but also some new additions like Julianne Moore as the President of District 13, and Natalie Dormer as a Capitol movie director who defects to the Rebel cause. This is the YA franchise that you don't have to be ashamed of showing up atthe theater for.
Turns out, after being transported to safety in District 13, Katniss discovers that her performance in the last Games has unwittingly inspired the destruction of her District, and a Rebellion that can turn into a full-fledged war if she only helps stir the embers. Even if it ends up harming Peeta and the other Victors that were left behind. Katniss may be on the other side, but she is still a pawn, to be used once again for someone else's ends.
Because “Mockingjay” is really about how our fascination with celebrity and our receptivity to image manipulation can subsequently inspire us to change history, for better or for worse. Katniss's honest, unguarded moments, like her grief over a bombing, are turned into propaganda ads for the Rebellion. A song she sings becomes fodder for an act of sabotage on the Capitol, which the people sing even as they're mowed down by gunfire. Her motto becomes an inspiration for people to strike back against the faceless soldiers keeping them in place.
Smaller moments also become more powerful when director Francis Lawrence (no relation) allows small imperfections to shine through. Katniss's coat actually looks too big for her. During an emotional scene, hair gets in her mouth. Characters briefly discuss how her makeup plays a role in how people view her. When movie stars are allowed to look a little like the humans they are, it inspires us to take the struggles they depict all the more emotionally. And those propaganda videos in “Mockingjay” get downright meta when they use the same symbols and music from the “Hunger Games” movie trailers in them.
But where “Mockingjay” fails is in how it spends too much time in one location, that of District 13, without really exploring it. As a result, what is really a complicated war where the “good” side has its own agenda and motives behind its Rebellion and seeming generosity towards its refugees ends up looking like a simple clash between light and dark. There may be lip service for the cause of doubt, but there's never any question of whether Katniss is doing the right thing. And the complicated, ruthless character of President Coin ends up looking like a tightly wound politician who could use a few more PR skills.
Still, if more movies (and not just the latest YA adaptations) could take more risks like this, more audiences could accept blatant cash grabs such as unnecessarily splitting the movie in two. That said, “Mockingjay” managed to find a neat division in a remarkably self-contained book by focusing on a central conflict that was resolved by the end, but nevertheless resulted in a new conflict to be explored in the final chapter. Here's hoping that the upcoming “Insurgent” will take notes. Judging by the first movie, it's doubtful they will. In the meantime, I have a feeling that this franchise's Part 2 will at least be worth the wait. See you next year, Katniss.