The best thing about the Hunger Games series is that it is better than most—if not all—of the other YA novel adaptations. After having duds in The Giver and Divergent, with a little saving grace in The Maze Runner this year, we come to the series once again in the first of its two part conclusion. The problem with these two part conclusion movies (i.e. Harry Potter, Twilight, and in a way The Hobbit) is that they need to balance all of the plot points of one book into two full length movies. Mockingjay Part 1 suffers from this balancing act, though it does entirely detract from its attempts to build up to a mighty conclusion.
If you have not seen Catching Fire do not read any further because I will be spoiling the ending. Mockingjay Part 1 picks up shortly after the events of the second film; Katniss has destroyed the dome where the Quarter Quell was being held and essentially lit a fire in Panem which soon erupted into violence and uprisings. She is currently in District 13, the mysterious district that nobody actually knew still existed while Peeta is being held captive in The Capitol. Katniss will soon have to rise up as the Mockingjay, the symbol of hope for everyone who is oppressed.
The film takes its time getting to any major moments. Where the first two films’ major draw was in the actual Games, this one abandons that plot device. This isn’t entirely a bad thing. In the story that is being told one cannot have the Games still in place in order to win a revolution. The major moments are few and far between, which is my biggest qualm about the film. A lot of it is setup—setup for something massive, but worst of all it does not have a driving start-to-finish storyline. We have to wait another year for the film to conclude, so some might feel cheapened for having to buy two tickets to see the full package. But while it lacks in story, it instead creates a sense of anxiety for readers, and viewers alike. For readers we do not know where it will end; for those who haven’t read the books, they will be anxious to find out what the endgame will be. Hopefully with this much setup there will be a strong conclusion, or else we will really feel gipped.
One of the series’ strongest aspects is its acting. We have the return of most of the cast, and some new faces. Most notably is Julianne Moore as President Coin, the leader of the rebellion. She brings her excellent acting to the already strong cast featuring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Hemsworth, and, most heartbreaking, Phillip Seymour Hoffman who passed away during filming. Lawrence, who has made Katniss feel alive continues to do so with a powerful and emotional performance of a girl who has had a huge duty thrust upon her, while also suffering from all the trauma she has faced. These performances make us well aware of what is at stake, and it helps guide us into what hopefully will be an epic conclusion.
Without the Games, the action is pretty suppressed to just a few scenes. They are decently-exciting scenes, but there is no heavy anticipation for the main event. The action carries more of a brutal and destructive sense in this one. People are sacrificing themselves because they have a choice, not in the first two where they were chosen at random to die. If you have read the books, then you know, if done right, the second part will bring action in droves.
In the end, Mockingjay Part 1 suitably sets up the conclusion but at the risk of making a movie that isn’t entirely as exciting as it should be. With strong performances, powerful violence, and the anticipation for what is to come, the film may appeal to readers and viewers alike, but it also might make them feel like they just wasted two hours for all setup and no story. With renewed anticipation and a bit of hesitation, we now have to wait a year for the conclusion to the Hunger Games series, and we will finally see if what was setup in this film will be enough to conclude the story on a high note. May the odds be ever in the filmmakers favor.