I made a big mistake. I broke my own rules. I read the book first.
Finishing The Hunger Games trilogy was just too tempting. I read Mockingjay about three months ago and then saw the film the weekend it opened. I know the third book is a tad controversial for some readers because of how it ended the series, but I loved Mockingjay and could not wait for the movie to come out.
I won’t say I was disappointed in the movie, but perhaps I let my expectations get too high.
For one thing, the movie started slow. At this point in the series, I am already invested in Katniss’ story but that does not mean I am willing to accept poor storytelling just to finish the series.
This is where reading the book first became a problem.
For the first half of the film, all I could see were missed opportunities. The novel takes time to build the tension between District 13’s President Coin and Katniss by showing the regimented nature of the District’s lifestyle. This tension is vital to the story. The pervasive schedule, the severe food rationing, and the methodical coldness of the underground fortress were lacking in the film. Most of these elements are not dealt with or discussed only in passing.
Katniss agrees to be the Mockingjay within fifteen–maybe twenty–minutes and for me that felt too soon. There needed to be more tension in so many of the relationships in The Mockingjay. There is tension between President Coin (Julianne Moore) and Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) but not enough for my liking, and I think that affects the dynamic of all the other interpersonal relationships in the movie.
For example, there is not enough push-and-pull between Katniss and Haymitch. When Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) first appears there are supposed to be rage there for Katniss, but nothing much happens. She’s supposed to hit him! Who doesn’t want to see Jennifer Lawrence sucker-punch Woody Harrelson, just for giggles?
Another major problem for me was that there was not enough development between Katniss and Gale (Liam Hemsworth). The whole series is bracketed by the choice between Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Gale. This first half of the story is where we are supposed to see Katniss and Gale connect further as well as experience that budding friction of their relationship. Gale’s willingness to drink the District 13 Kool Aid is downplayed in the film, as is his growing responsibility within the District. Katniss has a brief line expressing her distaste for Gale’s closeness with President Coin, but it does not lead to anything significant story-wise.
Other, smaller issues bothered me too. The bonding between Finnick (Sam Clafin) and Katniss was less present, as was Finnick’s clear struggle to hold onto sanity. Though I absolutely adored Elizabeth Banks’ performance as Effie in this film, I think the scene from the book where Katniss discovers her prep team starved and covered in filth is a much more powerful narrative play. Also there was not enough Boggs in this movie, goshdarnit!
This, my friends, is why I try to read the book after seeing the movie.
One thing Mockingjay Part 1 did perfectly was Peeta. The interviews with Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) are powerful and well-done, as is the character’s swift mental and physical decline. Two gold stars for Josh Hutcherson!
Part of the reason I’m a tad bit disappointed is that Suzanne Collins is attached to the film and gets a writing credit. When a writer is attached to the project, I hope for a stronger adaptation. The other two screenwriters, Peter Craig and Danny Strong, are signed on to do Part 2 but have not been with the franchise previously. I’m hoping my issues with the narrative do not extend to Mockingjay Part 2.
On the other hand, there were some absolutely stunning moments that the film offered that could not be found in the book due to the novel’s first person point of view. I loved seeing more of the district’s perspective on the rebellion. The sequences in Districts 5 and 7 gave necessary depth to the rebellion. And Katniss’ singing of The Hanging Tree is beautifully realized–plaintive and poignant all at once. The scene where the citizens of District 5 march towards the dam singing that song gave me chills.
I might have purchased The Hanging Tree on iTunes and I might have been listening to it non-stop.
Natalie Dormer as Cressida was also a brilliant casting choice. Cressida is an intriguing character in the novel and Dormer brings nuance to a character with little dialogue. Philip Seymour Hoffman continues to be the ideal Plutarch Heavensbee, though it is sad to see him on-screen now. Overall, there are some strong performances in The Mockingjay, my central issue is how the story itself is being handled.
Despite my problems with this film, I think The Mockingjay Part 1 does a great job of setting the audience up for Part 2. I think director, Francis Lawrence, ended the film in a smart way for maximum impact. I won’t say more than that because I have probably spoiled enough in my wee rant here.
My hope is that the second half of the story is better paced and takes the ample opportunities that Collins’ book provides.
As for The Mockingjay Part 1, I give it 3 Film Bubbles–Suitably Poppable. There may be problems with this movie but I still had a good time in the theater.
Thanks for popping in!