So, I have this ongoing quest: I would like, just once, to go see a movie when my friends and I are the only people in the theater. I don’t know why this is my quest, considering there are approximately 78,000 other goals that are my worthy of my time and energy, and yet, here we are. Quests are rarely chosen, right? They are something that is given, something laid upon you. Quests are a thing of destiny.
I’ve come close to fulfilling my quest at least half a dozen times now, only to have some asshole wander in during the previews, unwittingly ruining everything I’ve longed to achieve. I don’t throw popcorn at this asshole, partially because I’m a mature young woman but mostly because I don’t eat popcorn.
I mention all of this because last week I finally went to see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part I. This movie came out roughly two months ago. You would think that the majority of people who wanted to see it would, in fact, have already seen it. This was clearly the cinema’s expectation as well, considering we were obviously sitting in their teeniest-tiniest theater available. And yet, as soon as we sat down in the empty room, about twenty-five more people walked in.
You know, I’m not my namesake. I’m not asking to slay dragons here. I’m not even asking to lead any rebellions.
On the upshot, I generally enjoyed Mockingjay, Part I.
You may see SPOILERS for the previous movies in this review. You will not, however, see spoilers for this movie until you reach the clearly marked Spoiler Section. You will not see spoilers for the book anywhere, primarily because I haven’t read it yet. If you comment, I would strongly prefer that you didn’t leave book spoilers yourself. If you must leave them, please mark them appropriately so that I might ignore them until next November.
Somewhat reluctantly, Katniss becomes the figurehead of the Rebellion, aka, THE MOCKINGJAY. Meanwhile Peeta — and others, but let’s be real here, it’s mostly Peeta — is held captive by President Snow. Also, everyone suffers from some hardcore PTSD.
1. Now, I said I enjoyed Mockingjay, Part I, and I meant it — I will own this movie when the series comes out in a box set, and I’m sure I will happily rewatch it — but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have a few problems with this third installment. Actually, I had a fair number of problems. Let’s tackle one of the minor ones right away, shall we?
According to IMDb, the word “mockingjay” is used roughly twenty times, and people? I believe it. I would have believed thirty. Even a mere twenty, though, is just too damn much for one film. Cause I know it’s the title of your movie and all, but after the sixth time someone solemnly says, “She’s the Mockingjay,” I just really wanted to scream back, “I know! Really, I know. You don’t need to tell me anymore.”
2. The interesting thing about Mockingjay Part I is that it’s very much a movie about trying to press on and recover through intense emotional trauma, and in some ways, I think this film is wonderfully successful at it. I like the opening scene quite a bit. Jennifer Lawrence does an amazing job with the material that’s handed to her, like that even needs to be said at this point.
I also like that Katniss isn’t the only one struggling here. Everyone’s having difficulties, although one character in particular surprised me. I’ve read some reviews that have criticized the film’s slower pace, but to be honest, that didn’t bother me at all. In a way, it reminded me of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I, which was criticized for similar reasons but is actually one of my favorite HP films in the whole series. I don’t mind that this movie is more of a character study than its predecessors.
3. That being said, I do think that Katniss has one too many breakdowns.
For the majority of the movie, I’m fully on board with Katniss’s trauma. I like that she’s scared. I like that she doesn’t want any of this, that she primarily agrees to be the rebellion’s shining star as a bargaining tool in order to get what she wants. I’m sincerely pleased that she has a terrible time coping with all that she’s been through. I will always, always be a fan of emotional consequences.
But at some point, crying in a bunker becomes repetitive, and her last meltdown in the film not only seemed like needless overkill, it just didn’t feel consistent with her arc over the course of the story. Jennifer Lawrence can work hysteria, but if you overuse that talent, it loses some of its potency. Like when Joan of Arcadia started having Amber Tamblyn cry every episode. She was really, really good at it, but after six episodes straight, you’re just like, Oh, look, Joan’s a weepy bucket again. Must be Tuesday.
4. A lot of my problems here are tied into what I think might be the film’s biggest downfall: unlike its predecessors, Mockingjay, Part I can’t quite keep the juvenile love triangle bullshit from minimizing the impact of what everyone’s been through.
So, this is Peeta. You all remember Peeta. I like Peeta. But as the film continues, Katniss’s obsession with saving Peeta starts to feel less like it’s about her guilt for being rescued while he was left behind and more about what secret luv feelings she might or might not have for him. I don’t mind that she has those feelings, and I do like when Finnick tells her that her love for Peeta is obvious, even if it’s not romantic in nature.
But Katniss is so single-minded throughout the film that it’s hard to imagine we’re supposed to interpret her feelings as anything but romantic. Which might still work for me if the film ever bothered to let Katniss talk about Peeta like he’s an actual person, like if she ever shared a moment they had or explained why she felt so responsible for him, if there was any nuance about her feelings towards him at all.
Instead, Katniss just screams, “Peeta! PEETA!” for half the movie, and while it’s not quite knocking “WAAAAAAALT!” off the podium, it does sometimes get frustrating, particularly near the end, during that last emotional breakdown. Up till then, I could deal with it because I, too, wanted Peeta to be rescued. Finally, though, I lost my patience, and all I really wanted to do was sit Katniss down and have a serious conversation about priorities. Of course, Katniss’s priorities have always been first and foremost to her loved ones, and that’s fine; I even like that about her. But at this point, I feel like she’s putting the Boy ahead of everyone else she cares about, and that really bugs me. Katniss is an awesome heroine. I don’t want her main focus to be about a Love Interest.
5. You may be thinking that everything I’ve complained about thus far has finally edged me towards Team Gale. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
I tried to give Gale a second — nay, a third chance. I really did. And for a while, it seemed to be working. I still liked Peeta, of course, but Liam Hemsworth has a little more screentime in Mockingjay Part I, and I liked hearing about the things Gale went through when District 12 was bombed. After all, Katniss isn’t the only one who’s had a hard time recently. Gale has gone through some pretty horrific shit himself.
But then he went to Whiny Town, and I quickly lost all sympathy.
I think I’ll hold off on the details for now, but let me just say that this is another instance where the juvenile love triangle bullshit strikes pretty hard, and it’s unfortunate because I don’t think it needs to be this way. It’s really only a line, but that line basically turned me against Gale for the rest of the movie.
6. I know so far this review has been kind of negative, but I did have a good time watching Mockingjay, Part I. There are a number of individual moments (most of which I can’t talk about yet) that are pretty great. I also really loved all the war propaganda stuff. Propaganda is kind of treated like a dirty word. It’s very often associated with the enemy (or at least assholes), so it’s nice to see heroes you’re supposed to like using it as well.
Also, hilariously, Katniss is just as bad of an actress as you’d think she’d be. I may have watched most of these scenes giggling with my face hidden behind my hands.
7. A new sequel always means one thing: new characters.
Julianne Moore is enjoyable enough as the President of District 13. Her best moments, I think, are whenever she’s squaring off with Philip Seymour Hoffman. (It was sad, when Hoffman popped up. I’d actually completely forgotten about his character until that moment. On the upside, I liked him quite a bit in this movie.) I especially liked the moment in Command where Coin’s basically like, “Yeah, PR guy, shut your trap. We got this.”
Natalie Dormer doesn’t have so much to do here, but she always draws your attention whenever she’s on screen. Also, her hair is awesome, like possible Best Hair of the Year awesome. Often, documentarians in movies are just manipulative asshats, insensitive and shrill. But Cressida is a bit more interesting than that. Manipulative, sure. But smart, almost gentle, and never shrill.
Elden Henson has even less to do in this movie than Dormer, particularly because his character can’t talk. But I have a fondness for the actor, and he’s got a very sweet smile. Is it terrible to assume he’s going to sacrifice himself at some point in the next film?
8. I mostly acquire new music through friends, through movies, and through the alternative radio station I listen to on my TV. I generally don’t listen to much else, which is why I hadn’t yet heard “The Hanging Tree,” despite the fact that it hit the Top 40.
I had also never heard any of the remixes. Man, this song kind of cracks me up. Like, this is kind of a Depressing Times ballad, right, and yet? Let’s make it a dubstep? Okay, then.
9. A lot of my biggest problems in this movie happen in the third act. In fact, that emotional breakdown I keep talking about is basically the beginning of a fifteen minute stretch of the film that I think is inarguably weak. The movie’s climactic action stuff fails for me in a big way; however, the ending itself is pretty solid. I’m pretty eager to see Part II and annoyed because I want to look at fanfiction and can’t for fear of spoiling myself.
Alas. This is what comes from choosing to watch the movies before reading the books.
Should you care to read further . . .
Let’s rewind to the beginning of the movie.
We begin with Katniss freaking out in some dark corner and getting pulled back to her bed in the hospital at District 13. She’s not the only one having a rough go of it, either; Finnick pretty much looks like he’s losing his damn mind.
Finnick’s breakdown isn’t solely because of the Games themselves. President Snow’s goons have kidnapped his GF Annie and taken her to the Capitol with Peeta and Johanna. Throughout the film, we’ll hear a lot about Finnick missing Annie and Katniss missing Peeta. We will not, however, hear anyone talk about missing Johanna, presumably because she’s not dating anyone at the time of her abduction. This is crap. Johanna is the best. I missed you, Johanna.
I liked Finnick well enough in Catching Fire, but because I’m a terrible person, I found him about eighty times more interesting once I realized he was on the verge of a total breakdown. I didn’t expect it from him, for some reason — I guess I didn’t expect his character to get much deeper than Smirky Eye Candy With a Secret Heart of Gold — and I thoroughly enjoyed the surprise.
Unfortunately, we don’t actually spend all that much time with Finnick. You can kind of watch as he slowly pulls himself back together, the way Katniss is doing, but it mostly happens off screen. This is mildly unfortunate because I feel like the film misses a great opportunity to have more scenes between the two of them. Finnick and Katniss are two of the very few people who have survived the Games, and they’re also the only ones whose loved ones have been taken hostage by Snow. The movie gives you a few moments with them, but I really wish there were more. I also wonder if the bunker scene where Finnick comforts Katniss might have been stronger if it had been the other way around.
Meanwhile. President Coin and Plutarch Heavensbee want Katniss to become THE MOCKINGJAY — sorry, I can’t help myself — but she’s still pissed at them for leaving Peeta behind, so she’s like, “Fuck you, losers. I’m out of the hero biz.” A trip home changes her mind, though. (BTW, the destruction of District 12 is very nicely done.) She does come up with some new terms: the Rebellion is to rescue the hostages (but mostly Peeta) as soon as they humanly can, and the hostages (but seriously, PEETA) are to be pardoned for any crime they may have committed while being held against their will. Also, Prim gets to keep her cat.
Why the pardon? Well, Captive Peeta starts appearing in a series of interviews with Caesar Flickerman, calling for the rebels to lay down their arms and surrender. This turns everyone except Katniss against him. (Although I’m actually with Katniss on this one. Peeta begins looking worse and worse with each interview, so clearly something is being done to him.)
I actually really like the interviews, particularly the one where Peeta starts pleading with Katniss to stop being the rebellion’s puppet, to think and decide for herself. I wish I could remember the exact dialogue now, but I thought it was clever, how he could easily be talking to himself here. I was never fully sure how much control Peeta had over what he was saying, if he was knowingly calling for the ceasefire in order to protect Katniss, or if some conditioned part of his brain actually believed what he was saying. (We’ll be talking more about Peeta’s brainwashing later.) Either way, it worked pretty well for me. Poor kid’s got it kind of rough in this film.
And then there’s Gale.
So, Gale’s had it rough too. He managed to evacuate 900 people out of District 12 before it got bombed to hell, which sounds like a lot until you realize about 9,100 people didn’t make it out at all. So, definitely, Gale’s got scars. And I really like that he has something to angst about other than his love for Katniss . . . until, of course, it’s all about Katniss.
See, Gale’s upset, right? Well, Katniss kisses him. I don’t think anyone, including Katniss, was assuming that her magic lips would heal all of her friend’s wounds, but presumably she was trying to provide some level of comfort. Whether a kiss was the proper way to way to deliver that comfort is a question for another day. I, instead, will be focusing on Gale’s reaction. “You only notice me when I’m hurting,” he says before going off to sulk somewhere. And I guess I’m supposed to be like, “Ooh, burn,” or maybe, “Oh, that poor, unnoticed Gale. Why doesn’t that Katniss realize what a nice young man she has right beside her?”
Instead, my reaction was more like, “Wow, Gale, way to be a whiny douche.” Because to me, his woe comes off as very entitled, like, “I loved you first. I loved you best. Why do you keep focusing on that guy you went through all this harrowing shit with instead of loving ME?” Like he deserves to have her, at this point, and she’s not playing along.
Well, I find that infuriating. As much as I wish Katniss wasn’t so focused on Peeta during this movie, at least I can get where she’s coming from. But Gale . . . I mean, I’d be fine if he was saying, “Hey, I’ve been through some really terrible shit, too, and I need you to listen to me sometimes and be here for me like I am for you.” If she couldn’t recognize that he also needed a shoulder now and then, yeah, I’d totally get it. Friendship shouldn’t just be a one-way street. But really what I’m taking away from this scene is, “Yeah, sure, you’re trying to be supportive and loving and all, but if you’ve got the hots for another guy, then what the fuck is that even worth?”
Moving on. Peeta manages to warn the rebels that an attack is headed their way. Everyone survives, but when Katniss is supposed to do another propo film, she has a meltdown. Why? Because President Snow dropped a shitload of white flowers with his bombs, which makes Katniss suddenly realize that he’s going to kill Peeta.
Now, the shot of all those flowers? Pretty cool. And the white roses are actually pretty ominous. They’re a great callback to the previous film. Still, Katniss’s meltdown annoys me more and more each time I think about it, partially because Katniss has already had enough meltdowns at this point, partially because she and thousands of other people have just survived a terrifying bombing and she’s still only concerned about Peeta’s life, and partially because it comes off like this is the first time she’s ever realized that Peeta might actually die, which is just dumb. I really mean it when I say that I enjoy both Katniss’s PTSD stuff, but at this point in the film, I kind of need her to step up. Instead, she becomes a quivering mess, and it just doesn’t work for me.
So Katniss runs off, and Haymitch comforts her by saying that there’s a mission underway to rescue Peeta. Naturally, this snaps her back into action, which, ugh. As it turns out, the propo that Katniss was supposed to do is actually part of the diversion; it, like, scrambles the Capitol’s defense signals or something. I don’t know, technology. Anyway, since Katniss bowed out, Mostly-But-Not-Fully-Recovered Finnick takes over the job, and it’s . . . awkward.
The whole scene doesn’t work for me. I tend to blame it more on the script than the delivery, but it kind of depends on what the director’s intentions were here. The dialogue itself is just awful, rambling and strange, with little bearing on the action it’s being juxtaposed with. Which might have actually worked for me, if they played it like Finnick was having trouble coming up with things to say, since his whole role here is to just keep talking as long as possible. Hell, the boy’s obviously had some trouble coping this whole movie. Maybe he just isn’t ready for this. That would be fine.
But unfortunately, that’s not how the speech comes across at all. Sam Claflin’s delivery made me feel like the moment was supposed to be powerful, revelatory, a moment of strength for his character, but mostly Finnick just seemed to be trying to fit the word ‘poison’ into every sentence. It drove me nuts.
Also . . . is Finnick talking about being a prostitute here? Because as he rambled on, I suddenly caught a few words and was like, wait, WHAT? I found it extremely difficult to focus on what he was saying, though, because we had to listen while watching the Big Rescue Team flying into the Capitol. I understand the narrative reasoning for that, but ultimately it seems like a really poor decision. The action takes away from whatever important revelations Finnick might be making, while the speech doesn’t at all inform what you’re watching on the screen. It doesn’t give you any new sense of context or add another level of interpretation or provide dramatic irony or really do anything but get in the way.
It feels like a small thing to bitch about — considering the scene’s only, what, five minutes long? But you’re waiting the whole movie for these guys to rescue Peeta, and when they do, it’s just not very tense or creepy or anything. I definitely found the Big Rescue scene a serious letdown.
Then Katniss ends up talking to President Snow for Reasons.
Mostly, I found this whole bit kind of silly. Her reaction to possibly losing both Gale and Peeta is pretty powerful, though. (See, it’s okay if she has some emotional breakdowns. I just need to buy the instigating factor.) Still, I kind of wish Katniss had just been a part of the Big Rescue Team because I bet that would have brought the intensity up. Plus, you know. I’m all about the heroine rescuing the prince.
Fortunately, the team comes back alive, even Boggs (Mahershala Ali), the only person I was actually worried about. (I forgot to mention him before, but he’s another one of the new characters I enjoyed. Like Pollux, I worry that he could potentially sacrifice himself for a main character in the next film.) Of course, between Gale’s confused realization that the Capitol just let them escape and President Snow’s not even remotely subtle jibe about how the one you love will be the one to destroy you, MUAHAHAHAHA, you’d think that somebody would consider putting the rescued prisoners in restraints or at least under strict supervision until they could figure out what Snow’s game plan was. But, you know, logic.
Instead, Katniss goes to see Peeta, and Peeta very nearly strangles her to death.
First, it should be said that both Peeta and Johanna look like hell. I mean, they are skinny. Turns out, the weight loss is all CGI, which is kind of great in my opinion. (Actually, I can only confirm that for Hutcherson. I assume the same is true for Jena Malone, but she’s really a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo, so now I’m not sure.) I thought Peeta might have been slimmed down by CGI, but I wasn’t positive, and anyway, that’s a lot healthier than losing forty pounds for your job. (I feel it should be said: I’m not an actor and supremely unlikely to ever become one, but if I ever did end up in Tinseltown, I can say with a pretty high level of confidence that I wouldn’t go Method. I know it works for some people, but to me it sounds like a completely miserable way to create something. Also, I’m lazy.)
So, Skinny Damaged Peeta takes one look at Katniss and immediately tries to kill her. Would have done, too, but Boggs manages to take him down. (Poor Peeta. Finally gets to be a badass, except that he’s using his new fighting skills to try and kill his beloved.) We then learn that he’s been subjected to a bunch of fear-conditioning brainwashing shit that turned him into a weapon, and we end the film on the sight of him strapped to a table, trying to escape and, essentially, having totally fucking lost it.
It’s actually a pretty great way to end the movie, and I definitely want to see how and if he recovers from this in Mockingjay, Part II. Also, how the rebellion works out (I kind of assume it will succeed) and how many red shirts will fall before the end. I care less about who Katniss ends up with, although at this point I’d actually be pretty surprised if it was Gale. In fairness, the love triangle thus far has seemed vastly balanced against him, which kind of sucks. On the other hand, he still manages to come off as a whiny jerk, so. My sympathies are limited.
Alma Coin: “Do you have any other conditions?”
Katniss: “. . . my sister gets to keep her cat.”
Finnick: “It takes ten times as long to pull yourself together than it does to fall apart.”
Beetee: “Uh, let’s not fire the red ones in here.”
Alma Coin: “And if you’re killed?”
Katniss: “Make sure you get it on camera.”
I enjoyed watching the movie a lot more than this review would suggest. There are any number of strong moments here, scenes that I’ve really wanted to watch again. But — perhaps because it’s aiming for trickier subject matter — I feel like this one has bigger problems than its predecessors.
Jennifer Lawrence. Still. Always.
The needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many, at least if the one is a boy you maybe want to kiss for realsies this time.