November 23, 2014
With the first two parts of the Hunger Games films doing so well critically and in the box office, anticipation for the concluding installment was very high. Following the path previously set by the Harry Potter and Twilight Saga franchises, the producers also decided to divide the last book in the series, Mockingjay, into two parts. Now that I have seen the first part, I thought this decision may have been misguided.
This film begins right where the previous one stopped where Katniss wakes up in District 13 where she was taken by rebels after she destroyed the Quarter Quell arena with her arrow. Katniss becomes the symbol of the rebellion by appearing in incendiary promotional advertisements, but Katniss was angry with them because they left her partner Peeta behind at the Capitol. Backed with the technical knowhow of Beetee, President Coin of District 13 sends a covert mission led by Gale to rescue Peeta and the other Victors from their captivity.
Jennifer Lawrence is far and away the best performer in this film. Her face is really rich in unspoken emotions. Josh Hutcherson gets to flex some of his acting muscles more in this one as the brainwashed Peeta Mellark. It was good to see old characters played by Woody Harrelson, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Hemsworth, Jeffrey Wright and Sam Claflin, though their roles were very limited here. New to the cast, acclaimed actress Julianne Moore is rather one-note in her performance as President Coin.
The best moments of this film for me actually had to do with music. The first would be that sublime moment where Katniss sang the haunting tune called "The Hanging Tree." The next one would already be during the closing credits when the incredible new song of Lorde "Yellow Flicker Beat" was played.
Overall though, I felt disappointed that this film cannot stand on its own. Unlike the action-packed first two films, this one was just a lot of slow talky scenes which the talented actors cannot do much about to make them any more exciting. That one awesome scene where Katniss shot down a plane with an arrow was even already shown in trailers. No other action sequence matched that one. This whole film clearly served nothing but to just set-up for the big concluding episode to be shown next year.
There were a lot of scenes which were unnecessarily prolonged just to pad up the running time. The scenes showing the destruction of District 12 were actually shown twice. The escape to the underground bomb shelter scenes were extended too long. I thought judicious editing could have made these scenes tighter, so that the whole story could have been told in one big spectacular film. Judging from what happened to this one, dividing the last book into two parts may have just succeeded to make the last two films two incomplete films.
Anyway as US box office receipts come in making "Mockingjay Part 1" earn the biggest domestic opening weekend this year ($123M!), I'm sure fans will still all watch this whatever critics and other people say. And definitely, we will all be hanging on for one more year for that explosive Part 2 to come along and blow us away. 5/10.