I will be the very first to admit that I have never been very kind to young adult novel adaptations. I feel the incredible Harry Potter film series set the scene for every fantasy novel to be given the film treatment. This year alone we have had Divergent, The Giver and The Maze Runner. None of them are particularly good. However, one young adult film series that is continuously excellent is the Hunger Games, which blends action with great character development.
Part of the success of the Hunger Games franchise is how they are anchored by a very strong performance by Jennifer Lawrence. Her portrayal of Katniss Everdeen will surely go on to become iconic. However, Lawrence really didn’t do much in this film. That’s not to discredit Lawrence’s talents or make her seem like a bad actress, but she had very little to do here. It was instead the performances of the supporting cast that were much stronger than hers, specifically that of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Woody Harrelson and Donald Sutherland. Julianne Moore is a great addition to the franchise, but she too doesn’t do much, but I know for a fact that both Lawrence and Moore will be given some very good material in the second film. Josh Hutcherson is again the weakest part of the film, and he doesn’t appear all to much throughout this. This was the most disappointing aspect of the film for me – the Hunger Games are a perfect combination of strong characters and tense action. I feel like they sacrificed a lot of the charm of these characters for the action, which was also completely non-existent, with the exception of a few brief moments.
I will go on record and say so far, this is the weakest of the series. It doesn’t quite find its feet at all. It feels very incomplete from start to finish, and while I do know the main purpose of this film is to set up the events for the epic finale, but I felt very underwhelmed. There simply was not enough there to keep anyone interested. The amount of story that went on in this film could have filled up a twenty-minute prologue to the final film instead of a two-hour movie. The story just constantly revolves around the same redundant point – Katniss travels around seeing the horrors the Capitol as inflicted on all the districts. It is really not captivating viewing when you get down to it. There are some great moments, but when it comes to story, I really don’t think they gave us the best film possible. I actually think the fact that they split the final book into two films is a blatant capitalization on other franchises like Harry Potter, which would split their finale in two parts. The difference is, the final Harry Potter novel had enough story in it to cover two entire films. Much like The Hobbit film series, there is absolutely no need for more than one film, and Mockingjay, while a complex book, does not have nearly enough meat behind it to justify this terrible attempt at making money. This strategy did get people in the seats, but ultimately, it is a disappointing experience. The pace is slow, and it is a deliberate and sad attempt to just make more money, which unfortunately worked.
Yet, it isn’t a terrible film, let alone a mediocre one. It is still good entertainment, and a lot of fun. It has some great performances in it, and the world that Suzanne Collins so wonderfully created is explored more thoroughly here. The pace was poor, but it did help increase the tense atmosphere, which can either add or subtract from the overall experience. There were some cliches throughout, but none bad enough to warrant a stamp of disapproval. I will admit that a lot of my admiration for this film comes from Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his last performances, and how he was given some good material here that showed off his talents.
Overall, Mockingjay Part 1 is not the strongest entry into the Hunger Games franchise, but I wouldn’t worry. The final film will no doubt be a strong, action-packed, adrenaline-fueled adventure with some wonderful performances (and hopefully Jennifer Lawrence cheers up, because she gave a very depressed performance here), and hopefully it can be a worthy finale for this great franchise.
For Hunger Games fanatics, Mockingjay is essential. For casual viewers, even those who have seen the previous two films, you might find yourselves bored or disappointed. Either way, its not the strongest entry, but it is still an enjoyable film.