The Hunger Games movies seem to be taking a page out of the Harry Potter saga. Katniss Everdeen, our revolutionary heroine, was once a bright young girl, genial, good with arrows, in awe of the world around her. Now she’s like that kid who has spent too long at the amusement park and can’t decide which ride is more boring. She’s all caught up in politics and rebellions and tragedies and can’t seem to put her emotions in order. Her world is darkening quickly, sucking her soul along with it.
The only time I recall her smiling in Mockingjay Part 1 is when she plays with her sister’s cat, and even then she remembers the severity of her role and stiffens up. Yes, I must be aware that her world is encroaching, oppressing, tormenting, but where does that leave the person she once was? Is it fair to us that the girl we fell in love with is growing up and becoming someone else?
We learnt from the previous movie that she aims to become the saviour for all mankind, that she was rescued from The Hunger Games by Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a round fellow who plans to unite all 13 Districts, stage a revolution and overthrow the Capitol. Plutarch is aided by President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), who sounds like a bank. She is the leader of this revolution and president of the 13th District, long thought to be defunct.
They’ve delved deep into the ground, set up base camp, and scuttled around like little worker ants trying to think up ways in which the Capitol can be defeated. Now they have their trump card, and its name is Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence). They want her to be the face of their rebellion, to be the rousing lightning rod for the other 12 Districts. There’s a momentum, President Coin says, that has been secretly churning beneath the hearts of the Districts. Katniss must keep it going, lest the whiff of liberty be deodorised.
This would be very easy, except the handsome Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) was left behind in the previous film and now serves the Capitol by appearing on Caesar Flickerman’s talk show, promoting anti-war, pro-Capitol platitudes, much to the chagrin of Katniss and her fellow rebels. Has he really turned? Is the boy Katniss fell in love with also growing up and becoming someone else?
The romance angle picks up where it left off — in a different dimension. It has convoluted itself to a distracting degree by now, where Katniss loves Peeta but also loves the strapping Gale (Liam Hemsworth, also strapping), but doesn’t love him nearly as much as she does Peeta, even though Gale’s the much nicer, more logical choice and has been in love with her since time immemorial. Then something sinister happens to Peeta that’s both inexplicable and contrived, developed by the screenplay as a last-ditch effort to create even more confusion. This isn’t the first time love has gotten in the way of the pursuit of liberty.
Mockingjay Part 1 arrives with some baggage and departs with the exact same weight. Nothing is gained or lost. At the end of Catching Fire (2013) the stakes were rising and the shrewd President Snow (Donald Sutherland) was planning to strangle Katniss and whatever coup she was arranging. By the end of this film, Snow is still planning and the stakes are still rising, though one could argue that they have plateaued in preparation for the inevitable conclusion. At one point, when the hydroelectric dam of District 5 is destroyed, blanketing the Capitol in darkness, Snow observes, “Moves, and countermoves”. He’s not aware of the saying: Moves and countermoves do not a movie make.
Where director Francis Lawrence fails here is in the pacing. There is no ebb and flow, which most greats have in abundance. Much of the time is spent recording propaganda videos, establishing routes of attack, watching Caesar’s show and Katniss lamenting over Peeta’s deteriorating state, often screaming, trembling and crying. Many characters wake up in hospital beds, dazed and confused, some more than once. There are clever conversations here that when assembled promise a much greater picture, but they are sparse and disconnected and instigated mostly by Plutarch. Perhaps the greater picture will be Part 2.
Best Moment | The Tribute Centre raid sequence.
Worst Moment | Probably Katniss singing the song, even though Jennifer Lawrence has a good voice.