Friday, January 2, 2015

Movie Review: Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 1

The post apocalyptic science fiction young adult genre is red hot at the moment. After the success of the Twilight movies and the eventual mass hatred for them no one expected The Hunger Games to be such a massive success.

The first movie worked because it went against everything that Twilight built. The schmaltz, the tacky direction and hokey plot were replaced by mature direction, good acting and a sense of purpose to drive the plot forward. The lead heroine wasn’t the whiny needy girl setting a bad example for teenage girls all over the world – Katniss Everdeen became a badass symbol of strength, who encouraged girls to stand on their own feet and punch the system in the face.

The second movie worked because it fixed everything that was wrong with the first movie – like the jittery camerawork, the colorless atmosphere and the overall pace. The themes of oppression, reality TV chicanery, media manipulation were better explored. Most importantly, it also amped up its game on the action front.

That is where part three fails, and becomes the first real disappointment of the franchise. And it’s not hard to guess why – it’s part one of two parts in the third part of the franchise. Splitting the final book into two parts was done in Harry Potter and Twilight, and the reason for Hunger Games to follow suit is also the same – the extra money. As a result, nothing much happens in Mockingjay Part One. It’s a two hour long movie that serves only as a prologue to all the action spectacle of the grand finale.

Katniss (once again played by the lovely Jennifer Lawrence) is now part of the rebel camp, trying to deal with the sudden responsibility of leading the rebels to a revolution. Peeta (Josh hutcherson) is believed to be dead, and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) makes a return, confusing Katniss further. That pretty much ends the story element of Mockingjay Part One. The filmmakers try to pad in the lack of plotting by adding in a host of new characters, including Julianne Moore as the leader of the rebellion, Natalie Dormer as a PR agent and her two cameramen. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson make a return, as does the villainous Donald Sutherland.

The problem is, the plot doesn’t as such move forward in part one – you just have this huge host of actors expressing various degrees of emotions. We know that Katniss has to lead the rebellion and become the symbol of hope for the people of District 13, but getting to the rebellion is a real slog. Also we never get a sense of the geography of the place. There is a massive revolution happening but we’re never sure what these people are fighting for. We got a glimpse of the huge vistas of the city in the first two films but never a clear picture of what the world has become. If you’re hoping to get a better view, you’ll be disappointed because this film shows even less of the outside world.

Along with the thrills the element of surprise, the sense of wonder and tension have also dissipated. Katniss, along with the audience goes in for the long jaunt of seeing the people of District 13 die under the Capitol’s spray of bullets. There are a few explosions, hover crafts crash land, buildings crumble, and a dam is heroically attacked by the rebels – but the action, the little there is, is cold and mechanical, and also predictable. Katniss’ character also takes a slump, she’s playing the confused teenage girl clinging on to whichever guy she hangs out with. Smooching one while pining for the other. It’s dangerously close to Twilight territory. Even other characters do a U-turn - Gale, who is supposed to be a small town kid suddenly dons a commando suit and goes on a Seal Team Six style mission. 

Moreover, the dialogue writing has had a massive plunge in quality, and it becomes quite amusing to see acting giants like Hoffman and Moore struggling to make it work. The overtly serious tone of the film becomes a bit tedious as well, considering this is the third movie without a single moment of laughter, knowing that that there is one more to come. Hopefully the final installment isn’t as dull and has a Coldplay end credits song like in the previous movie.

(First published in Firstpost)

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