“I have a message for President Snow: If we burn, you burn with us!”
When Francis Lawrence took over director duty for the second film in the Hunger Games franchise we got a much more serious YA adaptation from Collins’s novel. The film had a great sense of pacing and storytelling while introducing us to the Capitol and the other districts and not just focusing on the actual Hunger Games. I thought it was a much better film than the first, but I still loved them both. They ended up in my list of the best films for the year in which they were released, so my expectations for this third film were huge considering Lawrence was back in the director’s chair. I still had some concerns about adapting the final book in two parts because the first parts didn’t work too well with the Twilight and Harry Potter franchises. My concerns turned out to be true because I did have a similar issue with Mockingjay Part 1. The entire film felt stretched, focusing on small details that didn’t do much to build the tension of the story. It actually hurt the pacing of the film that the director had worked so well with in the previous installment. This first part felt like a slow build-up and a giant filler to what will come next in the grand finale, so I couldn’t help but feel let down by what Francis Lawrence had to offer. I still enjoyed Mockingjay, but it doesn’t live up to its predecessors.
Mockingjay is a huge departure from the previous films. There are no Hunger Games and very little action scenes here, while there is a lot of exposition and preparation for what is to come. The previous films worked as a social commentary on reality TV, while this one focuses more on advertising. Catching Fire allowed us into the Capitol where we got a glimpse of who the real enemy was, but in Mockingjay we don’t see what is actually going on in the Capitol and everything takes place mostly in District 13 where a big revolution is uprising. What all three films do have in common is the strong lead performance from Jennifer Lawrence who holds everything in place and keeps us engaged with this dystopian world Collins has introduced us to. When certain scenes in Mockingjay began to feel tedious or drag out a bit too long, Lawrence’s Katniss reminded us why we are tagging along with this franchise. She literally is the symbol of hope for the rebellion as much as she is for the franchise. This film is more political than the previous ones and we are introduced to a lot of propaganda (not just as a build-up for the next film, but actual propaganda as the Capital and District 13 try to smear each other’s credibility). The political intrigue plays out as a sort of chess game where one side tries to outdo the other. This was done really well here, but the problem was that it became repetitive, and that is where I felt the story was incredibly stretched out.
Jennifer Lawrence has some great scenes in this film, and others that felt a bit cheesy (the nightmares for example), but during a scene where she sends a message to President Snow she gave me goose-bumps. I also enjoyed the scene where she sings “the hanging tree” lullaby. Those were the moments that drew me back to the film and reminded me why I loved this franchise in the first place. I am sure the second part of this film will work better, but the slow build-up didn’t do much for me here. I missed some of the characters that I had learned to love and that only got a few minutes of screen time here. Haymitch and Caesar provided some of the much needed comic relief in the previous films, but here everything becomes political and serious and there is little room for them. Effie is perhaps the character who comes out better this time around and Elizabeth Banks nails the role once again. The new characters didn’t do much for me and despite the fact that Liam Hemsworth gets much more screen time as Gale he doesn’t do much either. Claflin’s role as Finnick is nowhere as nearly interesting as it was in Catching Fire. Phillip Seymour Hoffman brings class once again to his role and he also stood out for me, while Josh Hutcherson shows much more range as Peeta here despite the very little screen time he’s given. So despite having a lot of interesting characters in the franchise, they really don’t get to do anything interesting in Mockingjay. Of course, the film ends with a teaser and we will all return for the grand finale despite the slow build-up because enough time has been spent on these characters and we care for them.