I’ve never been a particularly huge fan of The Hunger Games series, but that being said, I’d wager that I went to see Mockingjay with a more objective mindset than I might have otherwise. I did read the first book and half of the second, but I never got around to reading the third; an associate of mine whom I sometimes pretend to respect once told me that, for whatever reason, there was a pretty drastic drop-off in quality between the second and third books. As the book-to-movie adaptation debate rages on, let’s see how THG:M-1 measures up in its own right.
Francis Lawrence reprises his directorial role from 2013’s Catching Fire, though he is joined by screenwriters Peter Craig and Danny Strong—both newcomers to the series. Lawrence, just like the last time around, proves to be functional if uninteresting, and as is generally the case with this sort of thing, I place the blame for Mockingjay’s shortcomings squarely on the writers. I’ll delve deeper into the minutiae in a moment, but at present, suffice it to say that the film is one of the most childishly melodramatic and hollowly plaintive films that I’ve seen in a long while.
Even the acting left me a little disappointed, though admittedly there was little for the cast to do besides mope around and look sad. I’m aware that I’ve got a slightly unpopular opinion of Jennifer Lawrence, in that she’s a serviceable actress though vastly overrated, but her performance in Mockingjay was extremely “one-note,” if you follow me. Again, I’d say that’s more a fault of the writers that J-Law’s. Likewise, the vast majority of dialogue came off as extremely stilled and awkward, presumably in an ill-placed attempt at soaring emotional impact. To my mind, only Woody Harrelson’s portrayal of the washed-up District 12 victor Haymitch Abernathy, provided at least a tenuous grounding in reality, despite all the other character’s spouting overblown nonsense at one another.
Now, let me get back to the writing. From what I can tell, neither Craig not Strong have to many scripts to their credit, apart from Craig’s co-writer status on the 2010 film The Town. As far as the plot itself is concerned, I’m fairly indifferent; I get that it’s mainly a set up for the big finale in the upcoming part 2. It’s mostly the dialogue and delivery thereof that got to me.
You know it’s always a big sign when the actors are delivering lines like they know they’re being filmed, and by that, I mean I lost count of the number of times that characters stared stoically into the middle-distance and quoted overblown, cheesy, melodramatic lines, presumably intending to elicit an emotional response, every single one of which come off as hollow and token. Even Lawrence, who’s usually better than this (even by my own admission) isn’t immune from the ravages of un-ironically awful dialogue.
Some of my associates have posited that this is the best entry in the Hunger Games series to date, though to my mind, Mockingjay Part 1 belies just how immature and silly the series actually is. I actually favored the glorified death-match setup of the original Hunger Games as well as Catching Fire, as they tended to have an undertone of almost otherworldly, surreal bleakness—savagery and blood sport beneath a gilded veneer of garish flash and sparkle. Meanwhile in Mockingjay, it’s all melodrama, all the time.
Mockingjay Part 1 advances the rather sparse plot of the series, but that’s about all it does, frankly. Despite my general indifference to the series, my hopes aren’t particularly high for part two, but then again, I’ve been wrong before.
Rating: 3 out of 5