If you haven't read Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy, and/or haven't seen The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, this movie probably isn't for you. Mockingjay is adapted from Collins' third book in the series, and is being presented in two parts.
I was skeptical about making two full-length movies from one book, but I can see two good reasons for it: one, it will make a lot of money for the people who make the movies, and two, it gives me one more Jennifer Lawrence film to enjoy.
Yes, I'm in it for the Jennifer Lawrence, there's no doubt about that. I love seeing her act. Any other actress put in the role of Katniss Everdeen would have made the movie series dumber than a box of rocks; I mean, the story is about one young girl igniting a rebellion of cut-off "districts" against a centralized, loathsomely hedonistic government culture. Oh, like that would happen in the real world -- wait, the Hunger Games never makes any mention of the rest of the world... So while Collins' books are quite engrossing to read, the basic story itself is nothing outrageously new. But give it over to Jennifer Lawrence, and you can't wait to see what she adds to it.
Yes, there are other actors in the film. Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, and Philip Seymour Hoffman turn in good performances. But they are simply orbiting Lawrence, and without her, there'd be little point to them.
In this third movie, Katniss has been rescued from the wreckage she made of the Hunger Games Stadium. As she recovers from her injuries and shock, she is reuinited with Gale, her quasi-love interest from before the Games, her mother, and her sister. And while that is wonderful, she comes to find that Peeta, her team-mate and sort of love interest during and after the Games, has been left behind in the evil Capitol, and is being manipulated into an opposition against Katniss. Three other Victors who helped Katniss bring down the Games are also trapped in the Capitol; no one knows their fate.
There is some action in this movie, but mostly it is about the cruelty of war, the remorseless power of oppressors, and the toll taken on people's hearts and minds when those they love are put in harm's way.
After seeing the movie, and having read the books, I think it was a good move to make four movies instead of three. Probably the only story criticism I had for the third book in the series was that it was a bit rushed -- the ending came too soon, and was too deep a labyrinth to be "told" about and not "shown."
So of course I'll go see the fourth movie next year (God willing and the creek don't rise) and look forward some time after that to owning the box set of DVD's and junking out with a Jennifer Lawrence film festival.
Today, you get more for your money than you bargained for. You wandered on in here to get a movie review from Sand and me, and that you will have, but you will get a bonus review as well, and I might add, at no additional cost! Before we begin, however, I would like to remind you that movie critiquing is an art, not a science. For any given movie, the professionals that, like Sand and I, devote their lives to the craft of movie review, may earnestly go about their jobs and arrive at radically different end points. Most of the time, my assessment of the works I see tend to agree with the majority of the "big time" reviewers. I actually ran the numbers once and it came out that 75% of the time, I agree with the majority of my fellow practitioners (see the study here).
Every once in a while, however, I have got to wonder whether those guys and I saw the same movie. And it's not necessarily just the critics -- why in the hell, for instance, is the most popular movie in the world (as measured by box office receipts) Avatar? I have problems also with what became the most popular animated movie of all time, Frozen. "Beautifully animated, smartly written, and stocked with singalong songs..." is how rottentomatoes.com described the movie. That was not the insipid pablum that I saw.
This past week, Sand and I went to see the newest Hunger Games installment, which Sand has already done a great job of reviewing, and about which I will talk about in a bit. We also went to see Big Hero 6. Big Hero 6 got an 89% rating on the rottentomatoes "freshness" scale, a respectable rating, while Hunger Games only garnered a 68%.
So here is the bonus review: Big Hero 6 -- meh. This is going to put me at odds with most of fellow reviewers, but I was pretty bored by this movie. It's cute, I suppose, but if you are older than twelve, don't waste your money on this one.
As for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1, the only caveat I would give is that you've got to remember that this movie is part three of four. I do not agree with those who say that this movie was just put together to prolong the series in order to make more money. You might argue that the story could have been told in three movies and not four, but you could also argue that the story could have been told in two not three. If you were going to edit the story for time in order to do it in three movies, I would have been more inclined to chop the second installment, but honestly, that's just quibbling. Given what we know from parts one and two, this is a very good and appropriate part three. Will part four be as good? Dunno, but I will be there to find out.
I totally agree with Sand that this series succeeds as it does largely due the performance of Jennifer Lawrence. She is a very good actress, and she makes the Katniss Everdeen character believable and accessible, and without that, the story falls flat. But you've also got to love Donald Sutherland and Woody Harrelson for their roles -- they add a delicious richness to the cast.
I suppose that if you've seen parts one and two, you don't need me to tell you to go see this one. If you haven't, you still have plenty of time to rent The Hunger Games and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and catch up with the story so that you can go see Mockingjay - Part 1. But then you'll be ready next November when Part 2 comes out.