Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

So, Mockingjay. The last book in the Hunger Games series has been made into two movies.
It finally happened. Lionsgate finally figured out that there's not enough room in one film for all of the detail, character development and intensity of The Hunger Games.
Unfortunately, they haven't taken a page out of Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy and decided to turn this into three movies, because apparently there wasn't enough space in two movies to tell the story of Mockingjay unabridged.
It's not as badly butchered as The Hunger Games was, but it's still had obvious bits chopped out of it. My memory of the Mockingjay novel isn't as clear as my memory of The Hunger Games was when I reviewed its movie adaptation, but I'll do my best.
My first criticism of the movie is this poster. The imagery of Katniss with the flames and silver wings behind her is cool looking, but all they did was edit Jennifer Lawrence in front of the original poster, and they didn't even bother removing the birds beak.
Fans of Agents of Shield might notice that Katniss's Mockingjay suit looks a lot like Melinda May's outfit. Also, since this poster is in high-definition, you might also be able to tell that all of Katniss's arrows are all fletched black, like her normal arrows are in the film.
When Katniss puts on this suit in the movie, she's never seen without some yellow and red arrows in addition to her regular black ones. The only time she's seen with a quiver of all black-arrows is one time when she's hunting. And that time she was hunting, she wasn't wearing this outfit.
And that brings me to another issue. Katniss only has around nine arrows in her quiver. Three regular, with three incendiary, and three explosive arrows. And that's all the weapons she's shown having in the film.
As far as the audience knows, she's only got a single quiver of arrows, without any refills, without any backup weapons, and therefore under-prepared.
Katniss's primary strength is her ability to go unseen and unheard, and survive to fight another day. And even though her main purpose as The Mockingjay is to be the poster child for the rebellion, she's still a target for The Capitol. And as such, needs the ability to defend herself in any situation.
In the novel, it was explained that she had weapons hidden all over the suit, along with light-weight armor plating around the suit, with extra reinforcements to protect her vital organs.
Something else they cut out was the fact that Cinna, the guy who designed the suit, had included a suicide pill in the collar of the suit in case Katniss was ever caught and tied up by Capitol operatives, and rescue was impossible.
And since she's a stealth operative, it doesn't make any sense why she's only got three arrows that don't blow up, or spurt fire all over the place, both of which will reveal your location. And we know that the explosive arrows are pretty powerful, since the one scene from the trailer that everyone remembers is where she shoots down a Capitol gunship with a single explosive arrow.
I know where this plot-hole originated. In the book, Katniss had a lot more arrows at her disposal, and she also had a system for recognizing what arrows she's looking for. I had originally thought that she had a voice-activated arrow-dispenser that gave her whichever of the three types she asked for, but I'm not sure where that idea came from, since upon re-reading the book, I didn't find anything that even resembled that.
They also left out Katniss's combat helmet, as well as certain suit details from the book, but that's a bit of a nitpick.
Now, let's talk effects. They've obviously got more to spend on effects than they did in the first movie, since they spend a bit of time showing it off. While the budget is slightly smaller than that of Catching Fire, they do manage to keep the effects looking good. While I think they might have been better off with a few hundred-million more in funding, they did well with what they had.
Anyways, I might as well tell you guys what's been cut.
Most of the evidence of District 13's tight-fisted totalitarian management has been removed, along with most evidence of their bigoted attitudes and manipulative schemes. I say most, because there are some bits and pieces left of 13's evil left. But as far as I can tell, most of their evil intentions and actions have been erased. We'll have to see how Mockingjay Part 2 turns out before judging to what extent Lionsgate has whitewashed the plot. And let me just say that if they keep this up, they're looking to ruin the whole point of Mockingjay's ending.
If you'll think back to the first movie, then you'll remember that Peeta's parents were all but cut from that film. And even though they're implied to be dead in this film, the fact that they were complete non-entities in the last two movies means that their deaths are utterly pointless in this movie.
The good thing is that the display of all of the dead spread out on the road in District 12 is still a sickening sight. Unfortunately it lost some of the impact it could have had if they'd developed (Or just included) a few more characters that were killed. I remember how I felt when I first read that District 12 had been leveled. I remember exactly how I felt when I found out who all was among the dead. It was hard to read.
And again, while I do really like this scene, I feel that if they'd done a little more character development in the first movie, instead of rushing to get to the titular Hunger Games, then this whole sequence would have had an even better impact.
A lot of scenes with Gale have been cut, or shortened, as they were in the last two movies. And at this point, I know I've been banging on about this in my reviews of the last two movies, but shifting from Katniss's perspective, without any voice-over from Jennifer Lawrence to fill the gaps means that a lot of the character the made the books interesting is just lost.
At least they're not doing what they did in the first movie and having the sports commentators tell you what's going on, because that seriously broke flow.
The good thing is that there aren't a whole lot of cuts away from Katniss to what other people are doing. The one that I really hated was left in the deleted scenes, fortunately.
Just to make a quick note, I don't totally dislike the idea of cutting away from Katniss's point of view. It can be very effective if used correctly. I'll get to that in a minute.
If you'll think back to last year, you'll remember Philip Seymour Hoffman died nine months before the release of this movie. Fortunately, all of his scenes in this movie were recorded before his death, and most of his scenes in Mockingjay Part 2 were finished by the time he died. Time will only tell if his death negatively affected the quality of the last film in the series.
One of the only cutaways from Katniss's perspective in the movie is to a scene with Hoffman's character, Plutarch Heavensbee talking with a pair of other characters about the propaganda shorts they recorded. And for what it's worth, that's not a bad scene. Especially since it's one of the few scenes that actually illustrates the manipulative motives of the operators of District 13.
I remember that most of the cutaway scenes from Catching Fire were to Heavensbee making deals with President Snow, which helped illustrate what District 13 was up to, and how little they really cared about their own people.
As always, I'm sure that this movie could do with an extended cut. Unfortunately there's no way they could shoot more footage after the fact with Heavensbee, since Hoffman's dead.
And unless I'm remembering incorrectly, I believe that there were a few action scenes cut or shortened.
Now, let's talk about one of my favorite scenes in the movie.
While Katniss and her camera crew are showing the Districts what The Capitol did to District 12, Gale tells them a story about the evacuation. About how after the feed from the arena was cut, they saw Capitol bombers inbound, and he rounded up as many people as he could to break down the fence, and flee to the woods.
Some of the residents of District 12 decided to go a different route, and after Gale got all of his people into the woods, the bombers let loose, blasting buildings to rubble. And then they doubled back, and bombed the road. And then they pan over to the burned and blackened corpses.
After that, they stop for a break by a lake, and at the urging of the camera-man Katniss sings a song to the Mockingjays that was a continuing feature of the books, "Hanging Tree"
My first comment has to be that Jennifer Lawrence sounds amazing. Her voice lends a great deal to that song, which hit at #12 on the Billboard Hot 100.
That song becomes the anthem of the rebellion, and after they show a few scenes from the completed short of Katniss and her crew walking through the ruins of District 12, they cut to a rainy night in District 5, with the rebels marching through the darkness, while singing Hanging Tree, and charging the Capitol guards.
This scene is powerful, and is one of the best pieces of the entire film.
Speaking of which, the propo short they filmed in District 8 was an awesome short. If they didn't use that as a trailer for the movie itself, then they should have!
The level of emotion and power that Jennifer Lawrence can convey in a scene like that is part of what makes this movie good. The fact that she can bring across both the anger and frustration of Katniss, and then shift right to spent, weary sorrow in the same scene is why she's able to pull off the role. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see much of Katniss's thunderous personality in the first movie, and it's good to see both Catching Fire and Mockingjay making up for that. The fact that they're willing to show her weakened and injured means that they've finally realized what made Katniss a great character. The fact that she took a ton of abuse, survived even the harshest of situations, and was able to come back and keep going. That she could find a spark of defiance even after being put through the wringer.
And when she came back, she came back a changed person. Not the same as when she started.
I might as well make this clear, I'm putting all of the blame for the failure of the first movie to capture the personalities of the characters on the shoulders of the film-makers. The actors are all great, and they put on great performances in this film and Catching Fire.
For instance, Josh Hutcherson was great in the few scenes he had as Peeta. His performance really captured the essence of how those sections of the book went.
And while Sam Claflin wasn't given a whole lot of screen-time in the film, what he had was excellent. When Finnick is telling the districts about what Snow forced him to do, and how he got the Capitol back for it, I could have sworn the words were leaping right off the pages and making that scene.
There's a lot to like about this movie, but it does have some issues.
All in all, I don't necessarily think this was a bad movie. It's got a lot of good moments, but it's a little too short, and it doesn't have the same density of awesome that Catching Fire did.
In the end though, I'll give it an 8.0* rating. I might wind up going back and updating Catching Fire's rating at some point, but don't hold your breath.

Image from