It gives me absolutely no pleasure to write this review. I enjoyed the last film in this series so much that I placed it my Top 10 Films of 2013. However, the experience of watching this movie, (for the first time) was easily the most disappointing experience I’ve had in a theater all year. That includes having to sit through terrible movies like ‘Winter’s Tale’.
My experience of ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1’ was so ridiculously dark that I couldn’t see half of what was going on in pivotal moments. I couldn’t make out certain action sequences. I couldn’t see characters faces in important scenes of dialogue. I really couldn’t make out a large portion of about the last 20 minutes or so. I actually got a bit of a headache.
Which might lead you to believe that I’m going to condemn this film as a waste of your money, but I’m not. The other films were so good that they earned the benefit of the doubt from me. So, I went back and watched the trailers for this film before writing this review. To absolutely no surprise, I found that key sequences that I could not make out in the theater were plenty clear on my iPad.
This means that the lighting in the particular theater I attended was garbage and therefore it’s not fair for me to judge a lot of what I could not see. Sadly, with the invention of 3D this has been happening a lot more lately. I read something a few years ago about the 3D projector setting having to be switched or something. I don’t know much about it (and I could be wrong), but I know that I’ve seen more ridiculously dark movies in the last few years than ever.
Which means I cannot in good conscience fully recommend or dismiss this film for you. Chances are that if you are reading this review than you are going to see this movie regardless of what I say. So, all I can do is give you some key observations to help you best prepare for the film that is likely going to be the box office queen of the year.
Let’s start with the clear down sides. First, and probably the most important, this feels like half a movie. You should know going into this movie that they have cut this final book in half to maximize profits. There is no excuse here to say that they wanted capture more of a dense book (like the final ‘Harry Potter’ film). This is a clear cash grab and the film suffers for it.
They truly could have fit what we have here into a real riveting hour of film, but instead the powers that be (here’s looking at you Lionsgate) decided they would stretch everything out to the breaking point. That’s not to say that there aren’t things here worth watching or enjoying. The problem is that movie meanders when it should be moving along. Revolution feels very plodding in Panem.
Still, there are things that work well here and other things that may work well if they are not so dark you can’t see a damn thing. Jennifer Lawrence is particularly effective this time around. I mean, she is always good in these movies, but there are several subtle scenes where she really delivers. Her reaction to stepping up in front of a District 8 hospital of wounded soldiers is quite unforgettable.
As a matter of fact, the entire section in District 8 is really good. I guess it has to be considering it is the cornerstone of the rebels propaganda campaign, but I still have to give the whole thing props. However, I have to take those same props away when it comes to the dynamic between the leads. Peeta spends most of this film unseen and when we do see him it is a guessing game of whether his anti-rebel stance is real or not. Well, it’s supposed to be anyways. Mostly, we just feel disconnected from Peeta’s situation all together.
That’s really the emotional core of the whole movie. Katniss is being groomed to be the face of the rebellion, but all she really cares about (at first) is Peeta. Most of the movie she is being used as a tool to get the districts to fight back against the Capitol, but it’s never less than clear that her love for Peeta is always on her mind. It’s what drives her every decision.
They only really appear together staring at screens though and our lack of knowledge about Peeta’s situation doesn’t work as a surprise. It mostly works to make his part less dramatic. I understand they want to keep us in the dark, but if this movie is going to drag on for 2 hours then you have to give us a bit more. It also might have been nice to see some of the affection between Katniss and Gale, but the movie shelters that as well.
What the film does do right is getting the nature of propaganda down. The politics of the rebellion are discussed at length and the way the propaganda videos are used to insight uprises is quite clever at times. It also helps that actors like Woody Harrelson, Jeffrey Wright, and the great Phillip Seymour Hoffman get to really dive deep into the nature of this war. Sadly, Julianne Moore mostly gets stuck spouting out speeches in a hall straight out of Zion in ‘The Matrix’ (that’s no compliment).
This movie is certainly a mixed bag and if you choose not to see it in the theater than you are not missing much. Yet, it would be crazy for me to tell you to skip it. These are great characters and up until this chapter they have moved me emotionally. Plus, I can’t discount the amount of time I was annoyed by the darkness in this movie. I will certainly be going out to see it again and hopefully I’ll be able to see the other half of the damn thing. There has to be a better movie in this thing. Right?