Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Pt 1

How many colons can I cram into the review title? The third movie in the Hunger Games series is out (from the first half of the third book, Mockingjay), and once again I enjoyed it. A fair number of people seem to be unhappy with the “part-1-ness” of it, but though it may be a transitional episode it did not just feel like a prologue for the next movie. Indeed, since it’s the first movie not centered around the titular Hunger Games, it feels more original than Catching Fire.

In short, this movie won’t make sense unless you’ve seen The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which itself required at least some knowledge (book or movie) of the original Hunger Games. It’s not a great work of art, so if you haven’t watched any of the series don’t worry about missing this one, but it’s a reasonable progression of “what happens next” in both a war of information1 and Katniss’s repeated exposure to multiple traumas. Recommendation: if you’ve kept up so far, go see it.

The rest of this post will just be rambling about various things. Spoilers ahoy.

Originally I was upset at the announcement that Mockingjay would be split into two movies. “Oh great, another scheme to milk more money from all of us viewers” a la The Hobbit.2 But as I said above, this movie did not feel like it was just setting up the next movie, nor did it really feel “cut off” at the end. And this makes sense, because Mockingjay-the-book is also split at nearly the same point.3

What really did it, though, is that none of this really felt like filler. A lot of stuff happens in Mockingjay Part 1, and I can’t remember thinking “this scene is totally unnecessary, let’s cut it out” for very much at all.4 The two-hour length of the movie was very comfortable; letting it go on for another two hours for Part 2’s rehabilitation scenes, extended action sequence, and epilogue would have been…unpleasant. So I’m just going to treat it as The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay, and Capitol, or something like that.

I saw a few people complaining about the movie reducing Katniss to a passive or weak role, given how much time is spent on her breakdowns in the plumbing room and elsewhere. To that I reply “you would be pretty broken too after all that!”. Katniss is still eighteen at this point, and she’s killed people, seen people killed, nearly been killed herself several times over, had her friends and family threatened by the president, and was forced to leave one such friend (Peeta) left behind in the clutches of the enemy. In Mockingjay she has to adjust to life in District 13, sees her home after it was bombed to the ground, seen the skeletons of literally thousands of people she would have known, sees a hospital full of wounded people who believe she means something, sees that hospital bombed with no survivors, sees Peeta on TV saying awful things, and has the president playing mind games with her while killing all these people.


Yeah, the fact that she’s holding on at all is pretty amazing. I think that worked in the movie: she’s in and out of a withdrawn state, which is exactly what you’d expect. I guess it wasn’t always the most interesting thing to watch—i.e. they could have done a better job working on her psychology5—but it wasn’t destroying the character or anything.

There were a lot of points in the movie which could be described “this is the part where…”, e.g. “this is the part where the hero witnesses something horrible to convince her to join the cause”, “this is the part where the hero demands compensation for her part in the cause”, “this is the part where they have to hide from a direct attack”. The movie uses familiar vocabulary to let you know what’s going on and what to feel, and this is a little transparent in parts. However, there is some very nice cinematography in certain parts, such as the shot when Katniss first steps out of the hovercraft in the ruins of District 12, or when she and Gale first go down to the river. (The latter felt Fellowship-of-the-Ring-esque.)

The music was pretty good. But it was Katniss’s “The Hanging Tree” in particular that makes this movie’s soundtrack. It’s a simple sort of folk song, with the sort of story that actually would become a song. It has a properly depressing arrangement and lyrics. And it’s catchy. Well done, Collins, Lawrence, and Lumineers.

Yeah, so overall nothing special, but thumbs up. Oh, and I thought brainwashed Peeta was well done. Looking forward to seeing that develop in Part 2.

The Real World

I felt a bit weird watching Mockingjay at a time when the real world is going through the same thing. Thailand has apparently banned the salute, attempting to preempt unrest. And here in the US we have protesters over police murders being assaulted by police officers. On the left, Capitol Peacekeepers. On the right, Missouri State Troopers in riot gear.

Source (right): Reuters/Adrees Latif via International Business Times.

There’s a moment after the hospital bombing where Katniss is horrified and perhaps even a bit indignant. And for a moment, it felt like a snapshot of white privilege, how I’m horrified and shocked at each Michael Brown, each Trayvon Martin, each Tamir Rice that makes it to the mainstream news. And then I can go on with my life.

This is not a fair comparison because Katniss has been through a lot already, because she’s supposed to be a symbol, because she’s a kid, and because bombing a hospital does seem like a particular sin. That just reflects even more poorly on me.

We’re not Panem, but neither is Mockingjay total fiction.

  1. The “information warfare” description comes from a friend’s post, but unfortunately I can’t remember which friend. ↩︎

  2. And I gave up on the The Hobbit movies after the first episode, An Unexpected Journey. Have not seen #2 and #3, not interested in doing so. ↩︎

  3. The final Peeta scene is at the start of Part 3 (of 3) in the book. Catching-Fire-the-book was also split into three parts, but I’m glad they didn’t decide to split that movie as well. ↩︎

  4. An exception being Katniss running out after Prim going back to get the cat. “Let’s arbitrarily heighten the stakes!” ↩︎

  5. My friend K pointed out that there were a lot of shots of Katniss playing with a marble. Neither of us remembered what the marble was. ↩︎