Hunger Games Mockingjay Poster

So, I’ve gone to see Hunger Games: Mockingjay (Pt 1) and braved the opening weekend crowds to do so. To to be up front about it, I haven’t read any of the books, so there will be no comparisons between book and movie. This is strictly a view of how the movie stands on its own (and with groundwork laid by the two previous movies). I’ll also try to keep it spoiler-free.

(Spoiler-Free) Plot

I’ll keep this about the plot rather than summarizing it. You can’t go into this movie without knowing that it’s about a rebellion with Katniss Everdeen as its symbol. The whole plot revolves around this fact. For the most part the events are believable. There is a ton of new information dumped onto the viewer as Katniss gets a new perspective on the conflict from the inside. There are really two sides to the movie: the districts vs. the capitol, and Katniss’s love life. The latter is all still framed in the angsty YA styling of will-she-or-won’t-she, who-will-she-choose, and never with any amount of satisfaction in either (maybe in Part 2?).

The events of the rebellion itself are fairly well handled. There is a lot of politics and behind-the-scenes maneuvering for the hearts and minds of Panem. There are also a few cutaway scenes showing the effects of those efforts, but only one seems to impact the main plot. I had a few “why aren’t they just doing X?” moments in there, concerning some of the strategic decision-making. When it’s a 17-year-old girl calling her own shots, I can see some inexperience and tunnel vision getting in the way of optimal planning. The Hunger Games themselves were a crucible that tested a kid to his or her limits. I expect a bit better of military strategists running an actual war. I’d say about half the strategies used were sound, and the other half worthy of a raised eyebrow and an offhandedly loaned copy of The Art of War.

Worldbuilding

OK, maybe this one is a tiny bit spoilerish, but it’s revealed in the first few minutes anyway, so I’m not going to quibble: there’s a District 13. It’s where the districts had their military, and still do. The whole secret of its existence, its puzzling self-sufficiency, and the new-ness of all its military hardware stretched my credulity pretty thin. It’s like no one realizing that North Korea was still there, and finding out that they were armed like the UK.

Other than that, the militaristic underground society seems plausible enough. I can buy the spartan living conditions, the underground bunkers, the alcohol prohibition (though as a device, it seems aimed at Haymitch).

One thing I feel fails in a lot of recent dystopias is the sense of scale. In particular, Panem feels like a bunch of cities, not provinces or countries. You get no maps (even tactical displays show geometric patterns), little countryside, and no more than one locale per district ever shown. If there are nations outside of Panem (which seems likely), there is never a hint of them. If this is suppose to be a future vision of Earth, there is no hint of that history. I think the sense of a connection to a modern-day past is a key in dystopian future sci-fi.

Acting

If you can forgive a little melodrama being scripted in, I think the actors do a pretty good job in this, particularly Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss. She’s thrust reluctantly into a role she never wanted, and is the center of a storm. I think she did well portraying the strain it put Katniss under.

Entertainment

If you enjoyed the first two movies, you’ll probably like this one as well. If it was just the games themselves that made those movies for you though, you’re in for a disappointment. Like the later Harry Potter movies, where Hogwarts’ role is reduced in the story, you get that premise pulled out from under you, to becoming involved in the larger plot around it. Hunger games was a very personal experience. Catching fire hinted at the other events going on outside it. Mockingjay leaves the personal conflict as a side plot as major events take place.

It is still just as big, explosiony Hollywood as the others … actually quite a bit more.

Verdict

Hunger Games had the shocking premise and a very personal story to tell. Mockingjay doesn’t offer anything so profound, but it’s still a great summer blockbuster (despite coming out in the chill of mid-November).