With how dark this series is, I’m still so surprised with how popular it is. I saw it in a packed theater filled with both young girls and older women and I have to wonder what draws them to a movie like this. From the first frame in the first Hunger Games you knew what you were getting. I see some of the girls wanting to cheer or laugh at some points in the film all the while knowing that this isn’t that kind of film. The Hunger Games series are blockbusters in name only. I would never tell someone how to watch a movie since everyone is different and everyone brings their own baggage to whatever film they watch. It just surprises me sometimes while watching any Hunger Games movie since the themes are so dark.
With this first installment of the final chapter, Mockingjay pushes the limits of the PG-13 rating and I’m really surprised by how much they get away with. I was surprised by the first movie while Catching Fire just blew me away. I didn’t think Mockingjay, at least the first installment, would live up to that pressure. Well, minutes into that movie I stopped thinking about all of that and entered a trance as Jennifer Lawrence and company just drew me in to the story. At this point, you’re either in or you’re out when it comes to the Hunger Games. By now, you know what you’re getting. Some will believe they’re too good for these films or that they are just these dumb movies based off young adult books. Well, those people are really missing out because what we have once again is one of the best films of the year.
You do have to have had watched the previous installments to really feel this movie since it does pick up right where the previous one left off. I had a fear that the more popular this series became, the more commercial the actual films would become. I had nothing to worry about and this is evident within the first five minutes of the movie. Both Katniss and Finnick are torn apart mentally by what had just happened in the hunger games as well as the aftermath with both Peeta and Annie being taken by the Capital. It could be said that this entire film is just setup for the next and final installment, and while I wouldn’t necessarily disagree, I find that it is a pretty great setup. We are able to get even more inside the head of the girl on fire.
While Katniss is a bit hard-headed and constantly lashes out at everyone over where Peeta is and how they should have saved Peeta, that’s just who she is. It takes a bit for her to realize that there is more at stake here than just the welfare of one person. It’s become bigger than Peeta, bigger than District 12 and even bigger than Katniss herself. The propaganda vignettes were brilliant as was the way they were set up. The initial recording that took place in front of the green screen feel forced and fake, while the full impact is not really felt until Katniss actually gets on the battleground and she is able to see the full damage that the Capital has caused.
Everyone feels more fleshed out and real at this point. Finnick’s mask and armor that he had in Catching Fire has finally come off and it makes you view that movie in a different light. He is much more vulnerable now and unable to hide his pain for a second longer. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who revealed his true colors at the end of the last film, brings such authenticity to the role and knowing that it is the last thing he made feels so bittersweet. Everyone steps it up from Elizabeth Banks’ Effie to Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch. Even the men in Katniss’ life, Josh Hutcherson’s Peeta (in minimal screen-time) and Liam Hemsworth’s Gale (in an expanded role) step it up this time around. Even President Snow is fully unleashed in this film. There’s no doubt about it, the man is evil and addicted to the power he wields. He will do whatever it takes to stay in power and keep things the way they are.
There are so many highlights and at times this does not feel like a huge film at all. It is very understated and quiet, such a great character piece. There’s no longer any surprise with Jennifer Lawrence and what she can do. We are with her every step of the way with whatever she decides to do. We can feel her passion, her pain and her anger; she is the heart of the movie and the reason why it all comes together. There is no huge battle that ends the film, I guess the climax would be the rescuing of the kidnapped tributes, so nothing feels forced. The greatness lies in the quieter moments such as Katniss sitting by the river singing “The Hanging Tree.” Hearing the song and watching what it builds to is both beautiful and heartbreaking.
Like I said, you’re either in or out. If you are in than this film could not build up any more excitement for the conclusion of the series. It’s just a shame that it is still a full year away. I know the book is out and most people who are fans of these films already know how it ends, while not having read a word from the book, I just cannot wait to see how it all gets wrapped up. It’s hard to picture a happy ending with so many people getting killed and so much destruction. These people are so battered both physically and emotionally that regardless of the outcome they will never be the same or just be able to go back to their normal lives. It’s easy to see the real-world parallels. It seems like The Hunger Games came out of nowhere, who knows when we’ll see something like this again, for now I just enjoy the first three chapters and hope the series goes out with a bang.