While functionally little more than a cliffhanger setup for the trilogy-and-a-half’s presumably action-packed finale, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 boasts the least likely plot in a PG-13 blockbuster in recent memory. And though, as with most young adult fiction, the central conflict boils down to which of two competing romantic interests the lead character chooses, Mockingjay Part 1 is as interested in the finer points of winning a propaganda war and the power struggles that occur in revolutionary organizations as it is with its protagonist’s love life.
Following the events of Catching Fire in which Katniss found herself becoming a figurehead for the underground resistance to President Snow, she, her family and her home crush Gale have taken up permanent residence in the allegedly destroyed District 13.
A perfectly timed arrow has permanently disabled the games while inspiring widespread resistance against the Capitol, and now that word of President Snow’s monopoly on the truth has been compromised, a war of ideas has broken out between the establishment and the budding revolution. The two sides begin to produce sparring propaganda videos starring Katniss on the side of the rebels and—to the surprise of many—Peeta on the side of the Capitol.
Ideals clash with practical concerns of military tactics and political messaging, as Svengali Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and future leader Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) occasionally clash with each other, with Katniss and their own movement.
The plot may be a surprise considering the past two films have essentially been versions of teens battling to the death (Catching Fire is the superior film, but borrowed heavily from the first entry), but it is welcome. I can’t say for certain if the book’s author Suzanne Collins has an academic background in the workings of radical movements in revolutionary periods, but students of the 1960s will recognize the same debates that were had among militant groups such as the Weather Underground and the Black Panthers. Plutarch does not shy away from the word “propaganda,” and even unflappable Katniss gets on board with the tactical application of politically charged information, leading to a particularly memorable scene that captures the awkwardness that many modern actors face in imagining that an empty room is actually a stirring battlefield.
The one major drawback is the fact that it’s divided into two parts. Assuming that viewers are intimately familiar with the backstory and the painfully artificial cliffhanger at the end, its place in the saga feels like a series finale or spinoff movie to a TV show. This isn’t wholly negative, as television has reached a place where its quality often matches that of most films. But with no real climax to speak of and a story that leans so heavily on exposition, considering this as a standalone film without having seen Part 2 is a little pointless because we’re missing half of the story.
In the end, Mockingjay Part 1 is a very worthy continuation of the series even if the division into two parts is rather forced. If you’ve stuck with the series this far, definitely see it in the theaters. If you haven’t seen either of its predecessors, doing so will be worth it to experience this entry.
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