This thrilling young adult dystopia is almost at its end with Mockingjay - Part 1.
Comparisons in entertainment are rarely fair but unfortunately inevitable, especially when it comes to all of the young adult novels adapted for the screen. Many have pointed out similarities between dystopian book-based film adaptations The Hunger Games and Divergent. While there is some overlap in terms of basic premise, the two books are on different ground and have different objectives. Rather, there are more similarities between Hunger Games and the juggernaut of children's books Harry Potter, but, again, such comparisons are debatable. Instead of looking at Mockingjay - Part 1 in terms of how it fares next to other part 1-part 2 films (i.e. Harry Potter and Twilight), let's look at it by itself.
The film picks up where the previous left off: immediately after the 75th Hunger Games, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is now in the hidden District 13 after being rescued. While recuperating, she enjoys a reunion with her mother and sister. But Panem is on the brink of revolution, and Katniss is the key to its success, at least according to District 13's President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore). She asks Katniss to be the "Mockingjay," a symbol to rally the people, but Katniss quickly shoots down the request as she's still upset that Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) was left behind in the rescue.
At the suggestion of Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the former Gamemaker, Katniss returns to her home of District 12, only to find it in ruins after the Capitol bombed it. She vacillates on her rejection of the "Mockingjay" role, and when she sees that the Capitol is now using Peeta as their spokesperson against rebellion, she finally gives in and agrees but on certain conditions: Peeta and the other victors who were left behind are to be rescued as soon as possible and pardoned upon their return, and Katniss reserves the right to take care of President Snow (Donald Sutherland).
As the Mockingjay, Katniss is awkward with the script and lacks the emotion and energy that she usually exudes. Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) points out that all of the moments that inspired their choice of Katniss were spontaneous, and so President Coin assigns Katniss a film crew, led by Capitol refugee director Cressida (Natalie Dormer), to go out to the other districts so that she can find some inspiration. While in District 8 with the film crew and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) as her bodyguard, Katniss visits a hospital. As she leaves, a Capitol bombing squad arrives, and the resulting disaster moves Katniss to give a stirring speech and truly become the Mockingjay.
Mockingjay - Part 1 is undeniably brimming with tension both within moments and narratively, but as a divided film, the payout is almost nonexistent -- what little there is only serves to frustrate the audience and increase the tension further. This lack of a satisfying conclusion can be lent to the fact that the film is undoubtedly meant to build up to the climax to set up the coming second part, but that doesn't excuse its rambling. The pacing is uneven. Dragging in multiple parts, the film lacks structure and is ultimately made up of more filler than necessary, and the end of the film arrives without a climax as it is made clear that more is still to come narratively.
Despite its structure and pacing issues, Mockingjay - Part 1 stays strong where it always has: in its star's performance and in tone. Despite being a so-called young adult film, this is more than that with its deeply political, dark tone from beginning to end, joining the ranks of the previous films of the franchise. On top of that, the film's star Jennifer Lawrence is powerful as Katniss. Nuanced with strength and heart, she leads the film wonderfully despite the little that she is given to work with.
Images courtesy of Lionsgate Entertainment.