‘I’ ON CULTURE
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part I is a strange kind of sequel. Most sequels are far flashier than the earlier films. Special effects are bigger; the story is generally some kind of repeat of the earlier episode. Not so in this new film, the third of four in the Hunger Games series. It is grimmer than the first ones; there are no fancy costumes or over-the-top players. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), our heroine, is no longer in the fascist-run capital city. Fascists may be murdering scum, but they know the importance of dressing well. The rebels, who are essentially communistic, are pretty much as willing to kill, but prefer drab costumes.
The action takes place just after the rescue of Katniss and Finn that we saw in the second movie. She wakes up, filled with survivor’s grief over Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who was left behind and is a prisoner in the capital. She does not want to fight anymore, but a propaganda video of Peeta, calling for an end to rebellion, outrages her after she visits District 12, which had been destroyed by the capital’s forces. So she tries making a propaganda video herself, which winds up satisfying nobody. Rebel President Coin (Julianne Moore) wants to turn elsewhere, but political manager Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and science genius Beetee (Jeffrey Wright) notes that she’s at her best unscripted. So Katniss is sent with a crew to one of the war zones to speak to people hurt by attacks. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) bombs the hospitals, and she makes a powerful video against him.
There are attacks back and forth and some political games, but eventually Katniss wearies. Peeta is rescued but has been so altered by drugs that he tries to kill her. The rebels begin to rise, but Katniss keeps focusing on Peeta. What will happen? Well, there is one more movie to go, and those who have not read the book can find out then.
The cast is uniformly excellent, something vital since there is not all that much action. Indeed, there’s nothing like the great arena fights in the two earlier films. This movie is mostly about Katniss, and Jennifer Lawrence proves once again that she is one of the great artists of her generation. Much of the action takes place in her head, and her face seems to reflect all of it at one time or another. She fights, she cries, she worries; she even sings. She sees senseless murder and acts of kindness. Her friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is the first to volunteer to rescue Peeta even though he knows he can never have Katniss as long as Peeta is alive.
The cameo roles are what really sets the film apart. Moore is icy cool as President Coin. She is willing to compromise — but only when it helps the cause — and has very little give. Hoffman gave his usual brilliant portrayal; his loss is particularly painful when we see his final roles. A special shout-out has to go to Elizabeth Banks. Her Effie Trinket was a comedy highlight in the first two movies as she tried to prepare Katniss to deal with celebrity. In this film, she had lost all her toys and her wigs. But revolution has as much need for propaganda as her wealthy friends, and she lands on her feet. It is a subtle and winning performance.
Whenever I see movies derived from young adult books, I am amazed at how dystopic they all seem; how kids are reading about desperate futures. I was part of the group that grew up in the shadow of the Cold War. Most of us dreamed of a better future; we wanted the Star Trek universe where brotherhood was the rule. Our kids now seem to be preparing for disaster.
The movie is pretty good. If you have seen the first two, this is one you will not want to miss. It probably stands on its own to some degree, but if you know what has happened earlier, you will understand far more.
So go see it. It is a good film; it moved quickly, and the hope is that time will pass quickly until the next film, which will finally bring the story to its climax.