It is always difficult to approach the first part of a two-part film, particularly when it is essentially a set-up for the climactic finale (I'm looking at you, Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hobbit franchises). Yes, this is undoubtedly a Hollywood cash-grab scheme, but that is not to say these first-part films should be given any leeway in terms of mediocrity. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. I, along with The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, have been solid proof that "the end is near!" films can be both highly entertaining and successful. I am pleased to announce that the same can be said about Mockingjay Pt. I.
Mockingjay is, without a doubt, my favorite film in The Hunger Games series so far. I suppose this came as no surprise to me, considering the final book is my favorite of the trilogy, and its bleak, despairing mood is captured impeccably in the film. The Hunger Games franchise is no longer about panicked children in an arena fighting to the death. The Games are over and the Rebellion against the Capitol has begun, with Katniss Everdeen (played with ravishing ferocity, once again, by the ever-lovable Jennifer Lawrence) as the Rebellion's poster girl—their "Mockingjay." The film makes profound statements about human injustices and the morality of governmental power rather than bloodshed and death, and therein lies the film's success. It has transcended from a violent tale of oppression to a deeply moving and masterful portrayal of fighting for what you believe in, despite the inevitably dire consequences.
Mockingjay is melancholic and nerve-wracking from its first shot to its final one, and is therefore an incredibly difficult watch for those expecting a happy or satisfying ending. It becomes clear in Mockingjay Pt. 1 that this is an unlikely outcome, and yet, this by no means makes the film and the statements it is making any less important. It is a tale of anarchism for the sake of rebuilding democracy, which is a fascinating juxtaposition with the utilitarianism of the Capitol. While Mockingjay may not be as action-packed as its predecessors, it makes a much more crucial and relevant assertion through its powerful dialog and somber depictions of the aftermath of a civil war. Fear not, Mockingjay has enough heart-pounding action segments to keep you at the edge of your seat, yet this is notably not the point of the film. From the beginning of the series, The Hunger Games has focused on the sorrow and desperation of government brutality in a dystopian future. As we near the conclusion, Mockingjay delivers the perfect set-up for a satisfying ending. In many ways, Mockingjay Pt. I is simply just that: a set-up for the grand finale. However, it does so without ever losing touch with its vitality as a part of the story and is equally as (if not more than) immersive as all the previous Hunger Games films.
You may have noticed I have keenly avoided discussing the plot of Mockingjay Pt. I. This is with good reason. The plot of this film is very keenly laid out and progresses with the perfect amount of subtlety and suspense. Every word spoken and every measure taken is of massive importance to the series as a whole, and giving anything away would feel like desecration. Yes, I have provided you with the basics: The Rebellion is in full swing, Katniss is as vivacious and unrelenting as ever, and the Capitol has initiated a murderous civil war. In all honesty, this is all one needs to know when entering Mockingjay Pt. I because there is truly nothing as satisfying as experiencing the film and contemplating its political and moral viewpoints afterwards. That goes without saying, many that have flooded (and will continue to flood) theaters to watch this film are avid fans of the previous films or the novels, and therefore know exactly what they are in for. I will admit that the film feels incomplete, but I believe that it should, because the best (or worst, depending on your viewpoint) is yet to come. Mockingjay Pt. I is undoubtedly the most profound film of The Hunger Games films as of yet, and I have no doubt Pt. II will surpass it next November—even if it does shred my heart into thousands of pieces. Stock up on your Kleenex, folks.
This review is dedicated to Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was astounding in this film as he was in every role he ever played. May he rest in peace.