Friday, March 6, 2015

"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1": The Best of a Subpar Franchise

Now Available on DVD and Blu-Ray

The Hunger Games is a franchise that has never really resonated with me.  I read the first book in high school, and I didn’t think it was bad or anything, but I found the plot derivative of plots like Running Man and Battle Royale, and it didn’t inspire me to continue reading the trilogy either.  So when the films came out, I didn’t really pay much mind to them, even though I recognized that its fanbase was much better deserved than, say, Twilight’s, as The Hunger Games was a feminine empowerment fantasy rather than a fantasy of submissive abuse.  Now, in light of the third film’s home video release, I’ve caught up on the film franchise, and I have yet to have my initial impressions entirely rebuked.

The first Hunger Games film is just bad.  Poorly directed, cheaply made, and utterly lacking of the internal monologue that made Katniss an even remotely interesting character, it seemed made solely with the intention of luring an inevitably satisfied fanbase into theater seats.  Catching Fire fared better, adopting a unique visual style and placing greater emphasis on the use of the Hunger Games as a propaganda machine to quell an unsettled populous.  However, it felt redundant in the overall arc of the story, essentially redoing the first film to better effect but not really progressing the plot beyond its pivotal final scenes.  Mockingjay Part 1 is the first film to actually grab my attention and keep it for the entire running time, mostly because this is the film that strips away the mask of subtext and allows Katniss to grow as a character, navigating her way through being the figurehead of the noble revolution’s propaganda machine after having just been the puppet of their oppressors.

In the first two films, the social revolution plot was the dessert that we waited five hours of collective runtime to get to.  And now that it’s here, it feels like these films finally have something interesting to say.  The manipulation of mass media to effect social change is a powerfully resonant theme on which to build a film, particularly for the information-saturated generation that is the franchise’s target audience.  This isn’t as poignant as something like Snowpiercer, but it gets the job done, and it’s nice to see that all the fanfare for this franchise is finally building up to something noteworthy.

However, as the title implies, if this is the dessert of the franchise, it is only half a portion.  For the entirely legitimate artistic reason of making Lionsgate Films more money, the final installment has been split in half, continuing an unfortunate trend in episodic cinema of bleeding a franchise dry until there’s nothing left to pick from the bones.  The result in this case is a film that runs for about two hours with only a half hour of plot-critical or interesting scenes.  The rest of the time is spent moping in the resistance’s underground bunker or excessively establishing the atrocities that the Capital visits upon the people of the Districts.  In other words, this film is ridiculously padded, and though the film does find a dramatic severing point on which to end, it still feels like a ton of build-up without the catharsis of a third act or climax.

And yet, for being the best installment in what has turned out to be a fairly mediocre franchise trending upward, I’m willing to give Part 1 a pass.  If you’re a fan of the franchise, you’ve likely already seen it, and if you aren’t, then I wouldn’t go so far as to say it makes the slog of the first two installments worth it.  Yet, this was the film to finally get me invested, and yeah, now I want to see how it ends.  I’m not at the edge of my seat in anticipation, but this was the film that made me sit up and take notice.

What’s your favorite young adult fiction adaptation?  Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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