When the first Hunger Games film was released back in 2012, it laid the foundation for a story of rebellion, a story of rising up against a corrupt and cruel government. Catching Fire in 2013 kept to that promise by expanding the world, as well as the role that Katniss Everdeen, AKA “The Girl on Fire,” plays in all of this. However, it wasn’t until this most recent film, Mockingjay – Part One, that we finally get to see these events that have only been hinted at before playing out on the center stage. There are a lot of expectations riding on it, both for Katniss’s development and the story overall; and while there’s certainly a more mature tone surrounding it, Mockingjay struggles to escape its Young Adult fiction roots and tell the story it’s been promising since The Hunger Games.
Minor Spoilers to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part One Below
Much like with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One, this first half of Mockingjay sets up everything for a grand finale due to arrive next year. That doesn’t mean Part One is lacking in any kind of intense action. There are various scenes of uprising and rebellion throughout the film that are both inspiring and really deliver on what Catching Fire was hinting at. It really pumps up the audience into believing that what the rebels at District Thirteen are doing is for the good of Panem and wanting them to succeed against the Capital, run by President Snow (Donald Sutherland).
However, a lot of the emotional resonance is dampened with the out-of-character portrayal of Katniss in this film. While the original Suzanne Collins novels that this series is based on gave her very little character, the film series has done a great job of showing her human side and making her sympathetic to the viewer. Lawrence really understands what a character like Katniss would go through in these incredible circumstances, whether it comes to PTSD from participating in the Games, taking on the Capital, or working with the leaders District Thirteen.
A lot of that sympathy created from the previous two films seems to melt away with how weak she has become as a character. This has nothing to do with her not wanting to fight anymore; that is something any sane human being would go through. The leaders of District Thirteen want her to be a symbol of their rebellion, to which she agrees to, but for only one reason: so she can save her boyfriend, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), who is being used by the Capital for propaganda against the rebellion. There are other prisoners of war in the Capital’s custody that are much more useful to the rebellion, but Katniss seems to view them as expendable when they are compared to Peeta.
This is an issue that that has appeared throughout various novels in modern Young Adult fiction. It’s this widely popular trend of having a central female character that appears strong, but ultimately can’t do anything without one of her many boyfriends. It may have started with The Twilight Saga, but it has definitely seeped over into other recent works, such as The Fault in our Stars and Divergent. And while this trope definitely appeared in the The Hunger Games novels, the previous films definitely made it appear that they were above that more often than not.
There are various scenes in Mockingjay: Part One where Katniss witnesses tragedies that would cause her to join the rebellion. An the very beginning, she visits the rubble of District Twelve, which is nothing more than broken buildings and streets littered with skeletal remains. On a mission to film propaganda in favor of the rebellion, Katniss witnesses the bombing of a hospital, which was filled with innocent civilians. These are war crimes committed by the Capital in order to break Katniss’s spirt, but according to her moral compass, their worst crime was giving her boyfriend a black-eye.
This is what fuels most of Part One’s two hour running time, which is rather disappointing. It takes away from aspects of the film that were actually progressed the story forward. There is a really strong political chess game going on between District Thirteen and the Capital. There are moments where regular citizens are motivated to fight for a brand new Panem because they believe in Katniss. And while the original novel went much more into this, the film makes subtle nods that District Thirteen and The Capital are two sides of the same coin.
There are so many different side stories and characters involved with Mockingjay – Part One that could’ve been explored in greater detail, and it’s disappointing that the main focus is a wishy-washy love story that is still trying to pull off an unnecessary love-triangle. While it is still leaps and bounds better than the first film, is feels like a giant step backwards from what Catching Fire brought to the series.
While there are definitely moments layered throughout the film that are strong and play on what is supposed to be the overall message of the series, the central focus of Mockingjay: Part One lacks any sense of genuine sympathy, especially compared it to the previous film. It’s very obvious that the series wants to evolve beyond its roots in Young Adult literature and be a gripping, emotional story. Unless Mockingjay: Part Two severs these roots in order to give a fitting conclusion to this series, it will end in ashes instead of blazing glory.