Mockingjay was my least favorite novel out of the trilogy, so there was no giggling with anticipation from me before as I sat in the theater (not that there would normally be anyway). The main drawback of the book (besides the ending) had to be Katniss’ (Jennifer Lawrence) regression as a character. I suppose Suzanne Collins may have been trying to illustrate PTSD (the games were pretty dramatic), but I (and other vocal readers) became frustrated with her wallowing around for several chapters. Thankfully, this part of the story was downsized for the movie, but it was easier to see all the pressures and forces that caused those feelings in the first place. Is District 13 any better than the games? Well, yes, but Katniss still feels like a pawn, and meanwhile the districts are dying for her.
Part 1 is slower-paced than the previous two movies were, but it still retains its cast of familiar, interesting characters. It’s great to see Philip Seymour Hoffman continue to deliver as Plutarch Heavensbee. Plutarch didn’t come across as particularly likable in the books to me, but with Hoffman’s portrayal he actually became one of my favorite characters to watch. The actor’s early passing will always be a shame. Julianne Moore’s President Coin comes across as somewhat-sympathetic jerk who should listen more to Heavensbee’s advice on sensitivity. Speaking strictly on what we’ve seen on screen on Part 1, I can understand her and Plutarch’s actions with Katniss- propaganda fuels wars, since they’re the underdogs. She was noticeably softened in this portrayal.
Propaganda and ulterior motives take center stage for most of the movie. Basically all the action sequences start with either a Mockingjay trip or a Peeta interview in The Capitol. Peeta appears on TV, and Katniss is told to go to X location for a shoot. Katniss performs the Mockingjay, and we see a battle/uprising scene. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it- I liked how we saw outside of District 13 all through the movie, quite unlike the book. The dam scene stands out as one of the better parts of the film- perfectly choreographed and also composer James Newton Howard’s best work of the soundtrack.
Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) unfortunately takes a back seat for the movie, with really only one noteworthy scene. That’s disappointing because he was memorable in the earlier films, and here he’s mostly limited to jokes about forced sobriety. However, we do get an unexpected treat thanks to the writers- Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), who was noticeably absent in the novel (I think she was in the Capitol the whole time?) steals a few scenes with her adjustments to District 13. She also took a scene or two that was originally written for Hoffman, rewritten for her after his passing. Honestly, without hearing that, I wouldn’t have noticed since Banks fulfills the role so well.
To sum up, I was pleasantly surprised by how the movie improved on a lesser book, but parts of the movie felt like padding. I know Harry Potter ended with a two-parter, but we’re talking about a much larger book. I’m sure my final impression of this will rely on part 2, but so far we have a very well-done setup for the final act. Let’s hope they improve on THAT part as well.