It goes without saying that it is difficult to judge individual films in this series or to take any of the films out of context. Part of the problem with films in a series are the necessary but cumbersome introductions and their truncated finales. THGM1 stumbles more with the latter than the former. The film opens with an excellent introduction, beginning with Katniss sobbing and bringing us up to speed on the film’s context in a shrieking mini-monologue disguised as her consoling herself: “My name is Katniss Everdeen, I’m from District 12, I survived the Hunger Games, They have Peeta” (forgive the shoddy paraphrasing). This sequence is punctuated by an ominous line delivered by Finnick that warns us that this film will be darker than its predecessors: “Sometimes I wish [Annie] was dead. That we were all dead,” (or something like that). Finnick’s harried lines take us to the title card, immediately after which the film starts to stumble.
Poor CGI and uninteresting plot lines plague the film’s first third. My film-watching buddy described this introduction as the movie “warming Katniss up” and shedding light into her mindset after the previous film. This is one place where the film suffers from its place within a series. I found no satisfaction in watching Katniss struggle with worry over Peeta’s safety and the whirlwind of shifting allegiances at start of the revolution within Panem, a revolution which she quickly finds is centered and predicated on her. Some would disagree and argue that the opening is crucial in humanizing her character, or at least stay consistent with her established “I-didn’t-ask-for-any-of-this” nature. Personally, I could have done without this attempt at relatability. The opening does reintroduce the constant posturing and importance of public perception seen in The Hunger Games world. In the first film Katniss convinces the in-film audience of the Hunger Games that she and Peeta are wildly in love, saving them both in the process. A few films and another Hunger Games later and Katniss and Company toil to inspire the revolution with propaganda films.
After stumbling out of the blocks, the film gathers steam quickly and crescendos to a dramatic finish. While it postures itself ostensibly as an action film, THGM1 excels in its quiet moments. We watch as individual districts rise against the Capital in distinct, encapsulated moments which function well alone while adding to the film’s overall plot. One of the film’s more powerful moments begins with a quiet, lake-side snack when Katniss fills the ravenous silence of the ravine with her singing of “The Hanging Tree”. Rebels quickly take up her song and sing the pseudo-hymn as they march on a suicide mission to cripple the Capital. Like her Mockingjay symbol, the song galvanizes the districts. The action of the film itself does satisfy, especially in these district uprisings. Plus we also see Katniss in a new super suit and Gale picking up a cross-bow (which is a less bad ass version of Katniss’ bow).
What disappoints most with THGM1 is not the awkward dialogue but its wasting of the better minor characters. Finnick is reduced to a blubbering mess and Peeta is shown only in clips. Plutarch and Presidents Coin and Snow share a chunk of screen time which could have been expanded, especially Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Plutarch, one of the few characters with more than one dimension. Hints to conflicts in the next movie sprinkled throughout and the roles of these characters are played down to save more drama for that last installment. This waiting game has become increasingly frustrating with series cut into smaller and smaller morsels. Studios seem to be learning the wrong lessons from Marvel. Instead of developing an expansive universe with stories and characters that stand alone and fold into a larger unified story, series are diluted and stretched to maximize box office takes. Marvel’s situation is unique given the decades of world building in comics they have to tap into for their Cinematic Universe. Films have always had trouble adapting stories from books filled with complicated stories and a wealth of characters. Even with eight tries, the Harry Potter films could never capture all the mini-story arcs and minor characters of Rowling’s books. Ironically, comic book movies are usually the worst at incorporating the minor characters and faithfully portraying a superhero’s powers. (Full disclosure: I just watched X Men Origins: Wolverine which is just a mind-boggling adaptation of some classic X-Men characters). But THGM1 stands alone moderately well and even with its truncated ending, it offers an exciting lead-in to the series finale.
Related Flashback/Backslide articles:
Part 1. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: Review of the second film in the Hunger Games series.
Part 2. The Girl on Fire vs the Boy Who Lived: Breakdown and comparison of The Hunger Games and Harry Potter series.
Thanks for reading!
P.S.: There’s still time to join the MARVEL BLOGATHON! Flashback/Backslide needs your help reviewing all of the Marvel films. Plenty of great films are still available to be claimed!