I saw Mockingjay — Part 1 yesterday and, having carefully avoided reviews, poked around afterward to see what other people thought. I was shocked to find them running more or less 50% negative. So here’s why you should ignore the bad reviews and go see it.

The gripes · The critics seem to think that splitting the third Hunger Games book in two is a brazen cash grab, that the movie is dark and fashion-starved, and that there’s not enough action.

Jennifer Lawrence in Mockingjay — Part 1

Why they’re wrong · Because Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, and Philip Seymour Hoffman are all at the top of their games and they’ve got a decent script to work with and if you like movies at all, why wouldn’t you want to watch that? In particular, Ms Lawrence turns the intensity up to 11 and keeps it there for two hours; my disbelief resists suspension pretty hard these days, but Mockingjay swatted it like a fly.

Yeah, it’s dark; it’s supposed to be dark. The situation is dark. And for those of us who know how it ends, I’m smelling a really clever build-up, setting expectations with no hand-tipping.

The action is pretty limited, but that District-Eight battle is a triumph of pacing and color and sequencing, large-scale visual poetry. And just because they’re not shooting at each other doesn’t mean those parts of the film are boring.

Finally, there’s plenty enough story here to fill two movies. My worry goes the other way: Part 1 left out the most of the flavors and events of District-13 life, and I have no idea how they’re going to squeeze the big District 2 set-piece, the crawl through the tunnels, the battle at the Capitol, the denouement, and the end-game, into a single Part 2.

It’s not perfect · In the books, you never really hear any of the details of the Districts’ rebellion; the movie tries to fill them in and falls on its face, with unarmed colonists charging armored machine-gun-wielding Imperial Marines uh oops Capitol Peacekeepers while carrying wooden boxes full of high explosives, or swarming up trees just like the orcs swarmed down the pillars of Moria.

And also Liam Hensworth. Not just boy candy but whiny boy candy. That character could actually have been rough-edged and it would have worked fine.

Other take-aways · First, this is certainly going to go into the small list of movies better than the underlying book.

Second, while I disagreed with the critics over splitting the book into two movies, I enjoyed that nearly every one of them said “…just like that wanker Peter Jackson.” As one who’s loathed the Jackson take on Tolkien almost end-to-end (see RoTK, Bah and Punishing Peter Jackson), I sense history swinging in my direction.



Contributions

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From: Bud (Nov 24 2014, at 18:56)

I'm with you. I thought it was very good. Jennifer Lawrence deserves her award nominations. I remarked to my son that ithe movie is definitely better than the book.

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From: PB (Nov 24 2014, at 21:37)

I just recently caught the second film, as it finally made its way to Netflix streaming here in the U.S.

To me, the second film felt like it was largely a remake of the first film. Different details, but a similar overall plot and numerous similar scenarios. This left me ultimately... I don't know whether to say "bored" or "uninspired" -- and disappointed.

Hopefully, the third film is more novel (as in new, not book; although I could add that I've never read the books).

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From: David Megginson (Nov 25 2014, at 11:28)

Agreed about Peter Jackson. Movies and books are different art forms with different constraints and strengths, but even allowing for that, trying to watch Jackson's bubblegum take on LoTR was like watching someone urinate on the Mona Lisa.

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From: Nick Johnson (Nov 26 2014, at 08:01)

I agree - it's better than the book, though partly because Mockingjay is definitely the weakest book of the trilogy.

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