The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I – Thoughts on a Franchise

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I

Directed by Francis Lawrence, U.S., 2014

By D.G. McCabe

Is there any more pointless exercise for a film critic than to review a popular film series based on a popular book series like the Hunger Games?  I don’t think there is, although I reviewed Catching Fire last year.  You probably already saw this movie, you probably liked it, and so did I.  Like its predecessors, next year’s fourth movie will undoubtedly be a well made film with quality performances as well, and bittersweet since it will be the last time we see anything new from the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Mockingjay Part I does justice to the first half of the book while providing much needed breathing room for things like character development and pacing.  Jennifer Lawrence is great.

Here’s the thing though –  I don’t care about the Hunger Games.  I enjoyed reading the books, I enjoy watching the movies, but I really don’t care about the story or the characters.  I’m not going to re-read it years after the series ended or watch the movies every year.  There’s a disconnect here.

The problem with the Hunger Games series is that it takes me to too many places I’ve been before.  I’ve been to Panem a hundred times, only it was called Oceania or the Galactic Empire.  I’ve met Katniss a few times too, only she was called T.E. Lawrence or Arya Stark.  I’ve met lovelorn Peeta, monstrous Snow, and even cranky Buttercup a few dozen times too, by other names.

The Hunger Games isn’t unusual in that it borrows from popular character archetypes and plot structures.  It is unusual in that it does so in almost every aspect of its story, and never delves into any particular plot structure or character deep enough to say anything new about any of them.

Katniss is a woman and she suffers from PTSD.  We don’t have a lot of female characters who play a main role in a hero quest and we rarely see the effects of the hero quest on the main character’s psyche.  But if you swapped Katniss out for a man and swapped Peeta/Gale out for women there wouldn’t be a lot of difference in the way the story or characterizations played out.  Likewise, her PTSD feels like it’s just something in the way of Katniss finishing her hero quest, and not of a hero quest in itself.  It’s an annoyance, not a terrible and debilitating condition.  Neither her femininity or her mental illness are delved into with any depth, so what looks unique is actually the same character with a different hat on (or arrow sheath in this case).

That isn’t to say I won’t see and enjoy the last movie next year.  I will, but it will be with the understanding that the Hunger Games story is a jack of all trades, but a master of none.

(c) 2014 D.G. McCabe