It’s the penultimate installment of the hugely-popular The Hunger Games series, and with contestants destroying the Games’ arena in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire this marks the first Hunger Games movie where the Games itself don’t actually feature. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt 1 is a whole new chapter for the Games – and the first part of a book adaptation split into two – so does it hold up as a movie?
Mockingjay Pt 1 continues the tale that ended in Catching Fire with Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) escaping the Capitol with the guys from the secret District 13 rescuing her – sans Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). This marks the start of the actual revolution to take down President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and the Capitol, and it’s led by District 13’s President Coin (Julianne Moore), helped by the media-savvy Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman).
If you’ve made it to the mid point of the four-movie saga, finishing off the tale seems like a no-brainer: You’re either not bothered to watch the show, or are going to watch it anyway. But maybe you’re one of those not sure where to continue with the saga – or have heard bad things about the last book the movies are based on – if so, let’s say that this is a pretty compelling film in its own right.
Jennifer Lawrence, of course, returns to her role with aplomb. In fact, it’s apparent that Katniss is Lawrence more than Lawrence has become Katniss – the Mockingjay’s every move and step a culmination of all the roles (even the cuckoo crazy ones) Lawrence has performed. If she can be criticised for playing almost the same note for each role – it has to be admitted that it is a very beautiful note. (Speaking of notes – nice music there, Lorde and Jennifer Lawrence.)
But where she’s really supported is through the presence of the older co-stars, especially Hoffman and Woody Harrelson (returning as Haymitch Abernathy). I can’t say how Hoffman’s death has affected the production, but his very presence helps elevate the film. Sutherland is super slimy as usual, and add Harrelson’s insouciant (and drugged up) Abernathy and that’s a combination that makes Mockingjay Pt 1 a pretty solid film.
But there’s a caveat. Mockingjay Pt 1 departs from the action films that its predecessors were and delves into a political chess game cum critique of media manipulation. It’s not a bad one, mind – when it works it’s thrilling, especially since a lot of it is relevant in today’s world. But having lost the ingenuity of the Games the movie falls into post-apocalyptic stereotypes – there’s a lot of dour grey that could have fit into any other movie. The film also struggles to give Katniss any sort of impetus to rebel – she’s escaped, her family and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) are safe. While she does have Peeta to free in the Capitol, District 13 – the protagonists – have to manipulate their heroine to be their flag bearer … is their cause really worth fighting for?
That said, fans of the book will be pleased that a HUGE part of Katniss’ whining has been stripped from the movie – any hints of a torturous love triangle has been set to simmer under her mostly inscrutable surface. Kudos to Suzanne Collins, who appears to have been in charged of adapting her own book. The movie does end at the most obvious point to end in the book – so readers should get a clear idea of what’s happening. Serialised movies are, sadly, something we have to live with now – even the Avengers are in on the act – and the movie does a pretty good job in not making things too draggy (unlike The Hobbit). It’s not perfect, and with some tighter writing the fight for the minds of the people in the other Districts would have been clearer.
Oddly, in a film about propaganda most of the words and images thrown up by the “experts” are lifeless and uninspiring – there’s a funny moment when Katniss first learns the ropes of making a viral video (one of few funny moments in a largely grim movie) – but beyond that the speeches by President Coin written by Plutarch fall flat. Maybe it’s Moore’s fault – she doesn’t seem to have the inspiring, hard edge you might see in, say, Sigourney Weaver – and one suspects that if Hoffman delivered those lines I might be more inclined to believe them.
It’s a shopping list of grouses for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt 1, but that’s not to say it’s a bad film. It aims higher than most other teen movies out there, and tries harder, bolstered by an excellent cast that can at times feel underused (Sam Claflin’s Finnick Odair is seated all day long, while Natalie Dormer’s Cressida doesn’t have much to do). Still, it is pure setup for Pt 2, and hopefully then we’re going to get more of then tension and action – and maybe then the Mockingjay will save the day.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt 1 is now open in cinemas.