Thursday, 20 November 2014

Film Review: The Hunger Games - Mockingjay Pt 1



Director: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Natalie Dormer
Runtime: 125 minutes

"If we burn, you burn with us"

The Hunger Games - Mockingjay Part 1 is the third instalment in the wildly popular young adult film franchise, and it sees our hero, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) thrust to the forefront of a full-blown uprising. It's a grim, uncompromising and somewhat uneven entry - but it works, delivering another stand-out YA film destined for the big bucks.

After the events of Catching Fire, Katniss Everdeen is a lost cause. She's a broken, frail young girl out of her depth. With the rug ripped from beneath her feet and her friend/love Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) captured by the evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland), Katniss finds herself in District 13, a place once thought to have been wiped off the map during the first war between the Districts and the Capitol.

With revolution spreading across Panem like wildfire, the leader of the resistance, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and the President of District 13, Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), call on Katniss to be their symbol of hope - their 'Mockingjay' - and inspire the Districts into action against the Capitol.

Departing from the established Hunger Games format is both a blessing and a curse for Mockingjay Part 1. On the one hand, the movie has the freedom to play around with this concept of revolution, introducing new elements and characters to the political landscape of Panem. The various figureheads (Plutarch, Coin, Snow - even Haymitch, Beetee and Gale) have their own voice and viewpoint. We get the feeling that most of characters are saying one thing, and thinking another. It all adds to the layered intrigue of this universe, a game of chess where checkmate may only be two moves away. Don't mistake The Hunger Games for just any old YA franchise - this series has something to say about media culture, war and terrorism, and it doesn't mince its words.

On the other hand, this film has a very poorly defined structure - whilst the opening act is great (the fallout from Catching Fire's earth-quaking crescendo comes to light), the final third of Mockingjay Part 1 stumbles a little, mainly down to its conclusion.

Don't get me wrong, Mockingjay Part 1 is a great film that builds on a lot of the elements established in the previous films - but the action is spread thin, and the ending just isn't that great. There are vast stretches of this film where the plot slows to a crawl, something which I imagine won't resonate well with some audience members.

The film focuses more on propaganda, and how the Capitol and the rebels are going to win over the citizens in the Districts. This makes for some interesting commentary on our own media culture, and how we view conflict on television, but it also doesn't make for a completely thrilling two hour movie. Dispel any expectation of seeing all-out war in this entry - that's been put on hold for the (hopefully) barnstorming finale next year.

By this point, Jennifer Lawrence is settled into the role of Katniss and continues to lead the series with confidence. As we've seen in the past, her exceptional acting ability really comes to the fore when served up the tough, emotional stuff. Like the revolution in which her character plays a central role, it is Lawrence's ability to stand up and be counted that sets things alight - in such a dark and tumultuous film, her exceptional performance effectively anchors the audience once more.

However, an issue with Mockingjay Part 1 is the plethora of characters that overstuff the narrative. Past major players like Finnick (Sam Claflin), Ceaser (Stanley Tucci), Effie (Elizabeth Banks) and Haymitch (a criminally underused Woody Harrelson) aren't given much material to work with here, but are kept around for the sake of consistency. On top of that, new characters like Cressida (Natalie Dormer), Boggs (Mahershala Ali), Messalla (Evan Ross), Pollux (Elden Henson) and Castor (Wes Chatham) further sideline more important, and frankly interesting, people.

I felt that this new batch of characters didn't add a great deal to the story - sure, Natalie Dormer is a fairly big star from Game of Thrones, but her character Cressida - who is tasked with orchestrating and directing propaganda videos for the Mockingjay to appear in - should feel more fleshed out and integral than she does.

Primrose and Gale have expanded roles here than in the past, but once again Liam Hemsworth gets lumped with a thankless, fairly two-dimensional role with little wiggle room for growth. However, Willow Shields spreads her wings as Primrose, continuing her intriguing character growth as we build towards the final film.

Something that I liked about Mockingjay Part 1 was how many tiny details and plot points had been carried over from Catching Fire, some of which would've been a tough spot had I not watched the latter the night before. For example, the white rose Snow gives Katniss makes a reappearance, as does the pearl Peeta finds in the clam. It's little details like this that make the series feel well-crafted and cohesive.

Whilst it doesn't quite reach the giddy heights of Catching Fire, Mockingjay Part 1 has a lot of positives going for it. The consistency in direction and tone from director Francis Lawrence means it feels like a natural continuation of the series, and the film poses lots of questions for the inevitably bombastic final entry.

The Verdict: 7/10


Mockingjay Part 1 is The Hunger Games series at its most political, cerebral and at times, impactful. I liked that it wasn't overly reliant on action, and instead focused on the political interplay between the rebels, Katniss and the Capitol. However, the overabundance of characters means fan favourites like Finnick and Haymitch are underused, and new characters like Cressida don't add much to proceedings.

2 comments:

  1. Good review. Though I liked it for the most part, I still can't help but feel incredibly disappointed by how abrupt its ending was.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Dan :) Yeah, I saw the ending coming a mile away (having read the book) but even so it was a little abrupt.

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