Though suffering from the anti-climactic effects of being the first in a two-part adaptation, Mockingjay: Part 1 still reaps the benefits of a stellar cast lead by Jennifer Lawrence and a script that is joyously faithful to the book on which it's based.
The Hunger Games franchise has fast become one of the most popular young adult series. A predecessor to vaguely similar dystopian teenage dramas like The Divergent Series and The Maze Runner, Suzanne Collins’ trilogy and its subsequent movie adaptations continue to enthral and enrapture audiences. The emotional gravitas of the plot and the strong female role model embedded in the heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) saves the franchise from ever becoming boring. However, as it annoyingly seems to be the norm these days, Mockingjay, the tense third and final book of the series, has been divided into two parts; leaving favourably mixed elements to this first half of the story on-screen.
Following the dramatic events of Catching Fire, we catch up with Katniss in the enigmatic underground bunkers of District 13, a lost part of Panem that was thought to have perished when it was bombed by the Capitol, as part of President Snow’s (Donald Sutherland) wicked plot to enforce order to the people. Scarred, confused and fearful Katniss is unsure who to trust, having lost both her home and her closest ally in Peeta, who is being kept prisoner in the Capitol. Left to the advice of mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour-Hoffman) and the elusive leader of 13, President Coin (Julianne Moore), Katniss is thrust into her role as the Mockingjay. Because of her defiance in the previous games, Katniss has become something of an icon in the districts, inspiring bravery and hope in the people. It is Coin and Heavensbee’s intention to ignite this flame and spread it in the form of propaganda, as a means of sparking a revolution to defeat the Capitol.
The aesthetic in Mockingjay is starkly different to that of the first two films. Gone is the luscious greenery of the 74th arena, and the sun-kissed glistening blues of the 75th, leaving place to a dominance of grey, emphasising the gritty depravity of this war-torn country. Explosions and gunshots are abound and the loss of life is despairingly frequent as Katniss travels through the districts on her ‘promotional’ tour. Due to the division of the book, the film ends rather anti-climactically and does not flow as concisely as its prequels. Some of the slowest, most monotonous moments are mainly in the cynically romantce scenes between Katniss and her best friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth). Though Gale is given a meatier role to play here, his relationship with Katniss lacks poignancy and therefore seems quite awkward and out of place amongst the action.
The film is strong however, in certain casting choices. Lawrence, as always, brings a fervent sense of vigour to the role of Katniss, that makes for a raw, yet fragile heroine at the centre of the plot. Moore’s understated introduction to the franchise as President Coin is also intensely agreeable; the contrast between her cold grey eyes and snidely sweet smile already creating an elusive impression of the character’s motives. Sutherland is also titillatingly good fun to watch, as he continues to bring an air of delightful repulsion to his Santa-like villain of the piece. Sadly though, the rest of the cast are only permitted fragmented segments of air-time, with favoured characters such as Sam Claflin’s Finnick Odair only momentarily weaving through the story. Other fan favourites like Haymitch and Effie Trinket are similarly disjointed in their appearances. Hutcherson meanwhile, as an integral member of the story, is given a new stance on his otherwise gentle and likeable character, as Peeta is tortured to a point that is both intriguing and upsetting to watch. And of course, there is a grim but poignant presence felt in every scene featuring the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (2014), directed by Francis Lawrence, is released on Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK by Lionsgate, Certificate 12A.