Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

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Hunger games fever hit the nation again as the latest instalment of the juggernaut franchise hit cinemas for the third time. Mockingjay – Part 1 is, obviously, the first part of the final book, which is roundly regarded as the weakest of the trilogy. However, the book warrants being split into two parts as it feels like two different novels smashed together.

Part 1 revolves around the build up of the revolution. As such, it is a very different film from either of the first two films. For a start, there is no Hunger Games, as it carries on directly from the end of the second film and the fallout from the actions of the contestants and the revelation that district 13 is alive and well and ready to launch a war against the Capitol.

The first Hunger Games film was a reflection on reality TV and how far it could go, much in the same way Battle Royale did in the 1990s, the second film expanded on this theme while also fleshing out the world in which the film was set. Mockingjay – Part 1 doesn’t really have to deal with too much of that, apart from giving you an insight into how the citizens of District 13 have survived and are thriving underground after being – seemingly – obliterated by the Captiol years ago.

The look of the subterranean bunker they live and work in is very utilitarian, grey and concrete and this is also extended to the uniforms everyone wears. Something Elizabeth Banks’ character, Effie Trinket (Katniss’ stylist who was ‘liberated’ from the Capitol), is  utterly bereft about, though she makes do with changing the style of her head scarf  which gets increasingly bizarre in every scene.

The tone of the movie is equally grey. It is a slow burner with a few scenes of action, rather than an out-and-out actioner like the previous films. Mockingjay – Part 1 focusses on the art of producing propaganda and how both the rebels and the Capitol use their films to attempt to win the hearts and moods of the citizens of the other districts. The rebels are, obviously, using Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) as their figurehead and it’s a struggle trying to get her to act or follow a script… or to even be likable. President Snow (Donald Sutherland), of the Capitol, uses Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) to appeal to Katniss to stand down. Really, this film is a satire on how news media presents its bias to the public in an effort to sway their decisions – both for good and bad.

As stated, it is a slow burner with some big set pieces, but I wonder if its slower pace may turn off those who haven’t read the books and who are used to the fast-paced tension of the previous instalments. This is the muted calm before the storm that Mockingjay – Part 2 will inevitably be and, if you’ve not read the books, there are some real shocks coming up in the second part.

Mockingjay – Part 1 does what it needs to to get us through to the finale and has a brilliant central performance from Jennifer Lawrence. Liam Hemsworth has slightly more to do this time round and more is seen of the late and dearly missed Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Julianne Moore is introduced as President Coin, but doesn’t give a notable performance and there’s not a lot for Donald Sutherland to do, though it’s clear he’s relishing playing the pantomime villain. Equally, Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks are marginalised and there’s no showing for Toby Jones this time, which is a shame. But the film is called Mockingjay, so it really is Jennifer Lawrence’s film.

The film could have ended a few minutes earlier and the impact of the cliff-hanger ending would have been greater. However, those who have not read the book probably needed the explanation for the actions of the character involved.

This is a serviceable film and it’s hard to know what could have been added to make it more engaging, but it does feel as though it’s lacking something. However, Part 1 will make a great contrast to Part 2 – not to mention a breather between the second and fourth films when watched in sequence. It makes you wonder if they could have cut some out of both parts to make one film that has everything. Time will tell.

This is a lukewarm review because this film genuinely feels like nothing but an intro, which it is. It’s likely this will be better when you can watch both parts one after the other.

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