I genuinely thought that a Hunger Games movie without the best aspect, the Hunger Games themselves, wouldn’t work. What I hadn’t realised is that subtly, the first two movies had created a world, characters and developing story that had much more to offer than what felt initially like a Battle Royale rip-off.
I was initially quite sceptical about a movie that would focus purely on the resistance to the Capitol and Donald Sutherland’s perfectly nasty President Snow. Luckily, this isn’t a gung-ho, “up the resistance” movie but focuses very well on Katniss and what it means to be the Mockingjay.
What we get is a conflict between the resistance that needs Katniss and her motivation to take on the role. It’s a conflict handled brilliantly, with her loyalties tested, friends used to persuade and dissuade in equal measure and then some great “pushes” that actually force her hand.
Jennifer Lawrence handles this very well. She seems to comfortably fit into the role of Katniss who gets to do more than just pout and shoot an arrow in this movie (particularly compared to the second in the franchise). She’s clearly much more comfortable handling the role which sees her stretch her emotional range as well as her action credentials.
In fact, the action credentials are probably the major aspect missing from a series that used to center on a death match. We are used to the Hunger Games being a slow-build to the half-hour of action and intense battles but here it is much slower, building to the action we will (hopefully) see in the second half of the story.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. The story of the two conflicting sides, using propaganda, dirty tricks and acts of terrorism to try to defeat their enemy has a lot of interesting aspects to it. In the same way that the first Hunger Games captured the furore around celebrity and reality tv, this captures the difficulty with building effective propaganda and how to inspire a downtrodden people. It is handled in an interesting, focused way that doesn’t allow for tiresome dialogue or long pieces of exposition.
This is somewhat down to the great cast surrounding Lawrence. Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson offer the solid support they do in most of their movies, while Elizabeth Banks manages to become the comic relief in a bleak movie. The stand-out stars are Josh Hutcherson as Peeta and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch. Both see their roles change dramatically from what has gone before. Hutcherson has a very different role that he plays in an excellently creepy way.
Hoffman manages to steal it though. His enthusiastic propaganda minister, trying to usher in the rebellion with Katniss as figurehead, is performed brilliantly. It makes me worry for the sequel and whether his death affected this, as he is one of the best aspects of the series and will be sorely missed.
The second half of the story is the shadow that looms over this movie. The lack of action is because it builds to a great cliffhanger but painfully leaves you wanting more. The idea of using two hours to prologue an upcoming movie always leaves a sour taste and in some cases, you get a film lacking in development because of it. Mockingjay isn’t lacking in development but you can’t help but feel like you’ve sat through the preparation for a much better, bigger and more action-heavy later chapter.
Overall, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay (Part 1) delivers where the second film felt flat. The build-up to the battles, action and war that is yet to come is handled well, with Lawrence embodying Katniss and getting some fantastic support from the likes of Elizabeth Banks and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. We never get to see that big reveal though and it feels like we have been slightly short-changed in the attempt to extend the franchise.
Rating – 4
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)