BLU-RAY REVIEW: THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 1 / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: FRANCIS LAWRENCE / SCREENPLAY: PETER CRAIG, DANNY STRONG / STARRING: JENNIFER LAWRENCE, JOSH HUTCHERSON, LIAM HEMSWORTH, WOODY HARRELSON / RELEASE DATE: MARCH 16TH
The games are over…
Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) teeters on the brink of a nervous breakdown, struggling to process the horrors from two arena visits. Her fellow District 12 refugees, fleeing from the Capitol’s destructive retribution, are struggling to integrate into the military austerity of their new home in District 13. Peeta (Hutcherson) is missing. With war on a fast-approaching horizon, two presidents plot their next move and, unavoidably, Katniss will be at the forefront of a conflict to be fought in the mind as much as on the battlefield. She must become the Mockingjay.
Suzanne Collins’ third and final novel was always going to be the most problematic to adapt. Perhaps the least popular of the trilogy, splitting the book into two films does make a certain amount of sense given the numerous plotlines. The difficulty in doing so presents an issue, however; the first half of Mockingjay the book is a pretty bleak affair. With scenes of executions and oppression, wanton murder and mass graves littering the opening act this is no bedtime story and it takes a little time to pick up some momentum.
One of the strengths of The Hunger Games series, though, is the advantage it has over its rivals in the YA, dystopian future, market. With a more interesting, if not entirely original, central premise and strong, relatable lead characters this is a franchise that has grown in confidence, comfortable in pushing boundaries and challenging audiences. With no more arena adventures, and as the world of Pan Em grows increasingly unstable, there is a distinct tonal shift in Mockingjay Part 1. Laughs have always been scarce when dealing with a society that sends children to kill children but here, there is a more, well, grown up feeling to everything. Familiar YA themes of identity and responsibility are still present but there is a darker, more serious atmosphere building in the depths of the bunker that is District 13. Propaganda and manipulation, fear and hope are to the fore. Not only must Katniss deal with the haunting presence of the malevolent President Snow (Donald Sutherland) stalking her, she now faces the added reality of having to satisfy the murky motives of President Coin (Julianne Moore), leader of District 13 and architect of the revolution.
One side effect of splitting the novel is that familiar characters from the first two films can become a little marginalised as some scenes are either extended or added. Haymitch (Harrelson) and Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) are here but in much smaller roles. Coin and Snow dominate screen time but even more so than in previous films, this is Katniss’ story. Lawrence as always is an engaging presence and the emotional demands of her character in Mockingjay Part 1 certainly give her plenty to get her teeth into. As much a victim of circumstance as a hero to the rebellion, Katniss is a complex, at times even unlikeable character, but Lawrence brings a vulnerability and reluctant strength to a role that could easily have become clichéd.
Mockingjay Part 1 will not satisfy everyone. With less action and a strong focus on political manoeuvring, this is a more adult film. Fans of the series and the books will be patient, knowing that much is to come in Part 2, but casual audiences could grow frustrated with the meandering and slightly episodic narrative. As a precursor to the final instalment, this is perhaps as good a film as it could have been. Director Francis Lawrence’s subtle, fatherly style has allowed space for the characters to develop and any flaws the film contains are less his fault and more that of the extended narrative. One thing is certain; Mockingjay Part 2 will if possible, be even more anticipated now and as such must deliver to avoid the franchise disappointing in its big finale.
…war is coming.
Extras: Featurettes / Making of... / Tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman