Despite the best efforts of other studios, the reigning ring-leader of the young adult fiction adaptation trend that is making the big money in Hollywood is Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy. Or quadrilogy, as now the final book has made its way to our screens in a two-part drip feed started by Harry Potter and maintained by Twilight to tell the story better, or make money, depending on your cynicism levels. Personally, as a big fan of the first two Hunger Games films, the idea of seeing the final book in two-parts wasn’t something I was terribly against. A two-part ending worked for Harry Potter, and with how big and expansive the world of The Hunger Games is, more screen-time given to the political players and the environment could be really good, right? Except that, while this does happen, it feels less like an honest exploration of a sci-fi dystopia and more a cover-up for a lack of enough plot to fill two full-length films.
Coming to the fore-front of the revolution, we find Katniss, played by internet sweetheart Jennifer Lawrence, a broken person after the events of Catching Fire. Mentally and physically spent, she finds herself in District 13, a rebel base filled with subordinates of the capital’s rule who wish to see President Snow’s downfall. Early on, the emphasis is placed less on the huge set-pieces of the previous films, and more on the character narrative, with Katniss’ past being neatly packed away in order to set-up the eventual final showdown. But to get to that final showdown, we must first create the war, and much of Mockingjay is set around Katniss’ adopting of the titular mantle and creating propaganda in order to rally the troops and make a general mess of things for those in command.
Its this propaganda that gives much of the meat of Mockingjay, with a very subdued tone that carries throughout the film. Agreeing to become the public face of the movement, Katniss deals with and answers to Plutarch Heavensbee, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, and the rebel leader President Alma Coin, played by Julianne Moore. Plutarch and Alma steal their scenes as they work with Katniss, teaching her how to propogate their message as well as granting her access to her signature bow and arrow so she can still be a warrior. Instructed by a film-team led by stand-out performer Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones), there’s a sincere sense of satire as Katniss slowly morphs from being a well-worn warrior to an indomitable leader of the people as she fumbles with a make believe set but thrives when reacting to a first-hand attack. Taking inspiration from the likes of Starship Troopers and Gamer, the platform these videos create is shown not only in how Katniss herself is received, but also how people act in her stead. The two great set-pieces of the film follow closely with Katniss’ evolution and greatly demonstrate the impact she’s having.
What’s most interesting, then, is how Katniss’ cult of personality is shown in parallel with the existing leaders and platforms. Donald Sutherland continues to turn in an excellent President Snow as he refuses to show remorse or reason with propos of his own, and President Coin’s platform works as a firm contrast to Katniss, showing the difference, and necessity, for both a political leader, and a leader on the ground who can actively fight the war. Showing both factions as fighting a war in similar fashions builds a tightly-wound tension by the end, and increases the want the want for Katniss to eliminate both leading parties altogether in her quest.
This makes it even sadder that Mockingjay suffers from a serios non-ending in its last act. Many of the players and supporting cast turn in perfectly acceptable performances, but even they can’t bring life to the lack of urgency that comes with knowing there will be no pay-off. Cutting a book in half for the final films hinges greatly on the point at which part one ends. Harry Potter nailed this with part 1 ending on one of the biggest revelations of the book. Mockingjay ends on a more sour note, with a reveal that lacks any real suspense – suspense available aplenty for a perfect ending some 15 minutes earlier.
Even with this slightly jilted story-telling, Mockingjay Part 1 is still a fun film. Being head and shoulders above its peers in terms of budget and presentation, and with an incredible cast, the lack of action makes for a nice breather as other aspects get greater time in the spotlight. Unless you’re a die-hard fan, though, it might be worth your time waiting for the second one and seeing the inevitable double-bill.
Good looking prequel that suffers from a lack of urgency and plot. 7/10