Picking up just after where Catching Fire left off, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 should come with the warning: if you haven’t seen anything up to this point you’re not welcome. That being said if you have seen the films up to this point there might be a lot to invest in but little to excite.
Having been rescued from the Quarter Quell Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is angry at The Thirteenth District’s inability to rescue fellow gamer Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). What makes it worse is President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) needs a symbol for the rebellion against the Capitol and Katniss is her chosen Mocking Jay. But as the districts rallies around Katniss’ strength the Capitol unleash their own weapon in the form of Peeta who is alive and asking Katniss and the rebels to stop the violence.
The first two Hunger Game movies were fairly enjoyable, if almost identical, films that riffed heavily on the superior Battle Royale. This time the games are over, which should bode for something exciting, but it seems when the games stop so does the fun. Instead Mockingjay Part 1 – yes they’ve milked the third book in Suzanne Collins’ trilogy into two films – is far too interested in politics and propaganda than it is action or emotional pull.
The issue is that the propaganda on display seems old and tired from the first two films. The Capitol is bad, the districts are good, the poor impoverished workers toiling under The Capitol’s iron fist. So why do we need to tread over ground which was made so clear over the course of two films? The only logical explanation is padding, they need to fill the space that splitting the book in two requires. But unlike The Hobbit it seems The Hunger Game didn’t have the foresight to give us a few exciting set pieces but rather lots of talking in rooms with serious looks and furrowed brows.
That being said Mockingjay Part 1 is visually interesting, getting to finally see the elusive Thirteenth District and a climatic piece of tension building in the final act go some way to keep things interesting.
But, as with the first two films, the Hunger Games franchise has an ace up its sleeve in the form of Lawrence. While the plot may wane her Katniss is always a highlight. Because in Lawrence’s hands she is the most reluctant of heroines, a girl who by accident and gritted determination has come to represent something that is hurting those closest to her. It’s thanks to her performance that moments in the script that could so easily have been cheesy actually resonate and inspire. She might not like it but it’s easy to understand why the residents of Panem are willing to lay down their lives with her as their poster girl.
Fans of the books will no doubt enjoy but for the most part The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 feels like nothing more than an appetiser to the main course of the next film, as such it’s going to leave you with a grumbly tummy.