The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part I – Review

The latest franchise to adopt the “one book, two films” model made fashionable by the Harry Potter franchise, it’s the beginning of the end for the Hunger Games series with Mockingjay, Part I; in which Jennifer Lawrence picks up the bow and arrow not to slay fellow contestants this time around, but instead to serve as a propanganda tool in her post-apocalyptic society’s civil war.

For all of the fairly widespread complaints that the series’ previous entry Catching Fire ultimately resorted to the same bag of tricks as the series opener; it’s quite interesting that without the bread-and-circuses spectacle of the series title, the resulting film is strangely directionless. Make no mistake, the film stands head and shoulders above any entry of the similarly targeted Twilight series; but with no clear direction and a somewhat weak narrative structure, it’s not a patch on the vastly more interesting second movie.

That said, Mockingjay’s first part does proudly continue what will surely be the franchise’s ultimate legacy in serving as the definitive science fiction parable of the twenty-first century; with the first movie a very adept lesson in the use of media as a method of placating the populous, the second an excellent exploration of the use of celebrity in pushing government agenda, and this latest an interesting look at the use of media in political uprising. An early scene in which Lawrence’s Katniss films a rather awkward propaganda video in particular stands out as a terrifically defining statement.

Falling victim to the same fault that sank Harry Potter 7.1 however; Mockingjay features a frankly comical amount of novelistic padding sure to delight fans of the source material, yet coming across as rather extraneous and indulgent to those like myself coming to the movie series cold. Try as the filmmakers might to justify the two-film adaptation, there’s a feeling throughout Part I that what you’re watching really is only the first half of a movie, something particularly problematic considering Catching Fire was half an hour longer and covered vastly more ground. With a guaranteed audience having already sat through a two-and-a-half hour session last time out, the almighty dollar sign seems more obvious than ever to be the justification behind creating what I suspect will be a pair of bloated two hour films, as opposed to a leaner three hour one.

The cast redeem proceedings considerably, with Lawrence returning to the role that made her a household name with absolute confidence and the sheer investment that has made Katniss so endearing these past two years. Hutcherson meanwhile is mostly sidelined this time out, with Hemsworth’s Gale taking over the duties of the male lead. Vastly more likeable than Hutcherson, the shift in focus to the younger of the Hemsworths proves a genuine highlight, with Gale proving a very dependable – if a tad wooden – central figure. Outside of the big three however, the film noticeably picks up during literally any scene involving Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks’ (frankly bonkers) Effie Trinket or the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman (to whom the film is dedicated).

There’s enough to Mockingjay to hold interest for the (by franchise standards) brief runtime; but the halftime result of the split film structure will do very little to dissuade the cynics, and the shock cliffhanger comes a full two minutes after an infinitely darker one that would have left the film with something genuinely worth talking about. However, with an engaging subtext, a terrific cast and the interesting visuals we’ve all come to expect; it’s a worthwhile addition to the Hunger Games story, but only half the addition we deserve.

Catch Van Connor’s reviews in our Movies section and live on Slam Dunk Cinema every Saturday at 12PM on Sheffield Live! 93.2FM or on the podcast via iTunes.

In it
Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth
Behind it
Francis Lawrence

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