DIRECTOR: Francis Lawrencehunger_games_mockingjay__part_one_ver24_xlg

CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Donald Sutherland, Natalie Dormer, Sam Claflin, Robert Knepper, Jena Malone, Stanley Tucci, Willow Shields, Jeffrey Wright, Meta Golding, Paula Malcomson, Stef Dawson, Evan Ross, Gwendoline Christie, Patina Miller, Mahershala Ali, Wes Chatham, Elden Henson

RUNNING TIME: 123 mins

CERTIFICATE: 12A

BASICALLY…: Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) is forced to accept her identity as the symbol of a nationwide rebellion, while both sides prepare for the inevitable clash…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

Somewhat fittingly, audiences are split on the current trend of halving franchise-enders into two parts, as has been the case with the finales of Harry Potter, Twilight, future instalments of Divergent and The Avengers, and now with The Hunger Games. Cynics sneer at the filmmakers’ obvious attempts to double their money, while the filmmakers themselves try and justify it as a method of branching out their artistic vision as much as they can in order to give the audience the full experience. With Mockingjay – Part 1, based on the first half of the third and final book in Suzanne Collins’ trilogy, the method somehow seems to work in its favour and presents a film that can surprisingly stand fine on its own while continuously building toward something else.

The action is far more subdued and restrained this time round, which may throw off audiences expecting yet another arena-set showdown as with the previous two films. That’s not to say the film is completely devoid of thrills, though; a sequence late into the film feels as though it ended up on the cutting room floor of Zero Dark Thirty and somehow found its way into this film, but it still brings the tension and suspense that other film provided all the same; while Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, once more on top form here) only fires one arrow throughout the entire movie but let’s just say she makes it count (for better or for worse). However, for the action-centric moviegoer, it’s not enough for it to be on par with the set-pieces of the last two Hunger Games entries and, as such, may feel a little empty upon its sudden but effective conclusion.

Compensating for the minimalist action, however, is a stronger political tone than anything the series has presented to us before. Much of the film deals with Katniss’ acceptance to become the Mockingjay, the symbol of the nationwide revolution, and to do that she must be front and center in a series of propaganda films geared towards the impoverished other Districts. This plot thread continues the series’ strong social commentary on the use of media as a manipulation device and how, when used effectively, it can be used as a method of distraction or empowerment; this time, however, the heroes are using it as a “fight fire with fire” defence against the totalitarian Capitol and are creating pieces of film that trigger memories of the kind of films made to glorify the Nazi Germany and North Korean regimes. Other scenes of Katniss and friends wandering about burnt-down Districts, with endless piles of rubble and – in one horrifying sight – a river of rotting skeletons can oddly enough cause one to call back to the war-zones of Syria, Afghanistan and countless others in the real world (though perhaps not as many physical skeletons there as there are here). It’s these kinds of political undertones that help the franchise, and in particular this film, exhibit an intelligent and mature tone that sets itself apart from other young-adult franchise entries. It manages to get its younger audience to start thinking and making thoughtful and smart decisions on what it is trying to say, and that is far more of an accomplishment than just having Harry and friends wander around the woods or Bella Swan battling an uncomfortable pro-life lecture for half a movie.

Holdovers from the series are used to the bare minimum, but in a film so rich in story and subtlty it’s oddly forgiven. Woody Harrelson, a highlight in parts of the first two films, is given nothing to do here, while the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman has some good moments as former Gameskeeper-cum-rebel Plutarch Heavensbee. Josh Hutcherson, meanwhile, is mostly dedicated to appearances via a TV monitor in interviews with Stanley Tucci’s creepily camp interviewer, but even then he gives it his all (there’s some great make-up work and costume design on him too as the interviews become more and more sinister). As for the new arrivals, Julianne Moore makes an impression as rebel leader President Coin, as does Natalie Dormer’s filmmaker responsible for creating the “propos”. But it’s Lawrence’s show all the way, especially seeing the odd instances of art imitating life. Think about it; a young woman rises from obscurity to become the nation’s darling, unafraid to speak her mind despite certain forces preventing her from doing so, and working a publicity trail so ingenious she could kill a puppy and we’d still adore her.

It will be interesting to see how everything comes together in Part 2 (due out next November) but in the meantime Part 1 of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay is a worthwhile taster that can hold together on its own as well as one-half of a whole. <does the mockingjay whistle and three-fingered salute>

SO, TO SUM UP…

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is an intelligent and thrilling first half of a finale, with its strong political undertones and suspenseful, if minimalist, sequences making up for a lack of non-stop action which we’re more than happy waiting one more year to finally receive.