Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1: The story splinters but the camera never blinks: review
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks and Liam Hemsworth. Directed by Francis Lawrence. At GTA theatres. 123 minutes. PG
As the awkward title implies, there’s a riot of things happening in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1.
There are also a lot of things not quite happening.
This third film of the sci-fi adventure franchise, starring Jennifer Lawrence as reluctant fight-or-die survivalist Katniss Everdeen, has reached the point — attained earlier by the Harry Potter and Twilight properties — where commercial storytelling turns to pure greed.
While the first two Hunger Games movies tracked events in the first two books of the Suzanne Collins dystopian novel trilogy, the Mockingjay movies (Part 2 is due a year hence) cleave the final tome into separate but not equal halves.
And not in a great way, since so much of Mockingjay — Part 1 is devoted to setting up Mockingjay — Part 2. But there’s enough here to at least keep fans of the series involved and eagerly awaiting the grand finale.
If there’s a single big victory in this claustrophobic jumble of a film, it’s convincing us that the series is worth keeping up with.
Directed by the returning Francis Lawrence from a screenplay by Peter Craig and Danny Strong, and titled for the hybrid chattering bird that becomes a symbol of rebellion for the oppressed people of fictional Panem, Mockingjay — Part 1 picks up from where Catching Fire ended last year.
It also shifts gears from the survival game motif of the previous films, while employing a palette of dreary shades of grey.
Katniss awakens in District 13, the hidden outpost of rebels determined to stop the fascistic rule of President Snow (a majestically evil Donald Sutherland), who inhabits the Oz-like city called the Capitol.
There she meets a host of new characters, among them resistance leader President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore in silver-toned long locks), District 13 security chief Boggs (Mahershala Ali from House of Cards) and a documentary/propaganda film crew led by the punk-coiffed Cressida (Natalie Dormer from Game of Thrones).
Katniss reconnects with evolving past characters: her District 12 BFF/boy-toy Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), her newly sober mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), gamesmaker/strategist Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman), ace hacker Beetee (Jeffrey Wright) and games escort/comic relief Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks).
The fate of Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), her MIA Games co-winner and official boyfriend, is teased out in a way that befits the media-manipulation theme of The Hunger Games, something that keeps this franchise from getting too stale.
Katniss is no longer a TV contestant who must amuse the masses with her struggles. Attired in drop-dead black body armour (“Everyone’s going to want to kiss you, kill you or be you,” Effie coos), she’s now a full-on warrior.
She’s also the official face of the growing rebellion, a mantle she has reluctantly assumed: “I never asked for this.”
As such, she needs to motivate the huddled masses of Panem, by making inspirational videos that look for all the world like trailers for the very movie we’re watching.
Katniss fights a couple of real battles, including one where a hospital is attacked by the increasingly determined and violent forces of President Snow. She also makes an emotional visit to what remains of District 12, which has been flattened by government guns and bombs.
The film works as well as it does thanks to the still-potent acting of Lawrence, even though she’s more of a re-actor than actor this time out.
Like the defiant bird she symbolizes, Katniss needs to be set free, not cooped up the way she is for much of the movie.
The story recognizes this, and plays with it. When Katniss first starts making propaganda videos, using green-screen technology in a studio, there’s an awareness both on and off the screen that she’s faking it.
She opts to tape messages out in the battlefield, while the Capitol wages war, prompting this worried question from a handler: “And if you’re killed?”
“Make sure you get it on camera,” Katniss replies, uttering the definitive statement in this most media-savvy of movie franchises.
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