When I wrote my review on The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, I said I had no excuses when it came to Mockingjay Part 1. None whatsoever. I watched this recently in the cinemas and I have to admit that this franchise seems to get better and consistent with each film.
“I never wanted any of this, I never wanted to be in the Games, I just wanted to save my sister and keep Peeta alive.” – Katniss
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 takes place after the events of Catching Fire. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), her family and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) are now located in underground bunkers of District 13. There are no more games. There’s no more District 12, destroyed by the Peacekeepers under the orders of President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) has been captured along with the other victors. With a lot at stake, Katniss is convinced by President Coin (Julianne Moore) and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to be the symbol of the rebellion against the Capitol, “The Mockingjay”. It’s a sign of unified hope for the people in the remaining districts but as Katniss accepts this responsibility, it’s a role that comes with consequences.
Right off the bat, Mockingjay Part 1 is different from the previous two films. It has a different vibe. The action is kept to a minimal and if you’re expecting more of the same, then you might be disappointed. Mockingjay Part 1 is more dramatic and emotional. It no longer concentrates on the barbaric nature of the games and takes the fight elsewhere – the fight for Panem. Because of this change, not only is it welcomed and brings freshness to the franchise but you can view Mockingjay Part 1 as a great standalone film that doesn’t punishes you if you’ve not seen the first two films.
The most obvious focus change from the previous two films is that Mockingjay Part 1 is set within the heart of the rebellion. Previously we’ve been exposed to the high-class society of the Capitol – we’ve seen their decadence, their lavishness, over the top personas reaping in the excess and wealth knowing they were going to live a comfortable life. This segregation of lifestyle culminated with the idea of The Hunger Games – an event designed for their entertainment of watching teenagers killing each other for sport, until Katniss defied the system. What Mockingjay Part 1 provides is the flipside. The people in the districts don’t have the same kind of access. As the film explains, their purpose is to serve the Capitol in whatever means necessary, including the games itself. Their clothes are more or less the same with shades of grey as the main choice in contrast to the vibrant colours from the Capitol. Everything they do is out of necessity rather than luxury so they can survive. If there was ever a film that plays up the divide just like A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, then this is the film that certainly hammers that point in. No glitz or glamour, this film becomes the real Hunger Games, fighting the battle against the oppression set by the Capitol.
Another interesting change also comes in how the film evolves throughout its 123-minute runtime. It’s very political using propaganda and Katniss (the symbol of the rebellion) as its main weapon. Katniss participates in attack ads against the Capitol with Cressida (Game of Thrones star, Natalie Dormer) in war correspondent mode, filming Katniss’s reactions when visiting the troubled districts including her home of District 12. In fact if there is one thing that remains consistent with the previous films is the feeling that Katniss is dressed and told to act a certain way so it seems favourable to the people who watch.
There’s elements of darkness as well, a path that has been hinted at. Through the rebel point of view we see the cruelty and brutality of President Snow’s actions and what it means to be on the side of the Mockingjay. One character had his tongue cut out. The people of District 12 were burnt to death from the Peacekeeper firebombs. In other districts, rebels are gunned down to stop their uprising. Even through Finnick’s speech, he illustrates how far President Snow would go for justice for his own selfish reasons and the steps Snow took to get himself at the top of the pyramid. These factors all get pushed out and used as part of the rebellion’s propaganda plan to win the hearts and minds of the people and gain unified support. The film does a convincing and effective job that even you start to believe in the rebellion’s cause!
“Miss Everdeen, it is the things we love most that destroy us.” – President Snow
The film is not all one-way traffic but it’s like watching a giant sized chess game with the rebellion and the Capitol making moves against each other – the rebellion has Katniss as their symbol, the Capitol has Peeta. They essentially become weapons but undergo contrasting fortunes, which President Snow exploits and culminates into a dramatic showdown between Katniss and Peeta.
What Mockingjay Part 1 illustrates like any battle in life that there are no winners, only losers. Someone ends up getting hurt. People die. The film ends up not only being political but a psychological battle as well. Taunted with white roses, Katniss realises that she is just a pawn, just like Peeta is for the Capitol who gives interviews to Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) to stop the uprising and discredit the rebellion’s cause. While I still think Katniss is a little indecisive in terms of who she really wants, the films does go all out to emphasise that she wants Peeta (even if she doesn’t realise it herself) and the Capitol and the rebellion are exploiting their emotions to be reunited.
Once again on top form, Jennifer Lawrence nails it with an outstanding performance bringing so much emotional weight to the film. It’s great to see an actress so confident in a role. The only time when she was “bad” was when filming a propaganda ad, directed by Heavensbee! There’s still a little naivety surrounding Katniss – other than the loving attention between Peeta and Gale (Gale pretty much loses in this film), she’s never clued in on missions or plans in contrast to President Coin who is commanding, decisive and at times deceptive. I guess that’s what makes Katniss special – she’s a teenager carrying the hopes of many. She didn’t plan to be the Mockingjay or even lead a rebellion. She makes unpopular choices that others simply disregard. She can be afforded to take a different opinion because she doesn’t think or play the long game like everyone else. It makes me wonder whether in Mockingjay Part 2 we will get further development where she starts to take command and make her own decisions without being pushed into a certain direction. As Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) said, Katniss reacts on instinct rather being told what to do. She has witnessed what Coin and Snow are capable of doing and that’s enough of a motivation to seek her own leadership.
There are a few negatives in regards to the supporting cast. While a sober Haymitch and Effie (Elizabeth Banks) pop up now and again and Gale rapidly becoming a soldier for the rebellion with the least amount of time for training, Prim and Katniss’s mother seem to be in the same place as before in the previous films. They are there when they’re needed but are never developed enough for us to move forward with them.
Another negative? This is only part 1! It does end dramatically but at the same time you know you’re at the halfway stage when you know part 2 is coming around the corner next year.
Despite never reading the books, the greatest appeal about The Hunger Games franchise is that while it’s aimed at a young teenage audience who may be into Harry Potter, Twilight or The Maze Runner and so on, there’s enough material and context that makes it satisfying for adults who will be able to spot the parallels between this and our modern society. The Hunger Games are in a different league and backed by a fantastic cast (especially Philip Seymour Hoffman in which the film was dedicated to him).
The emotionally dark elements make Mockingjay Part 1 a great film to watch and a worthy addition to the franchise. What it sacrifices in action, in return it offers a fresh and different perspective in the battle for Panem, something that the previous films hinted at but couldn’t focus on. Mockingjay Part 1 offers that chance and hopefully next year we will get the satisfying conclusion that the franchise is building towards – and I for one can’t wait to see how it all ends.