Starring: Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook), Josh Hutcherson (The Kids Are All Right), Liam Hemsworth (The Expendables 2), Woody Harrelson (True Detective), Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights), Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Capote), Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect), Jeffrey Wright (Source Code), Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones), Sam Claflin (Snow White & The Huntsman), Donald Sutherland (Invasion of the Body Snatchers)
Director: Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend)
Writers: Peter Craig (The Town) and Danny Strong (The Butler)
Runtime: 2 hours 3 minutes
Release Date: 20 November (UK), 21 November (US)
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is a different experience for me than with the first two films because it’s the first one I’ve seen having read the book in advance. I don’t want to let my knowledge of the where the story goes get in the way of my opinion, but my perspective has been irrevocably changed and it makes Mockingjay – Part 1’s main flaw even clearer: the decision to follow in the footsteps of Harry Potter and Twilight (with Divergent following too) by deciding to split its final instalment into two movies. The move is somewhat of an annoying trend with novel adaptations as it majorly messes with the pacing and structure of a story, leaving you with the feeling that you’ve paid full price for only half a movie. I’d love to say Mockingjay – Part 1 manages to avoid this problem, but it doesn’t. That’s not to say it isn’t good, as it has plenty of qualities that help alleviate its issues, but an uneven film it most certainly is.
The sparks of war were fired at the end of The Hunger Games, they spread in Catching Fire, and now those flames are being harnessed as we head into the beginning of the end in Mockingjay – Part 1. Without the Games, the film becomes more about the political intrigue and its parallels to modern society; those here just to watch teenagers kill each other need not apply. The story’s look into subjects like the nature of propaganda, the tribulations of war and the effects of post-traumatic stress are well-handled and important to learn for the target audience, but the more restless in the audience may find it a bit tedious at times. The film is easily the most accurate adaptation of the novels so far, though there are still some liberties taken for the sake of cinema. The film series’ change to a third-person perspective is taken advantage of more than ever here, allowing the events of the Districts’ rebellion to be actually seen rather than just heard of. Sure, our heroine Katniss (Lawrence) is rarely present in these events, but the filmmakers have done a good job of making sure these scenes are connected to and inspired by her actions, not just asides to add some more explosions. This is good, because without them Mockingjay – Part 1 would essentially have next to no action sequences. With the entire climax saved for the second part, the film is essentially like a two-hour version of the first half of the other films. Whilst what is there is good, the lack of excitement is still numbing and I found myself checking my watch several times throughout (never, ever a good sign). I’m sure when watched in tandem with its sequel, these problems will be quelled somewhat but that option isn’t available for another year. Considering how lacking in intensity this first half is, I honestly would have much preferred they condensed it a bit and made one Return of the King-sized epic. I would be sitting there for nearly four hours, but it probably would feel a lot faster. That said, the cut-off point was well chosen and I’m sure those who don’t know what happens next are going to be clamping at the bit to find out. Whether that’s due to anticipation or frustration will be a case-by-case situation.
The cast of The Hunger Games has always been of top quality, and they continue to shine here despite the somewhat stretched material. The ever-wonderful Jennifer Lawrence is as excellent as ever, her rise to figurehead of the rebellion handled with honesty, humanity, and even a little humour. Josh Hutcherson’s screen time is scattered, but he delivers his best work in the series so far as a tortured and broken version of Peeta; I can’t wait to see how he handles his substantially bigger role in Part 2. Harrelson, Wright, Claflin, Sutherland and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman all deliver the same stellar work they’ve delivered before, and the decision to add Elizabeth Banks’ Effie into the mix is a great move that simplifies the story and allows for more of Banks’ wonderfully OTT dramatics. Even Hemsworth, the series’ main acting drawback, is finally given enough screen time to connect and manages to prove he has some chops. New cast members are low this time around, but major fresh faces Julianne Moore and Natalie Dormer are fine additions to the cast whose roles in the next one I anticipate in seeing play out.
Being set mostly in an underground bunker, Mockingjay – Part 1 is the most muted film in the franchise in the technical department. The production design and costumes are pretty decrepit and dull, though that’s kind of the point; the only real highlight in this area is Katniss’ Mockingjay suit, which is simple but elegantly designed. The cinematography doesn’t get a whole lot of chances to look pretty, but when it does it looks great (especially love the final shot of the film). James Newton Howard’s score continues to be rousing and fitting, his interpretation on The Hanging Tree song being especially moving.
Whilst it lasts, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is just as rich and enthralling are ride as its predecessors. But then it ends, and there lies the problem: it’s only half a movie. Francis Lawrence’s direction since Catching Fire has not waned, but splitting this book into two was unnecessary and it causes the adaptation to feel like its stalling for time. I don’t exactly expect the third film in a sprawling series to be able to stand on its own, but Mockingjay – Part 1 could really use a pair of crutches. Aside from the pacing issues, it is otherwise as good a movie as the first two, but a film’s ultimate crime is being boring and I can easily see this one being a bit tedious for some. I still do recommend it regardless, but I don’t think I’d ever want to watch it again without going straight into the final chapter afterwards.
FINAL VERDICT: 8/10