Anyone expecting this first part of the final Hunger Games novel to be an action packed extravaganza are in for a surprise. That’s because it follows the first half of the book quite closely, with most of the action taking place in the second half. Instead, the structure of films one and two is out of the window in favour of a slow and patient buildup to all hell breaking loose in the final film.
For anybody who has read the books – and for those that haven’t – you’ll no doubt be aware that book 3 is considered to be the weakest of the three, so the decision to split it into two films is clearly a money making decision from the studio rather than a storytelling one. With that said, it allows time for some character development where otherwise it would have been lacking.
As a film audience we get a bounty of monologues from almost everyone with a speaking part. President Coin (a welcome turn from Julianne Moore) is the most notable of the bunch, introduced in this film as the leader of the previously thought destroyed District 13. There’s also some time for Phillip Seymour Hoffman to shine as Plutarch Heavensbee, all the more poignant given his sad death during filming of the two parts.
Thankfully as a story and film in its own right it’s not too bad despite the lack of action sequences, an interesting exploration of the purpose of media in a war setting. Both sides use propaganda in order to bolster support to their cause, for better or for worse. What results is an attempt by the rebels to set Katniss up as a figurehead for the rebellion despite her noticeable lack of skill in this area. It makes a valid point in that much of war propaganda is just as much about good editing as it is about the message you are trying to convey.
It once again comes down to Jennifer Lawrence to carry much of the emotional drama, although it’s not a script without its darker moments. Katniss’ return to the devastated District 12 is as bleak as it gets, while the machinations of President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and his attempts at keeping the rebels in line demonstrates the extreme methods used by some during times of war.
The rest of the now quite expansive cast get their moments in the spotlight, with Josh Hutchinson getting his crazy on as the brainwashed Peeta. Liam Hemsworth gets more time to develop the third part of the potentially romantic triangle as Gale becomes a prominent part of the rebellion. It’s better than spending all his time moping around Katniss, at least.
There are a few changes between book and screen but these are for the better and make much more sense in terms of telling the story. The changes are also much more economical as far as the number of characters are concerned. At this point in the franchise it wouldn’t help to introduce or re-introduce any more characters than is absolutely necessary, because there are enough of them already.
Apart from Moore’s President Coin we also have Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer, rocking an interesting haircut, as the director of Katniss’ propos (District speak for propaganda films). She isn’t given much to do at all, so with any luck that will be corrected in the final instalment.
So the big action has been held back for the final entry in the series, but Mockingjay Part 1 manages to hold its own despite its overall talky approach. Having read the book, I expect Part 2 to be jam-packed with action sequences, and comparisons between Mockingjay Parts 1 and 2 with the final two films of the Harry Potter series will be justified.