The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 feels very much like the first half of something bigger, but if this is the set up then the pay off is going to be stunning.
Part 1 sees a haunted Katniss Everdeen come to terms with being the face of a revolution, and what that role costs. Meanwhile President Snow tries to crush the movement at every turn as Peeta languishes in the Capitol. Things are getting dark and I don’t just mean the grey jumpsuits everyone is stuck in.
Mockingjay Part 1 swaps the grandeur of the Games for a more intimate, character-driven story arc. We see the Games’ mentally tortuous affect on Katniss, who until this point has been relatively icy about witnessing children killing and being killed by other children. Finnick Odair (a nuanced Sam Claflin) is a broken man worlds away from the preening, sea-shell wearing champion we met in Catching Fire. A franchise this huge needs to take time to remind us of the human story at its core to avoid everything being at surface-level, and thankfully it succeeds.
The upside to scaling back on blockbuster set-pieces is that action sequences, when they happen, have maximum effect. An aerial attack on District 13 is played out entirely through the panicked expressions of those hunkered down underground; a violent, shocking twist at the end hits harder. Yes, it means less bang for your buck and at times I did miss the spectacle of Catching Fire. Part 1 is muted and unrelentingly grim. Even the humour, whether it’s a witty shoot for an advert or a throwaway line to the family cat, is gloomy; jaded.
The introduction to District 13 moves the story along nicely, but nearly all of the film takes place there so you never quite get out of the starting block. It doesn’t seem to get going at all until the rescue mission in the final third. However I reckon this is necessary to properly introduce us to President Coin and her world, who I get the impression will be playing a big part in the next chapter. It also gives Gale a chance to be more than the brooding, jilted man in pain, pining over Katniss from a distance. I feel Gale would have been involved in the Panem uprising whether Katniss had volunteered in place of Prim or not.
Speaking of Gale, we’re still no closer to finding out who Katniss wants to be with. I’m going to go out on a limb and say it should be Gale all day, and that’s down to Liam Hemsworth and his brilliantly understated performance. I’d say he was on a level with Jennifer Lawrence for the first time. J-Law, as ever, is utterly watchable and charming – no matter what she does in future Katniss will probably remain one of her greatest ever roles.
I hear that among fans of Suzanne Collins’ books Mockingjay is considered the weakest (I haven’t read them so do let me know if that’s not true), but by no means is Part 1 the weakest film, even if it was created just to get more of our money. As far as I’m concerned Lionsgate can take it.
FOUR OUT OF FIVE
Side note: I ship Haymitch/Effie now.