Of all the post-Twilight teen literature fantasy wannabe franchises, only one has really captured the imagination of the cinema going public, The Hunger Games. The success may have been down to the already loyal fan base the books had generated. Or it may have been the canny casting of rising star, now superstar, Jennifer Lawrence.
Perhaps it was the carefully crafted story that effortlessly mixed a dystopic future with a smart comment on modern media seen through the eyes of a believable and relatable female protagonist in Katniss Everdean. It was probably a combination of all of the above. Whatever the reason, it is really no surprise that when the final book in the series finally arrived, the title contains those dreaded two words – “part one”. Financially it makes perfect sense to eke as much out of the franchise as possible, but artistically the challenge is to take what is widely acknowledged as the weakest book of the trilogy and afford it almost double the screen time of the other two superior instalments.
It is impossible to give any sort of synopsis to The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 without spoilers for The Hunger Games and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. You have been warned.
Fresh from her dramatic escape from the Quarter Quell, Katniss (Lawrence) finds herself in the previously assumed to be destroyed District 13, where she has been brought to be the figurehead of the revolution against the Capital. If a lot of the words in that previous sentence looked a bit like English but made no sense together, you may be reading the wrong review. It transpires that while the rest of Panem assumed that District 13 had been obliterated, they were in fact sheltering within a vast underground bunker where they were biding their time for their revenge on the Capital. Led by President Coin (Moore), the citizens of District 13, along with assorted refugees from the other districts and the escaped survivors of the Quarter Quell, start their campaign against the capital. The war though, is a war of words, a campaign of media rhetoric, with the Capital leveraging their prisoner Peeta (Hutcherson) to sow fear and doubt, whilst media producer Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman in his swansong) attempts to mould Katniss into the Joan of Arc figure that is the Mockingjay.
The real strength of the Hunger Games series has always been its understanding of the media, hardly surprising when that is the background of its creator Suzanne Collins. The first films show how violence can be desensitised and sensationalised to take reality TV to its most extreme conclusion, wearing the influences of Battle Royale and The Running Man firmly on its sleeves. The second film, takes that same principle and then builds in an observation on the nature of celebrity. Mockingjay is about all-out media war. It is about using media campaigns to sway the population into action. In many ways it shares the same spirit as another film with a great supporting turn from Woody Harrelson, Wag the Dog.
The quality of performances remains consistently high, hardly surprising given the cast, with special mention going to Donald Sutherland’s despot President Snow who exudes charm and menace in equal measure. The inevitable unresolved ending comes at the most sensible point in the source material, and while it’s questionable that two films were required from the final book, the prospect of spending more time in the company of these characters is not an unwelcome one.
The Blu-ray boasts a nice digital reproduction and some decent extras including a tribute to the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Not the strongest film in the series by any stretch of the imagination, but a decent next step on the road to the conclusion. But please don’t split it any further, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 3 would be cruel and unusual punishment even by Panem’s standards.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is out on DVD and Blu-ray on 23 March Buy from Amazon
Review by Mark Moynihan
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