The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is a strange experience when considered in comparison to its predecessors. It’s a very different movie from the first two features with a wholly different focus in both theme and content so as a third installment in a franchise is all the stronger for it. All of the weaknesses, however, are exactly the same as those prevalent in previous installments. As a result Mockingjay – Part One is a sequel capable of transcending its own seriees whilst being held back by established flaws.
First some backstory: Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has survived two Hunger Games. After entering on behalf of her sister and later being dragged back into the murder-sport thanks to machinations of a displeased Capitol, Katniss now finds herself a refugee of the Resistance, protected by the secretive society of District 13 as the rest of Panem slips ever closer to revolt. With on-off love interest Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) held by tyrannical President Snow (Donald Sutherland) Katniss is approached by the leaders of the Resistance to act as the symbol of the the revolution and to accept her role as the Mockingjay.
For a series that was originally hyped as ‘teens killing each other in sport’, the most interesting thing about Mockingjay – The First is that it’s a movie almost entirely devoid of action. Aside from a single action set piece and a few other scattered moments which ratchet tension up admirably, there’s little screen fare to get hearts racing or blood pumping and most curiously, this is the best thing about the movie. The first Hunger Games outing suffered from bland and forgettable action and Catching Fire followed the already archaic plot format of 50% set up, 50% games which involved cramming a considerable amount of plot into the final five minutes. In Mockingjay – Teil Eins, the plot is allowed to breathe and unfold without any obligation to hammer home a series of disengaged violence. As a result whenever characters do have to fight, it’s considerably more believable and emotional conflicts stand out much more strikingly when the fighting is sparse.
What instead fills the running time is an extended look at the implementation of propaganda and how Panem’s two opposing forces toy with the hearts and minds of both their citizens and their political pawns. From blatant and very amusing allusions to the ridiculousness of cinematic acting to a surprisingly in depth perspectives on PR strategy, slander campaigning and character manipulation, Mockingjay – Parte Uno is a very political movie and although viewers from the school of life won’t find anything particularly revelatory among the subtext it’s fresh and engaging for young adult fiction to attempt to engage with content beyond which girl likes which boy, and the evil they most overcome together, which is ironically also the Mockingjay – Part One‘s most problematic element. Like the first two Hunger Games flicks, Katniss spends a considerable amount of time time here hemming and hawing between two boys and her emotions towards each of them and it’s all so utterly banal. It’s not even especially bad emotional yearning it’s just an obsequiously boring non-affair that exists solely to give Katniss a motivation to actually involve herself in all of the more interesting political maneuvering that is the heart and soul of the feature.
Although rubbing up against the same problems evident in it’s original installments, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part One is largely successful at giving Katniss a new challenge to navigate as the film-makers veer dangerously close to truly involving political intrigue. It might be rather uncouth to be the second film in a row to end on an distinctly non-revealing cliffhanger but Mockingjay – Part Two will have to be a strong showing to top the efforts on display in its first half.
With an undoubtedly impressive cast (including a standout performance from returning Elizabeth Banks) and a new intriguing political slant to it’s plotting, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One is an impressive set up for what is sure to be 2015’s most dynamic series conclusion.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part One is out now in cinemas everywhere.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part Two is scheduled for release Nov. 20, 2015.