The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I – It’s the taking part that counts
A muttering, foetal Katniss Everdeen confronts us from within the dark underbelly of District 13 in the opening shots of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I catapulting us into an unequivocal new era for The Hunger Games saga.
From these first scenes, the tone is set for a grittier exploration into the dirty tactics of war and the casualties suffered by those unwillingly swept up in its path. Set predominantly in the subterranean world of District 13 – once thought to have been annihilated by the Capitol – now the nucleus of Panem rebel activity, Mockingjay Part I is quite literally a world apart from the pageantry and spectacle of the two previous instalments.
Spearheading the rebel effort in 13 is President Alma Coin (a measured, charismatic Julianne Moore) whose district has weaponed up and hunkered down, ready and waiting to be led into battle by their returning Mockingjay. But once rescued by Coin, along with tribute Finnick (Sam Claflin) and formerly flamboyant chaperone Effie (Elizabeth Banks), Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) struggles to fulfil her role as the poster child of a war she never intended on waging.
It is only the revelation that Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is still alive and being used for propaganda in the Capitol’s media campaign, combined with a trip to the decimated District 12, that sets Katniss off on a journey of self-rediscovery. There follow some exquisite, at times darkly humorous scenes that address the manipulation of the media and its darlings by both sides – a theme touched upon in previous films – but this time eschewing the easy markers of good and evil by bringing the focus on the individual instead.
Now that the Games have been committed to memory by the fateful trajectory of Katniss’s arrow in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, there is understandably a dearth of heightened life or death tension that inherently propelled the earlier films forward. While this element is initially replaced by a call-to-action for our reluctant heroine Katniss, it is unceremoniously diminished as her leadership qualities seem only really spurred on by witnessing atrocities (insert dramatic but contrived scenes portraying the beastliness of the Capitol) and this can come across as false.
Despite this, there are several great action sequences involving a dam, bomber planes, a rescue mission and an animal-based danger point that our modern audience can relate to, at least more so than the concept of the Quarter Quells. Beautifully shot, you cannot fault these sequences on the CGI, which is great across the board – from the movements of hovering jet planes right down to the harrowing scenes of death and destruction in the districts ravaged by the rule of President Snow (a welcome return by the legendary Donald Sutherland).
The build up of the film certainly owes a lot to its older cast members. The late great Philip Seymour Hoffman reprises his role as the avuncular yet shrewd Plutarch Heavensbee – who, along with Jennifer Lawrence, gives these films a solid grounding and without whom there would be a distinct lack of gravitas in key scenes.
In the grand scheme of young-adult fiction film franchises, critics tend to abhor the customary hacking of the final book into two lucrative films as a cynical studio money-making scam, ultimately scorning part I as a dragged out, superfluous affair while fans, on the whole, relish the chance to eke out their enjoyment as long as possible.
As someone who is definitely not in the target demographic for these films, I cannot claim to be a diehard fan but, in my mind, this is the best film yet and possibly of all these young adult franchises, ever.