Panem is crying out for a leader. A symbol to spark the rebellion. Sick of being kept under the thumb of the Capitol and President Snow, starving, and living a life of fear and abject poverty while the Capital flourishes and prospers at their expense, the residents of the Panem districts have been given a flare of hope by the antics of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and co. at the end of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. However, they need someone to unite them, they need the mockingjay, and the leaders of the Rebellion know that someone is Katniss – they just need to convince her of that.
So opens the third film in The Hunger Games franchise, Mockingjay – Part 1. What follows over the next two and bit hours is a whirlwind of emotions, leaving you frustrated that it’s another year before we get the conclusion.
For a book full of rebellion, battle, and the aftermath of both, the film is full of extremely poignant, yet electrifying moments throughout that break up the violence and destruction, reminding the audience what they are fighting for. These include Katniss’ first field visit to the hospital in District 8, the scene of the uprising in Districts 5 and 7, and Katniss’ song among the Mockingjays in District 12 – who knew Jennifer Lawrence could sing like that? Her version in the credits is spine-tingling and has been with me since walking out of the cinema.
However, it’s always been the relationships that have elevated this franchise from a simple big blockbuster cash cow. You connect with these people, you journey with them. They are three-dimensional, complex people who are dealing with events and scenes that are, luckily, completely foreign and unimaginable to the majority of us. This is completely down to the director, Francis Lawrence, and the stellar cast that has been assembled.
Lawrence shines again as Katniss. You cannot imagine anyone else playing this part, she completely embodies everything you would want in your Katniss. She has made the audience feel for and champion a character that, to be frank, is often times a naïve, whiny young girl who is not too interested in the bigger picture, but wants to save and preserve what is near and dear to her. I’m not discrediting her achievements or the fact that she wants freedom, equality and life brought back to Panem, but they are not her motivating factors; she just wants to protect her sister and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson).
Though he is not as strong as Lawrence and has been carried a bit by her in the previous films, Hutcherson has really come into his own in Mockingjay. His appearances while in the Capitol are subtle, strong, and engaging. You know that there is more to him than what is coming across. You want to discover what this is, and where the film ends for his character inspires empathy but also fear.
It was also good to see Liam Hemsworth have a more central role in this film. Gale has largely been relegated to mooning over Katniss in the previous films, but here he is given substance and the opportunity to become someone on his own merit. He, like so many of the characters, comes into his own in this film, setting him up for his path in life. Hemsworth was nicely understated, though I would have liked to have seen a bit more emotion from him.
As one of the last films of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, his turn as Plutarch Heavensbee is quite bittersweet. His ability to completely swing your opinion of him from Catching Fire is further example of just what we lost with his death earlier this year. The dedication of the film to him at the end was fitting.
One of the unsung heroes of the franchise has to be Elizabeth Banks’ Effie Trinkett, the Capitol-born chaperone and District 12’s publicity representative. While her Capitol views on beauty, style and presentation have been highly entertaining in the first two films, her transformation from Capitol lackey to rebel was a highlight and added some much needed comedy and lighter scenes. Some book purists might have issues with her expanded role in the film (Effie only appears briefly in the novel), but her presence here works so well and her resistance to the rebellion provides a very interesting contrast to Cressida (Natalie Dormer) and her crew, who willingly left the Capitol to take up with the Rebels.
There were a number of newcomers to the franchise that play key roles over the Mockingjay films and all were very impressive. Julianne Moore was strong as the District 13 and rebel leader President Alma Coin. Her growth throughout the film, while much needed, was great to watch. She starts as a lackluster leader – brilliant in coordinating battles, but uncharismatic, uninspiring and very wooden. As she works with Katniss and the events in the movie unfold, she becomes the leader that the rebels need, complementing Katniss’ heart and bravery with rhetoric and leadership.
There has been much hype and anticipation about the addition of Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer to the cast, and she didn’t disappoint. Though her character is very much on the periphery of the action, capturing Katniss’ every move in order to transmit “propos,” you never forget her presence, nor her vital role she’s performing. Francis Lawrence has set it up so that a significant amount of the action that takes place in the field is almost from the viewpoint of Cressida and her crew. Cressida represents the audience and her reaction is very similar to our reaction, giving viewers an affinity with the character, which Dormer very subtly plays with throughout.
As the final Hunger Games novel was split into two films, Mockingjay – Part 1’s ending was a surprise in that it was no where near the cliffhanger ending that Catching Fire left us with. There’s still the desire to want more and the year-long wait will be quite onerous, but the film’s ending felt more of a conclusion, creating a separate, unique entity than Catching Fire’s did.
Overall, an amazing rollercoaster ride for your emotions. Probably not one for people unfamiliar with the books or who haven’t seen the previous movies, but for those who have, it doesn’t disappoint.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is in cinemas now.
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