Following events in the last Hunger Games where (spoiler, but I’ll assume, for the purposes of this blog, that you’re up to speed on the story so far) Katniss basically broke the arena in a giant explosion and was whisked away by the rebels, which included Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth).
Quite an epic finale to the first two films you might say. What this meant, in terms of story, is that, for Mockingjay, part 1 you have to explain a lot of the world, as it’s changed so much. Almost a reset of the story.
As ever, we follow things from Katniss’s (Jennifer Lawrence) point of view. At the film’s start we find that she’s in an underground military stronghold which commands the rebel base of operations. They’re led by President Coin (a rather cold and clinical Julianne Moore).
On the other side of the fence in the evil Capitol, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is tightening the screws on the downtrodden masses in each of the districts still standing (many have been bombed to rubble).
The rebels are desperate to use Katniss as their symbol – their Mockingjay – to fan the flames of the revolution. She is initially reluctant as she remains traumatised from the events of the games and, most crucially, from having left Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) behind. As a result poor old Peeta has become a propaganda pawn for Snow throughout this Part 1, and Katniss suffers greatly from the way in which Snow toys with her through his manipulation of Peeta.
As a leading lady Lawrence continues to prove why Katniss was – and still is – a character for which she will forever be remembered. She goes through a whole gamut of emotions in this film; granted, mostly anguish and despair as things go from bad to worse, but also righteous anger and white hot fury, as she sends Snow a message or two of her own.
In terms of good versus bad, lines begin to blur a little, with the rebels employing similar tactics to that of the Capitol. With Plutarch advising President Coin, they discuss Katniss’s image and the message she must deliver to rouse the people. She ends up with a camera crew – led by Cressida (Natalie Dormer) filming her most emotional moments, trying to orchestrate the perfect soundbite. A little unsettling, as far as media parallels go.
The penultimate film in any franchise is always a tough one. You’ve got to have some good stuff in there, but save a lot of the best bits for the final instalment. Director Francis Lawrence (no relation to Jennifer) does admirably in this respect. The story is well paced, given the running time, and is suitably sombre overall, apt considering what’s taken place.
In terms of tone it has that sense of calm before the storm, which is welcoming if you take the arc of the franchise into account. And despite the words ‘Hunger Games’ in the title, we’ve moved way past actual games taking place.
The fight for survival is now much larger in scope. Once the world expands we’re left – in no uncertain terms – in entirely new territory. The stakes are higher, as is the death count (although it’s rare you actually ever see any deaths, considering the 12a rating).
So as far as penultimate franchise sci-fi action goes, it’s a great experience. Many may bemoan the lack of big action set pieces, yet it allows the whole story to take a breather and build the characters on a deeper level. It’ll also sit nicely alongside the final Mockingjay film, of which I expect big, big things in terms of action, spectacle, and Katniss kicking Capitol ass.