It’s so unusual for a blockbuster to forgo so many conventions of its kind. Rather than build-up and climax, explosions and romance, the young audience who flock on mass to this ever-intelligent series are treated to a weight of political manoeuvrings. It’s a world blighted by a tyrannous government, murdering its people on mass, with the resistance existing in bleak, grey darkness, trying to get the upper hand in a propaganda war. Their strongest card lies in Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), ‘The Mockingjay’, an artificial symbol of resistance as much as a fully realised rebel. Her life has not been her own for as long as we have known her. Having been plucked out of the ‘Quarter Quell’ arena by those prepared to take on the tyranny of the Capitol, she’s thrust into becoming a symbol, an image of rebellion whilst over coming the trauma of her native District 12’s destruction and the capture of Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) by the Capitol. Hutcherson’s role is marginalised in this film, existing mainly via television interviews but it’s perhaps his most interesting and nuanced performance. The macabre Caesar (Stanley Tucci) similarly has to take a back seat and the film’s poorer for it because let’s face it, Caesar is magnificent. Tucci has created a true, living, breathing embodiment of a dystopia and it’s wonderfully ghastly and I was we got more of it.
Gone is the revolting flamboyance of the bewigged Capitol, welcoming instead the brutal functionality of the underground District 13. The Hunger Games has always been good at creating interesting colour palettes for different settings and District 13 simply feels oppressive. Existing for so long in these confined spaces does the film little favour, especially as it’s not clear why the pro-democracy rebellion seems to insist on such authoritarian attitudes. Yes, it’s war time, but they don’t seem like much of an alternative and because this isn’t appropriately expanded it doesn’t feel tonally complete. By splitting the difficult third instalment of the trilogy into two parts, it has itself become a structural oddity. The film rarely breathes from its suffocating underground bunker, but when it does it’s empowering. When Katniss witnesses a hospital bombing, she fires arrows at the planes overhead, delivering an electrifying speech ending “…you burn with us”, which only Lawrence could pull off with such vigour. Philip Seymour Hoffman is ever-brilliant as the twinkling eyed, maneuverer Plutarch Heavensbee, a bittersweet presence and an immeasurable loss.
Mockingjay did not need to be split into two parts and it can feel cumbersome for it. Where it’s strong is where this series has always excelled, in its themes of image versus reality, entrapment and rebellion but it’s forced to handle these ideas within claustrophobic surroundings. Director Francis Lawrence does his best considering the constraints of the source material. The Hunger Games has always been a extremely well told struggle between structure and agency, as the robust Katniss fights against overarching systems and Mockingjay Part 1 continues the tradition under self-imposed constraints.
Review by David Rank
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is out now in the UK. Running time 122 mins. Certificate 12A (UK).