Rebecca Kuntz reviews the much anticipated The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1
Multi-part “tent pole franchise” film series have become the essential within modern global entertainment in the 21st century. The longer form of multipart films expands the canvas for filmmakers and writers (and fan fiction writers) to allow the development of more complex characters and stories. In the past decade, the genre of “young adult science fiction” has been a lucrative source for these series, being already targeted at the key demographic of young people that as consumers dominate the market for cultural products. Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner are all series that the viewer and reader keep returning to for more adventures with familiar characters in an established universe whose rules are already well established.
The popularity of science fiction — in particular dystopic fiction — has skyrocketed in the past decade. But why? Well, in a near-future world, which has suffered some sort of calamity, authors can criticize the reality we live in but do so through veiled means. They can take a lone hero who rebels against an oppressive government, display the corruption of politics, and show the audience that the opportunity for change is available, but we must be brave to take advantage of it.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is the first installment of the two-part finale of The Hunger Games franchise. Helmed by Francis Lawrence, who continues as director following his success with Catching Fire, Mockingjay – Part 1 takes a decidedly different path from its predecessors. Unlike the previous films, which focused on the horrors suffered during the eponymous Hunger Games, Mockingjay Part 1 instead focuses on the realities of warfare, the manipulation of media as a political maneuver, and the rebellion of the oppressed masses against the tyrannical elite.
An emotionally ravaged Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), after having unwittingly helped to destroy the arena of the Quarter Quell in the last film, has been rescued by the District 13 rebels and taken into their custody. Headed by the cold but rational President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), District 13, which has been assumed non-existent ever since the Capitol had destroyed them seventy-five years prior, is now preparing for the inevitable war. With civil unrest rippling through the rest of the Districts as the Capitol’s cruelty and repression continues, 13 act as the leader in the rebellion and hope to use Katniss as their symbol for the insurgence.
Although emotionally fragile after having suffered through two Games, Katniss agrees to become the emblematic Mockingjay and star in propaganda videos, which are produced by Plutrach Heavensbee, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final performance. These will then be broadcast to the other Districts to give them hope and courage them to stand against the Capitol, which is lead by the merciless President Snow, a hauntingly slick Donald Sutherland.
The film follows the deadly broadcasting volley between District 13 and the Capitol, a life-or-death game that raises the stakes, not just for the characters, but also for the world of Panem itself. The Hunger Games emphasizes the importance of image versus action, and Mockingjay Part 1 balances the two between its thrilling action set pieces and quieter moments of character development and interaction.
Jennifer Lawrence may be the star of the saga, but many of the secondary characters have their moments to shine, making each role distinctively memorable. Woody Harrelson returns as the amusingly prickly Haymitch Abernathy, Katniss’s mentor. Elizabeth Banks steals every scene she is in as fashion maven Effie Trinket, who will not let the enforced military jumpsuit hamper her creative instincts. As Finnick Odair, Sam Claflin milks the despair and loneliness felt by the former victor, revealing the bitter background he has undergone in order to survive in the perverse world of the Capitol, and newcomer Natalie Dormer, of Game of Thrones fame, joins as Cressida, a no-nonsense director of propaganda who is determined to coax out the best performances from her lead actors.
Although this formula that began with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, followed up by Twilight: Breaking Dawn, and The Hobbit, is a proven success at the box office, fans of the books and films are not so pleased. This delayed gratification often loses its drive in the wait, with certain plots fading from memory so that filmmakers struggle to reintroduce narrative threads that have been forgotten.
After leaving Mockingjay, the audience will be itching to re-submerge themselves in the world of Panem, engrossed by the struggles of Katniss and District 13. They may not be happy about waiting a year, but when a film series is this good it may well be worth it.
Image credit: IMDB