Director: Francis Lawrence

Screenplay: Danny Strong, adapted from Suzanne Collins

Key Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson

Rating: 3 stars3-out-of-5-stars

Before you light your torches and grab your pitchforks, let me make one thing clear: I’m a big Hunger Games fan. I read inhaled the books over the course of a couple of days, I didn’t sleep, I cried and laughed and then wouldn’t shut up about it for a long time. I was basically reliving my Harry Potter obsession, but with a more visceral intensity. When the first film came out, I diligently marched along to see it, gasped through it, and dissected it with about as much gusto as a professor does a thesis on the theory of evolution. The second film made me cry, it made me sit upright on the edge of my seat for almost three hours, it instilled hope that maybe the adaptations would do the trilogy justice. So before you judge me with ‘this review is harsh’ and ‘omg how could you, I loved it’ please know that I write this with a heavy heart. Not that a 3 star review is bad, per se;  it’s just above average. For a major franchise blockbuster however, it’s as bad as news get, really.

Jennifer Lawrence at Katniss Everdeen

Jennifer Lawrence at Katniss Everdeen

If you have never read any of the books or watched any of the previous films (where have you been – they’re all on Netflix now ffs get your act together) – good luck to you, friend. The film picks up pretty much right where the previous one ended – after shooting an arrow into the dome around the arena, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is electrocuted and passes out. At the start of the film we find her calling out for Peeta in a dark room in what later turns out to be the hospital ward of District 13 – an underground bunker sort of place, where militant Panem citizens train, fight, and wear ghastly grey jumpsuits that make them look like giant babies in preparation for finally taking down President Snow (Donald Sutherland) in the Capitol. We are reunited with Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman), who we now know is a sort of Peter Mandelson spin doctor for the revolution, set on using the ‘girl on fire’ to further fuel the uprisings in all districts. He is joined by President Coin (Julianne Moore) – the tough, strong motherly figurehead for the growing militia, set on leading her rebels to victory. Other new characters include tattooed and Skrillex-looking documentary filmmaker Cressida (Natalie Dormer) and her amicable film crew, ready to capture Katniss’ frequent fiery outbursts and tears for the rest of Panem to see. Forever brooding and heartbroken Gale (Liam Hemsworth), now apparently sober Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and makeup-free but ever as graceful Effie (Elizabeth Banks) bring up the rear of the new main characters ensemble.

Cressida (Natalie Dormer) in Mockingjay: Part 1

Cressida (Natalie Dormer) in Mockingjay: Part 1

I’ll be honest – this film is a lot darker and heavier than the last, with very few jokes – or scenes of people smiling in general – throughout. The few attempts at humour come in the form of Haymitch-and-Effie banter, both of whom we see very little in this picture, and Prim’s cat, Buttercup. Not that all good films require jokes, mind – it may however have helped break down the repetitive format of the dialogue between characters. Likewise there’s something to be said about all the revolutionary talk – I realise this is a film about a revolution, I’m not an idiot, but it seems that the element of reality is lost when characters speak in generalized, sweeping statements and vague catch-all remarks. This is probably a reflection of my dislike of the screen play, but I for one would’ve liked to hear more about the characters (the film crew are introduced in less than 30 seconds, and their entire journey to District 13 omitted from the story line; Beetee greets Katniss in a wheelchair after their escape from the arena but his injuries aren’t explained or even acknowledged;  we assume Gale lost his family in the bombing of District 12, but this is never clarified or explained outright – the list goes on). To put it bluntly: I’d rather watch my mum do the dishes for two hours, than listen to her talk about doing the dishes for two hours – certain actions need to be seen, even if they are mundane and ordinary.  Likewise the filming itself leaves more to be desired – much like in Catching Fire, Lawrence opts for the shaky-cam effect and all bar the sweeping aerial view shots look like they were filmed by someone from the back of a moving truck. Little grievances, but all in all add up to a disappointing viewing experience – especially given that it’s a well-known fact that the third book is the weakest of the trilogy, and this film was always going to be a bit of a story-filler: splitting Mockingjay into two means first half would be used to set up the story for the big finale in the second part. It’s sequel maths, everyone knows this.  Why then, further bring down the quality with a poor script and cinematography? Bah humbug. The soundtrack however, is kicking ass, as ever. Thank the Lorde.

 

Katniss (Lawrence) and President Coin (Moore) speaking in front of District 13

Katniss (Lawrence) and President Coin (Moore) speaking in front of District 13

The most standout performances of the picture are Julianne Moore’s defiant and mysterious Coin, and Josh Hutcherson’s starved, lovesick and awfully unlucky Peeta Mellark. Though his scenes are sparse in this installment, Peeta’s presence is strong as ever, his gaze reaching for Katniss in his forced public appearances over the Capitol-controlled TV channels. Peeta, along with other victor Johanna Mason, and Finnick Oddair’s girlfriend Annie, remain trapped in the Capitol as Snow’s prisoners after the events of the Quarter Quell. The penultimate cliffhanger-y scene of the film is Peeta’s true masterpiece and definitely a part of the film to look forward to. Katniss (Lawrence) is rightfully very tightly wound and emotional throughout the film, but some of her potentially most heart-wrenching scenes are sadly disappointing – Lawrence seems to always spend a second too long weeping, a decibel too loudly, making her overall performance veer into the unconvincing – a disappointing discovery given her glowing finesse in the previous two pictures.

Katniss visit a hospital in Mockingjay: Part 1

Katniss visiting a hospital in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

Various montages illustrating the uprising in the different districts are done well, and sadly ring not too far from the truth. In an attempt to paint a picture of a fictional dystopian reality, where children fight to their death and people are starved and exploited by a benevolent dictator, the director inadvertently paints the picture of the present day Middle East; of Israel and Palestine; of Syria and Iraq. Scenes of crowds running directly into the line of fire, shot down by the dozens and hundreds – it’s a current reality most Western teens are not exposed to daily. My first reaction is that this seems out of place here, and it pains me to admit that this  ignorance and laissez-faire attitude is something I – among many others – have grown to expect from Western society. I’d like to hope that teens and adults alike treat the Hunger Games trilogy as an opportunity for drawing similarities -that they see the inspiration behind this fiction in our daily lives, and that they exhibit a bigger interest in current affairs as a result thereof. My hope for the franchise is that it makes people of various ages ask more questions – sadly I don’t feel like the combined efforts put into this film are enough to make this happen.

Even more disappointing was the conversation overheard upon exiting the cinema – a thorough discussion of Natalie Dormer’s hairstyle and ‘how much more bang-able she is in Game of Thrones’. Perhaps expecting a heartfelt discussion on lack of decency and justice in the 21st century was a bit too ambitious – then again, that was only one conversation out of millions. To claim that the franchise hasn’t made an impact politically would be untrue; whether this film can carry that weight forward is another matter entirely.

 

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is out in cinemas worldwide now.

All images courtesy of mockingjay.net .

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