Hunger games

Directed Francis Lawrence

Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland

It’s not hard to point out how influential The Hunger Games series is. Sure, you could point at the box office take of the previous films, or the meteoric rise of Jennifer Lawrence, or the subsequent swathe of Young Adult novels set in a dystopian future. For my mind, though, you need only to look at the traditionally male dominated NERF toys, now with their line of bows for the tween girl market, to see how embedded this series is in the zeitgeist. The Hunger Games; Mockingjay Part 1 is the latest offering, as everything ramps up for the inevitable conclusion.

After the events of the third Quarter Quell (Catching Fire), the escaping tributes are hurried off to the mysterious District 13. However they are split, with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and others being left behind in the arena. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is consumed with guilt by the action, and seems broken by her second encounter with the games. Still the rebels want to use her as a figurehead in their call to arms, the Mockingjay. As open rebellion breaks out, Katniss is launched into a battle of hearts and minds against the Capitol and its leader, President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

This is a different Hunger Games than the previous films. It is all out war, and the structure suffers a bit without the device of the games to ramp the action up into high gear. Instead there is a lot of establishment for a presumed pay off in the second part. As such the pace seems to drag a little, but signals it should be worth the investment. This is not to say Mockingjay Part 1 is a bad movie, but means it does lack some of the punch of the previous two, despite its drastically increased stakes. What it does have in its favour are some beautiful and horrific visuals (often simultaneously) as we see the cost of the war amongst the districts, with one or two set pieces that are breath taking in their execution.

Jennifer Lawrence brings a less confident Katniss to the screen, as she learns the scope of her new power and what the war implies. She is still a firebrand though, so when she makes a battle speech amongst the flames and wreckage Lawrence can still appear like fury incarnate. Her verbal jousting matches against Sutherland’s delightfully unrepentant Snow are, as always, a highlight. We also see the return of many of the old favourites as their characters adapt to the new reality, be that Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch struggling with sobriety, or Elizabeth Bank’s Effie Trinket surviving in a jumpsuit, and of course Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Plutarch changing the narrative of rebellion.

A place holder of a film, Mockingjay Part 1 will be reliant on the second part to really complete its narrative. What it does offer is solid and an interesting glimpse into the finale of The Hunger Games.