Disclaimer – This review contains spoilers for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 as well as the first two Hunger Games films, The Hunger Games and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. I should also probably mention that I have not read the Hunger Games books; I am viewing this film with fresh eyes!
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay is the much-anticipated third instalment in the Hunger Games trilogy, and continuing the trend of books-to-films being split into two halves, Mockingjay Part 1 shows only the first half of the trilogy’s final book. This type of splitting has been put to good use in past film adaptions, allowing films such as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and The Hobbit some extra screen time to flesh out their stories. However, in the past it has also been used to a detrimental effect, such as in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, as the story did not have enough substance to last two films. Putting the upcoming Mockingjay Part 2 aside, I think this film definitely has enough substance to carry its own film – the narrative was concise and gripping for a lot of the movie.
It seems some time has passed since the end of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and the plot picks up with Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) coming to terms with the fact that she has inadvertently started a revolution by destroying the Hunger Games arena. Knowing the Capitol is still holding many victors captive, including her Hunger Games partner Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), she agrees to assist the rebellion in an attempt to ensure their return. The plot focuses on Katniss as a symbol for the rebellion, and in exchange, the rebellion trying to free the victors from the Capitol’s control. At first glance, this plot seems a bit scarce, but the script was very concise; I felt that everything that was being said, and everything that was happening, was necessary to the storyline. There’s also some great visual story-telling, such as the white roses being used as a motif, they crop up more and more throughout the film until we see their final significance, when President Snow drops them over the rebel headquarters. However, in terms of pacing, at parts it felt a bit slow. This was not always a bad thing, however it just seemed like there were a few scenes with ran on a bit too long. While this may have been intentional, as the pacing was similar to the first two Hunger Games films, some scene perhaps needed editing.
One thing that drew me initially to The Hunger Games series is the style in sets and costumes, particularly in the Capitol scenes – depicted as a colourful utopia which feels both enticing and alien to the audience. While the Capitol has a great presence in this film, the few times it is actually seen creates a stark contrast to the film’s other settings which, unlike the regal sets and edgy clothing of Panem’s central city, are usually grey or black. Interestingly, characters from the Capitol that have joined the resistance in this instalment, including Effie (Elizabeth Banks) and Cressida (Natalie Dormer), have adopted an interesting style that reflects the events they have faced. Through their make-up alone, we can see them trying to cling to what part of the Capitol they had, despite having come firmly into the real world – particularly Elizabeth Banks, who is still unrecognisable in this role. Furthermore, filming in beautiful outdoor locations has added greatly to the movie, as the outside world feels so much more real than the Capitol or rebellion base – something which helps to depict Katniss’ manipulation by the Capitol’s forces by her distance from the ‘real’ world.
Something that is perhaps not used to its full potential in this film is the acting. While some of the smaller roles were acted with impressive intensity given these actor’s comparative lack of experience, I felt as though some the bigger stars weren’t necessarily giving their all. While Jennifer Lawrence had some moving scenes, notably the harrowing opening sequence, she didn’t attempt to vary her performance from that of the first two films. Liam Hemsworth had a much larger role in Mockingjay Part 1 than in the previous films, however he still did not get the most dramatic part which, despite his lack of screen-time, was given to Josh Hutcherson. Peeta has some fantastic, terrifying moments, as we see him transform of the course of film whilst supposedly held in captivity. For fans of Philip Seymour Hoffman – while this certainly wouldn’t be his greatest role, he does make it seem effortless, injecting a great amount of drama and, surprisingly, realism as well. It would be safe to say that if he brings the same amount of gravitas to the final instalment of the Hunger Games, it certainly wouldn’t be a disappointing note for him to go out on, after his untimely death earlier this year.
Like the acting, the special effects were good, but probably could have been better. As this film was made in just a year, more time to render and perfect the graphics could have made Mockingjay Part 1 more realistic, like there was a scene where a tower falls down on a building and it just didn’t look real, and it completely threw me out of it because, I realised they weren’t in any peril. However, the use of practical sets, seamlessly enhanced with special effects (particularly in the scenes in District 12), is something that really adds to this instalment, compared to the first two Hunger Games films.
Much like the underused acting, the special effects were good, but probably could have been better. Mockingjay Part 1 was made in just a year, and leaving more time to render and perfect the graphics could have made the film much more realistic. For example, there is a sequence in which a tower falls down on a building, but the lack of convincing graphics makes the scene slump. However, the use of practical sets, seamlessly enhanced with special effects (particularly in the District 12 scenes) is something that really adds to this instalment, compared to the first two Hunger Games films.
Overall, I’d say this film did a great job for what it is. I found it very entertaining and often gripping. Besides its minor imperfections, such as the slowness in the earlier scenes, I never felt bored. So far, I am glad that it has been split into two halves, as I could see how it may have felt cluttered to add all of the action into one film. I would definitely recommend this film, particularly if you enjoyed the first two Hunger Games films, and look forward to seeing The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 next year!