Warning: There are some minor spoilers ahead.
From the moment Jennifer Lawrence enters on screen as a screaming, trembling, and traumatized Katniss Everdeen, you know you’re in for a different “Hunger Games” movie than the previous two installments.
“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part I” is the darkest and grittiest of the four part series from best-selling author Suzanne Collins.
Gone are the games that pitted tributes from 12 districts against each other in a battle royale to the death in the first two films.
Death and sacrifice are front and center in the third film as Katniss sets out to lead the people of Panem in a revolution against the country’s capitol and its leader, President Snow, played by the captivating Donald Sutherland.
Since the last movie, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) has been captured by the Capitol and is being used as a tool by Snow to unnerve Katniss.
There’s not much to be happy about in “Mockingjay,” which shouldn’t come as a surprise if you’ve read the book (it’s pretty depressing).
Much of the film plays out in District 13, a secret underground bunker revealed in last year’s “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” that’s led by President Coin (Julianne Moore).
Unlike the previous two films, “Mockingjay” doesn’t have a whole lot of action. Katniss fires off only one arrow throughout the film from her now iconic bow.
Readers of the book will anticipate this. Most of the time on screen is spent watching Katniss make propaganda videos as the symbol of the rebellion, The Mockingjay.
Instead, the sequel is a giant exercise in setting up the big finale. It’s something that has become typical of big franchise movies that have their last installments split over the course of two films. In that respect, “Mockingjay – Part I” feels a lot like “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I.”
That’s not to say the film doesn’t do a good job.
Lawrence is the heart and soul of the film. This franchise would be nothing without her domineering presence. Her character goes back and forth between powerful, authoritative, and fearless “girl on fire” one minute to ravaged soul the next as she battles with PTSD from the games. It’s an incredible range to watch on screen.
The other great on screen performance belongs to Sutherland. As the ruthless, conniving head of Panem, he easily steals every scene he’s in. The film’s antagonist at his finest when dishing both advice and warnings to Everdeen in a condescending manner.
Philip Seymour Hoffman also needs to be recognised. The late actor plays off of Lawrence so effortlessly that a wry smile near the film’s beginning comes off as a genuine reaction to the actress’s fiery remarks. One of the few moments of humour in the film occurs between the two as he directs Everdeen in her first piece of propaganda for the rebellion.
However, “Mockingjay” has such a huge cast of characters that many of them are rotated through so quickly that you never get enough screen time with most of them. That goes for Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Finnick (Sam Claflin), too.
Elizabeth Banks is one of the film’s only bright spots in the form of comic relief. As Katniss’s escort Effie Trinket in the first two films, we’re used to seeing her character adorned in wild wigs and lavish outfits like this:
Stripped of her lavish lifestyle, we watch as she struggles to settle into life outside the Capitol as a “political refugee,” condemned to a life of jumpsuits. It’s hilarious and refreshing since she’s barely in the final book.
And this is one of the reasons “The Hunger Games” is probably one of the best book adaptations to screen. It dares to stray from the story in a way that expands upon its source material. The three novels are only given to readers from Katniss’s perspective. In “Mockingjay,” we see firsthand how other districts deal in their own ways with the rebellion. We see how President Snow interacts with members of the Capitol and with Katniss. It all makes for a more engaging film than what many refer to as the worst book in the series.
A few scenes that stick out include Katniss’s heartbreaking return to her home and a rising from a group of singing rebels fighting for freedom.
However, the best part of the two-hour movie doesn’t come until the very end, after a wanna-be slightly cheesy “Mission Impossible”-like operation takes place *spoiler* to save Peeta and other victors including last year’s fan favourite Johanna (Jena Malone). (You’ll remember her as the actress who stripped naked in the elevator in “Catching Fire.”) *spoiler*
A huge twist, that I won’t spoil here, lays the foundation for what will play a huge part in next fall’s big finale. Fans of the series know the twist. They have been waiting years to see it on screen. However, they will be upset the film cuts to black right when it starts to get really juicy, leaving viewers wanting more.
For the record, the film does split the 398-page “Mockingjay” book in half pretty evenly. Since the film moves pretty slowly that was one of our main concerns. We were then reminded afterward that the first half of all “The Hunger Games” books are pure set up.
And at the end of the day, that’s what “Mockingjay – Part 1” is, a total teaser for the final instalment due out next year. It will make tons of money for Lionsgate, probably break a few box office records, and will undoubtedly be one of the years highest grossing films, if not the highest-grossing of 2014 (it has to beat out Michael Bay’s $US1 billion “Transformers”).
Stick around through some of the credits, not for an additional scene, but Lorde’s music which is one of the best parts of the movie. You wish there was more of it throughout the film.
“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I” is in theatres Friday, Nov. 21.
Watch the trailer:
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