Whilst Catching Fire was a leap forward in quality over the The Hunger Games, Mockingjay – Part 1 feels like a place holder until we get to the meat of the action in Part 2. In many ways it advances the world of Panem and several of the characters on the periphery, whilst at the same time failing to significantly advance the plot enough to justify the final book being split into two movies.
Having previously read the Mockingjay book I had concerns heading into the film that there simply wasn’t enough action, or real developments in the first half of the story to fill over two hours, and although I was thankfully proven wrong in some respects, I was right in other, perhaps more important areas.
Mockingjay picks up right after the events of Catching Fire, with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) having been rescued from the 75th Hunger Games by the people of District 13, who were assumed to be long dead along with the District itself. But they are in fact alive and well, living underground, plotting against President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and the Capitol. To unite the rebels, District 13’s President Coin (Julianne Moore) and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) enlist Katniss to film a series of propaganda videos shedding light on Snow’s wrongdoings.
Counteracting this, President Snow uses Katniss’s love interest Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) who was taken by the Capitol after the Hunger Games as a means of sending dark veiled messages and warnings to Katniss.
As with the first two instalments of the series, Lawrence puts on a powerhouse performance throughout as the heroine. She is the driving force of the film and the franchise as a whole, and as expected she steals the show. With Peeta’s screen time at a premium the door is opened for the likes of Prim (Willow Shields) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) to get some much needed character development.
As for the expanded world of Panem, we see more than ever of the Districts, whilst the political unrest is displayed effectively. Director Francis Lawrence has a firm grasp on the Hunger Games universe, with the garish colours of the Capitol and its huge excess looking even more despicable in light of the expanded view of Panem.
The embodiment of this Capitol excess is in Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), who stripped of her wigs and make up plays the prisoner of war, despite being free to mill about as she likes.
But despite the excellently realised world, an expectedly fantastic performance from Jennifer Lawrence and several touching moments…not all that much actually happens. There are no big set pieces, no key plot developments, and it ends with a whopping cliffhanger just as things are ramping up.
At least with, say, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 there were important moments such as the explanation of the Hallows, and some heroics from Dobby, but with Mockingjay it feels mostly non essential. It seems fairly clear that the studio’s bank account made the ruling on splitting the final book in two, rather than the story necessitating it. The film ends with the plot two thirds of the way through, and therefore it just feels incomplete.
In spite of this Mockingjay is a well made, well put together movie, which is enjoyable regardless of its flaws. What it does do well is setting up the final act, which from the evidence of the solid build up, and gripping final scenes of Part 1 is sure to be spectacular.
Good, but not great, certainly not essential, Mockingjay acts effectively as an extended trailer for the main event, Part 2.
Rating (out of 5):