Title: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
Director: Francis Lawrence
Major Players: Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Out Of Five: 4
Y A (Young Adult) films have been on the up this year – The Fault In Our Stars, The Maze Runner et al – but they’re not quite the novelty they appear. The trilogy that sparked it all off started in 2012, there was the sequel last year and now part three has arrived. I am, of course, talking about The Hunger Games – at the risk of sounding like I’m advertising cornflakes, the original and best.
If you’ve seen the first two movies – and assuming you can remember everything – then you’ll be well up to speed with the whole thing, especially if you’ve also read the phenomenally successful books by Susanne Collins, which have sold over 65 million copies. If not, then don’t let that put you off seeing the latest episode, because director Francis Lawrence has made The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 with both newbies and loyal fans in mind.
The film follows on directly from part two, with Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) having shattered the Hunger Games forever. Her home, district 12, has been completely destroyed by the Capital and the other districts, uniting under President Coin (Julianne Moore), are fighting for their freedom. They need a figurehead – the Mockingjay – and Katniss is the perfect candidate, given the following she gathered during the Hunger Games. She eventually agrees, but she has another, more personal motive – to rescue Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who survived the Games with her, from the clutches of President Snow (Donald Sutherland).
For newcomers to the trilogy, it isn’t the end of the world if you’ve not read the books or seen the other films. Mockingjay Part 1 has been cleverly scripted to fill in just enough gaps so that you understand what’s gone on in the past and it’s seamlessly done. And, as we’re plunged straight into the action right from the start, they’re also useful as a prompt for those whose memory of the other two films has faded.
For devoted Hunger Games fans, there’s more than enough that’s new to keep them engaged – and wanting more. The tone of the film is far darker than before, mirrored by the multitude of scenes shot in dim light: Peeta’s fate is the best example of the sinister goings-on, away from the air raids and general destruction. Director Lawrence also has a liking for giddy-making aerial shots. Many of the buildings are huge edifices, with never ending staircases and we’re shown them from the very top, and then descending downwards. As far as the characters are concerned, Katniss is clearly emotionally damaged from her experiences during the Games and also struggling to come to terms with her feelings for Peeta. Her loyal friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) plays a much bigger part in the action than previously, which is a welcome addition.
The other familiar characters are all there as well. Donald Sutherland has a ball as President Snow, the embodiment of evil, and Stanley Tucci, plus those amazing teeth, returns as Caesar Flickerman. Sadly, his part is smaller than before, but it’s also infinitely more sinister, as his role is to interview Peeta for propaganda purposes. Somebody on Twitter suggested he’d make a great host for the Oscars ceremony. They may have a point …… Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a delightfully subtle performance as Plutarch Heavensbee, full of knowing half smiles, and looking remarkably relaxed on screen. You suspect he’s probably wearing his slippers under his desk.
And then, of course, there’s Katniss herself. She is, it has to be said, a cracking heroine – and it’s great to see such a strong female role model. She might be brave to the point of fearless, but she also has plenty of weaknesses as well, making her a genuine human being, not an idealised figure. She’s very emotional about the people that matter to her, yet still young enough to be manipulated by the older, more canny adults. When she agrees to be the Mockingjay, she sets conditions, which President Coin rejects – she hasn’t been impressed with Katniss so far – but the girl’s fiery response is exactly what Plutarch has been banking on to demonstrate what makes her special. She obliges without a second thought, oblivious to the fact that she’s been manipulated. Although she knows full well that the same is happening when she starts appearing in short films to encourage the rebellion.
Mockingjay Part 1 is a film on a huge scale, although it doesn’t venture into 3-D. Its set pieces are full of impact and power – especially the destruction of the dam – and they need a big screen, IMAX size for preference. It’s easy to see why this series has a much broader appeal than other Y A movies: the characters are stronger, the ideas have more depth – here it’s all about manipulation – and there’s a good helping of action as well. As such, adults will enjoy it just as much as teenagers.
Inevitably, it ends suddenly. This is, after all, Part 1 so we’re left with a cliffhanger to whet our appetite for Part 2. It’s not due until much the same time next year. Bring it on!
The Hunger Games:Mockingjay Part 1 is on general release around the UK from Thursday, 20 November.