Arguably the most anticipated film of the year, after the success of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, the dystopian Hunger Games franchise has become an unparalleled hit for studio Lionsgate.
Picking up soon after the riveting Catching Fire, Mockingjay – Part 1 continues the story of reluctant heroine Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence), now the symbol of hope for the people of Panem. After breaking their way out of the Quarter Quell Hunger Games, Everdeen and a handful of her co-contestants wake up dazed at the underground headquarters of the rebellion, deep in the abandoned District 13.
Lead by President Coin (Moore) and her trusted advisor Plutarch (Hoffman), the rebellion need a new face, their Mockingjay, but it isn’t that simple. With Peeta (Hutcherson) left behind and now the hostage of the Capitol’s President Snow (Sutherland), Everdeen struggles with the responsibility of being the face of the rebellion and the guilt of not having Peeta by her side.
Following the lead of the Harry Potter and Twilight series, Mockingjay is the latest franchise finale to be split into two parts. Feeling a lot like another financial rather than creative decision, Mockingjay – Part 1 is arrested in its development and hamstrung by the two-parter restrictions. The action and adventure here is sporadic, and as such it doesn’t have the intensity of the prior movies. But while there is a definite focus on setting up the story for the finale, rather than telling a story itself, there’s still a lot that that will keep franchise fans happy enough.
With a tighter focus on the rebellion, in Mockingjay – Part 1 we spend a lot of time with Julianne Moore, the late and great Phillip Seymour Hoffman and a visually dulled-down Elizabeth Banks. Opposite the charismatic Jennifer Lawrence, the scenes they all share are captivating, and, in short bursts at least, the more dialogue-led narrative is a success, even if the film lacks excitement as a whole.
With the tropes of the franchise now firmly set, fans wouldn’t be surprised to hear the film called over-dramatic, but at times Mockingjay – Part 1 is overly-over-dramatic. Particularly at fault in the opening sequences of the film, Lawrence struggles to get back into the swing of leading the film, and though she does grow back into the role for the second and third acts, it leads to a troublesome opening half hour and exposes a more than patchy script.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is an enjoyable romp, but oddly devout of its signature action and adventure sequences. Mockingjay – Part 1 slows the franchise to a crawl before what will undoubtedly be a roller coaster finale next year. It feels like Lionsgate are killing time rather than driving forward, so hopefully the long-term success of the franchise isn’t harmed by a short-term money grab. For fans, however, a more emo tionally-charged narrative might make for a pleasant change of pace, as after all, there’s still a lot to enjoy spending time with Katniss, in this fascinating dystopian world.