This cynical and unnecessary attempt to splice Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games finale into two movies suffers from spreading the material so thin. The Games might be gone but you’re certainly left very hungry.
Having obliterated the Quarter Quell with her dome-destroying arrow, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) awakens to find District 12 decimated, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) held prisoner in the Capital by a seething President Snow (Donald Sutherland), and a burgeoning shadow of war growing throughout the districts.
Enlisted by the president of the ground dwelling District 13, Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), at the behest of gamesmaker-turned-resistance fighter, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Katniss becomes the face of the uprising, and through a series of propaganda videos broadcast around Pan-Em, puts those closest to her in immediate danger.
From the moment Katniss stirs from her catatonic slumber it’s clear that Mockingjay is going to be a very different movie from its predecessors. Gone are any colour flourishes, instead replaced by a dull palette filtered through a sepia lens.
Director Francis Lawrence accentuates the seriousness of this shift in narrative at every creative opportunity. This is war, and we’re left in no doubt about the stakes through a series of certificate testing sequences: a Judgment-Day style horizon of skeletal ash, suicide attacks on the Capital’s strongholds, and uncompromising executions.
This is grim stuff, and whilst it’s necessary to the plot for proceedings not to be “fun”, the absence of the Games means that anything approaching enjoyment is hard to extract. It’s a brave, jarring shift in tone that will no doubt be complemented by the final installment, but for now it feels a little forced.
In terms of structure, this is a mixed bag of arrows: there are some sequences of indelible power, such as the one that starts with Katniss singing a song, which is then echoed by the mockingjays, before becoming an anthem for the downtrodden revolutionaries to march to.
Or our heroine’s return to her hometown, which has been left in a state that would make a Sarah Connor nightmare seem like a pleasant night’s sleep.
On their own they work, but Lawrence decides to repeat the same formula over again, so by the time the fourth self-important voiceover-accompanied montage plays out, tedium begins to set in.
You can add to that the repeated use of propaganda videos to propel the narrative. They’re edited in such a manner that they alleviate the drama from which they’ve arisen. We get that they serve as a social commentary on the media relationship with modern warfare, and why they’re needed in terms of plot, but the film becomes so dependent on them for drama that they lose their impact.
Ultimately it’s down to the cast to drag your interest towards Mockingjay Part 2, and Jennifer Lawrence throws herself in at the deep end once again, playing Katniss as an unhinged extension of her Silver Linings Playbook character.
Out of her depth for the first time in the franchise, and at the whim of those around her, unsure of her place in the world, Lawrence gives Katniss a fragility that assures we care for her fate.
Guiding her with the authority we’d come to expect from the late actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman dominates the first half of the movie in a relaxed, unforced manner, stealing the film’s few lighter moments and reminding us for the last time of what we’ll miss.
There’s not enough Woody Harrelson, whose presence would have helped to punctuate the po-faced nature of the film, and although Julianne Moore is wonderful at first, she is soon reduced to giving underwhelming speeches to disinterested extras.
Mockingjay Part 1 does spark into life when things take a turn for the Zero Dark Thirty, with a Bin Laden-esque rescue mission, but there’s just too much filler before the intriguing, if somewhat shoulder-shrugging, cliffhanger.
‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1’
Director: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore
Running time: 2 hours
Release date: Nov. 21, 2014 (USA)
2.5 stars out of 5
Follow Matthew on Twitter: @MainstreamMatt