Jennifer Lawrence returns as Katniss Everdeen for the final part of the Hunger Games trilogy… right?
In what has become her signature role, Lawrence once again ups her game for this third instalment of The Hunger Games; film adaptation of the trilogy of novels by author Suzanne Collins. Without a doubt this is one to watch for the performances by its main actors, if little else.
I have a few problems with it though, and thankfully these can be summed up in rather compact form. The first should go without saying: this is half a film. Not that a movie in two parts necessarily has to be a bad thing. It can be done very well, as Tarantino showed with Kill Bill (2003/4) – however different those two parts felt, they were still the same film split in two. This worked for various reasons, not least because Tarantino applied separate styles and even, to an extent, separate genres to each of them.
Unfortunately I’m betting these same rules will not apply to Mockingjay parts 1 and 2, unless the second part is going to have a completely different style to what we’ve seen in the rest of the series so far. Mockingjay part 1 is to this series what Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 1 was to its own; a way to build momentum and maximize hype for its final bow. As such, it ends prematurely. The whole experience feels naturally lacking as a result, precisely because it’s not the whole experience.
The second problem is that The Hunger Games concept feels like a less edgy, lightweight version of Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale (2000), and I can’t help feeling that its mainstream success with young Western audiences is largely due to the fact that a lot of them have never seen the latter film. But that is a topic to which I will return in the near future. For while there are striking similarities between the two ideas, where Suzanne Collins’ series set itself apart as a story worthy of its own merit was in its overriding theme of a working class uprising against an elitist system, and the questionable methods of both sides in conflict.
It is in Mockingjay that we see this uprising and subsequent conflict in full swing, having seen it hinted at and gradually built towards over the previous two films. Katniss Everdeen has been thrust from the life she knew into one she did not envisage herself in: that of a figurehead for the rebellion against ‘the Capitol’. She is at first an uncomfortable, almost unwilling rebel figure, caring more for individual losses of life than the greater goal of liberty for the masses.
Lawrence’s performance is close to faultless, as her story arc in this film takes her from the initially unwilling rebel into a more hardened figure (a development that still feels incomplete by its end due to reasons mentioned above). Josh Hutcherson almost matches her again as Peeta Mellark, despite his lack of screen time and the two being separated for the entire film this time around.
Donald Sutherland also deserves special mention for his delightfully sinister portrayal of the tyrannical President Snow, as does Philip Seymour Hoffman, playing one of the leaders of the rebellion in one of his final film roles. Julianne Moore, in her role as President of the rebellious District 13, does well at crafting a character intent on achieving her aims at any cost and, as a result, one which is not entirely likable despite fighting for the ‘good’ side. Though in the end I think this is a story all about moral and emotional ambiguity, on some level making us subtly question whether certain characteristics of the forces being fought against do not exist in all of us.
Yet I find it hard to fully endorse Mockingjay part 1, partly because everything I like about it was either borrowed from the novel on which it’s based, or provided by the actors to whom it gives a platform for showcasing their talents. At the same time I realise my endorsement is not necessary for fans of the franchise, who will go to see this movie regardless. Those who instead find themselves sitting on the fence for the time being, take it from me before investing: it’s probably best to wait until this film finishes.
6 / 10