So here we are, then? The beginning of the end of Katniss Everdeen, and as is the trend in recent years thanks to The Boy Who Lived, The Girl On Fire is getting her final chapter split down the middle. Smart move, really. As Lionsgate are no doubt rubbing their paws together at the money that will come pouring in, they’ve also escaped the inevitable curse of trilogies and a potential fumble at the final hurdle. Let’s face it, filmic history dictates that three has rarely proven to be a magic number with some franchises. From Corleone family sagas to wardrobe-switching wall-crawlers, to (some would say) even a unnecessarily dense Dark Knight, the third chapter sometimes doesn’t quite hit the mark.
So has Francis Lawrence giving us a Hunger Games 2.5 worked in our favour, telling only one side of the chapter in the series that doesn’t even have one of its titular tournaments? Well, as it turns out Mockingjay - Part 1 has its own interesting set of games being played, albeit to an unnecessary length.
Following the events of Catching Fire, Katniss has returned as another reluctant champion of the Games and an even more valuable figure to those crushed under the boot President Snow. She’s the face of the revolution whether she likes it or not, and whilst finding refuge in District 13, Katniss is guided by many to (literally at times) keep the flag of the resistance flying high before they head to war. This is the most intriguing aspect to Mockingjay Part 1 and what has always been the underlining element to the previous films; the use of propaganda and distorted messages that act as the most valuable bit of weaponry besides that iconic bow and arrow she wields. As Katniss tries to be the face of the people, President Snow is sending his own via an obviously controlled Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson, looking worse for wear and ready to snap) and the results of both sides coverage are interesting to see. Some of the films most hair-raising moments aren’t with Katniss but the people she inspires, fuelled by her words and responding in explosive fashion. Unfortunately these instances are used sparingly between dreary and slightly dull scenes, centred round an actress that has surpassed what she’s having to work with.
We’ve seen Jennifer Lawrence go from strength to award-winning strength on screen, which makes certain moments in Part 1 feel slightly tedious. Her now iconic character appears to have reverted back to her naive Tribute days, refusing to work her image to her favour until finally (pardon the pun) catch fire for all the Districts to see. We’ve seen it before. It was in the arrow fired at her sponsors, in that three fingered salute to all of Panem. There’s literally an entire scene dedicated to treading over old ground as her allies sit round a table remembering when Katniss got someone’s attention. By now, she shouldn’t be fighting with the idea of being an image, but leading the charge and heading into battle. Thankfully, Katniss stewing over her role in the war is watchable thanks to Lawrence who gives her usual entrancing performance as the reluctant hero.
Sparks do occasionally flare with supporting cast though. Like the franchise familiars Elizabeth Banks’ flamboyant Effie Trinket and Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch Abernathy, who delivers his usual dose of tough and bittersweet love to our heroine. There’s also the subtle but eternally effective addition of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as Gamesmaker turned prop-builder, Plutarch Heavensbee as he tries to sway stiff lipped President Coin (Julianne Moore) into backing the face of the revolution. They all add their star power to help keep the wheels turning before they shift up a gear for the next chapter and their efforts are successful, to a degree.
Ultimately, it’s quite clear that director Francis Lawrence could’ve killed two Mockinjay’s with one film shaped stone after all but that’s unfortunately not the case. If Part 2 is clearly the explosive final act it’s set up to be than Part 1 is the fuse waiting to be lit, one tied together with insightful focus on propaganda and value in warfare that makes for an interesting subject, but one that is drawn out leaving us hungry for all the wrong reasons.
Ah well, I guess there’s always next year...