If Catching Fire was an evolution of The Hunger Games franchise then Mockingjay Part 1 is a revolution, taking the franchise into new territory. Unfortunately a revolution is often followed by a period of turmoil and that is certainly the case with Mockingjay Part 1, which marks a disappointing step back in a series that up to now had been burning hot.
After two movies, the structured formula of The Hunger Games series was starting to feel played out. In that respect it’s a good thing that Mockingjay Part 1 carves out its own path without leaning on the ‘games’ template set out in the previous two films. The problem is the path laid down in this third instalment is just kind of boring.
Panem is engaged in a civil war with Katniss becoming the (reluctant) face of the rebellion. The whole country is locked in an intense conflict; this should be the most exciting chapter yet, but instead it’s one of the stalest blockbusters in recent memory. The whole film just feels aimless, with characters going through the motions and an extremely weak plot.
Normally when films are split into multiple instalments the first part feels like pure build up, but that’s not the case here: Mockingjay Part 1 doesn’t even create build up… it fails to create anything. In many ways it’s hard to blame the filmmakers here, Suzanne Collins’ original novel faced exactly the same problem in its first half. This film is just further proof that if the source material is weak then all the talent in the world, both in front and behind the camera, can’t help.
It really can’t be overstated enough just how little actually goes on in this film. Perhaps those that have an interest in watching how propaganda videos are made will enjoy Mockingjay Part 1 but for anyone hoping for anything remotely close to the first two films in the series, prepare for disappointment. When the film does start to build a little momentum it’s quickly squashed as the audience is dragged away from set pieces in order to see more of the bureaucratic side of war.
The thematic pace of Mockingjay Part 1 is all over the shop. The film opens at break neck speed before hitting the brakes hard and losing all traction. It never really settles down and finds a consistent pace, but stops stops and stalls all the way to the limp and anticlimactic finish. Tonally it’s an absolute mess. The Hunger Games has always dabbled in comedy, particularly with the character of Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) but the comedic elements here feel extremely out of place; sure they may get a laugh from the audience but they really hurt the film’s ability to build emotion.
Jennifer Lawrence remains one of this franchise’s strongest components, and she once again knocks it out of the park. The things Katniss does aren’t particularly interesting most of the time, but Lawrence adds her trademark human element and makes the whole film far more watchable than it would have been without her.
Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) switch their amount of screen time, with the latter finally getting a chance to develop his character somewhat. Gale’s character development, and in particular his relationship with Katniss, is one of the most interesting aspects of the film.
Much of the cast of Catching Fire returns, two highlights being Elizabeth Bank’s Effie Trinket and Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Plutarch Heavensbee. Perhaps the elephant in the room is the untimely death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who passed away with a week left to shoot on the final part of Mockingjay. Whilst the veteran actor gives a stellar performance, physically he looks like a man in trouble. The film is a touching tribute to him, and serves as as a sobering reminder of what a talent the world lost earlier this year.
Donald Sutherland returns as President Snow, but the once commanding and threatening antagonist is almost reduced to pantomime levels of cliché villainess. There are also plenty of new characters for the audience to get to know. Julianne Moore leads the charge as President Coin, giving a solid if unspectacular performance. One disappointment is Natalie Dormer as Cressida whose character is so poorly defined that she borders on worthlessness.
As Mockingjay Part 1 crawls into its largely unsatisfying finale there’s almost a sense of worthlessness to the proceedings; when compared to the previous two films in the series, this third film is the worst by a comfortable margin. Unfortunately The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is a hugely disappointing film which fails to add to the franchise in any meaningful way and instead seems content to simply stagnate.