Mockingjay was always going to have a struggle, despite the success of the previous movies. Anyone who’s read the books will know that the third instalment is rather different from the earlier two, not least because there’s no Hunger Games arena and things get pretty dark and glum. Many also wondered whether there was enough material to make two films out of it, or if this gambit to get more cash from the Panem cow was a stretch too far.
It’s pleasing to see then that Mockingjay Part 1 is pretty good. Quite how good it is is difficult to say at the moment, as it’s tough to escape the feeling that this is a long build-up to Part 2, and it’s only going to be with the hindsight of the final instalment that we’ll really be able to properly judge.
However the build-up is certainly done well, with the extra time it allows permitting the movie to delve a little deeper into the ideas and politics that underpin the series, and which were sometimes only told in bold stroked in the first two movies.
The movie kicks off shortly after the events of Catching Fire, with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) now in the rebel area of District 13 – a place she had grown up being told had been completely destroyed in the war three-quarters of a century ago, which led to Panem being ruled with an iron fist by the Capitol.
Due to Katniss escaping the Quarter Quell Arena, Civil War is fomenting in all the districts and District 13’s President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) is keen to lead the fight – but to do that she wants Katniss in her role as the ‘Mockingjay’, a symbol of resistance to the Capitol that people can rally behind. Katniss reluctantly agrees to the role, but soon discovers that rather than being allowed to genuinely lead the people in the fight, they want her to be controlled and packaged so they can send out the messages they want.
Katniss begins to fight herself increasingly confused about where she stands between the evils of the Capitol and the complex machinations of District 13. It’s something she questions even more when she sees Peeta, who is captured in the Capitol and seemingly collaborating with the enemy, but who urges Katniss to think for herself and not just what the rebels want her to think. However when she sees what the Capitol is doing to all those who show even the slightest signs of dissent, she knows that the regime must end.
It’s well done and never dull, and indeed it’s aided by coming at a time where its message has rarely seemed so prescient. After all, IS formed out of those fighting against the Syrian leadership, leaving many rebels who didn’t really agree with either side trapped in the middle – known that Assad had to go, but knowing that the people who had been their allies don’t really believe that they so. In fact it’s a lesson told over and over again by history, that those leading a rebellion are not always good guys.
Mockingjay does a surprisingly good job or building up a complex picture of what is going on, with Katniss herself forced to become ever more morally complex – trying to be a figurehead, but never sure what the right thing to do is, and soon realising that the moral quandaries of the arena are nothing compared to full scale war. That includes coming to terms with the fact that her actions have caused thousands of deaths (and whether she bears any responsibility for that), even if it’s the Capitol actually doing the killing. Once more a lot of credit must go to Jennifer Lawrence for making Katniss such a fascinating figure on-screen and one you really do want to find out more about.
It’s not all politics though and there are a few rousing action scenes, along with some suitably powerful moments, from the horrific bombing of a hospital to people throwing themselves in the line of fire in order to try to destroy the Capitol’s power supply. However there are problems, one of which is that it does feel slightly too long, and the second is something that has bedevilled most of the movies that have split a single book into multiple parts, which is that the ending isn’t quite as satisfying as you’d hope. Mockingjay Part 1 does try to give things a sense of semi-conclusion, but it’s very much a ‘come back next year for the exciting ending’ type of movie. As long as Part 2 works that will be okay, but if it doesn’t it’s going to feel like a real rip-off.
As you would hope it looks and sounds on Blu-ray, and there is also a decent selection of featurettes, ranging from a pretty good ‘making of…’ to a featurette focussing on how Lorde (ya, ya, ya) curated the soundtrack.
Overall Verdict: I really hope that this time next year I’m not sitting here writing about how Mockingjay Part 2 screwed the whole thing up. I have faith it won’t though, as while this is a long, slow build-up to the full scale war on the Capitol that will inevitably arrive in the final movie, it’s a very good preparation for it.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac