The latest chapter in the Hunger Game series, MOCKINGJAY PART 1 literally begins with a whimper. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is shell shocked after the events taking place after CATCHING FIRE. We learn that the Victors attempted escape from the Capitol’s dome after Katniss’ standing up to the President Snow (Donald Sutherland), with only Katniss and Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin) making it out. The others are held captive in the Capitol while Katniss and Finnick are taken in by rebels in District 13, previously thought to be deserted after the original uprisings that started the tradition of the Hunger Games.
Deep underground, the residents of District 13 have been quietly training for war ever since the quelling of the uprising under the care of their own president Alma Coin (Julianne Moore). With help from former Games Director, Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and technical wizard Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), President Coin’s rebellion is ready to take on the Capitol with Katniss as their figurehead, the Mockingjay. They realize quickly how broken down Katniss is after the escape, and decide to show her the aftermath of her decision to get them on her side.
Her home district had been bombed and almost all inhabitants mercilessly slaughtered as punishment with a few refugees taking up resident in the underground of District 13 that were saved by Gale (Liam Hemsworth). She is taken to the rubble with a film crew led by a former director, Cressida (Natalie Dormer), who captures Katniss’ heartbreak as she sees how far President Snow is willing to go to stop any form of rebellion. The crew uses this heartbreak to broadcast to people throughout the districts that they have a reason to fight, and they have the Mockingjay to fight behind.
The handling of the destruction and widespread murder adds a grave sense of maturity to the series, distancing it from the love triangle story that was so prevalent in the first two installments. While there was a little mention of the love triangle, it wasn’t the primary focus, nor even the secondary focus. While this may turn off a portion of the audience, it also opens it up to another branch, however it may be too late as this is the 3rd of four chapters.
It was interesting to watch how the rebellion used their own form of propaganda to fight against the Capitol’s very strong propaganda game. With Plutarch and his protegee Cressida’s deft work, they set Katniss up as both a savior and hero for the rebellion. Hoffman’s work as Plutarch was amazing, and even more heart breaking, due to his death. He put in a great amount of effort for a series that many actors of his caliber could have just laughed off. Moore’s turn as President Coin was also refreshing as she walked a thin line between being a hard nosed leader, yet had heart when needed. And again, Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson steal every scene they are in as Effi and Haymitch.
Jennifer Lawrence again did a great job in the role of Katniss, leaving little to find fault with, minus one scene of emotional breakdown that was overly melodramatic. Outside of that, you felt her pain, her desire to fight back, and you wanted her to continue kicking ass.
The action throughout the film is intense, keeping things flowing smoothly despite the two hour running time, mixing up the dialogue heavy scenes. The costume design and makeup work continued to be stellar, despite a more muted tone of the militaristic district. Cressida’s look stands out, as well as that of the captured Victors that had been obviously tortured.
The film did its job in setting up the finale, while leaving you wanting more, however with a dark tone. It reminded me of the ending of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. The heroes are licking their wounds, battered but living to fight on, but with the desire to end it once and for all.