Apparently I didn't review the second instalment of The Hunger Games, but Catching Fire was a damn fine adaptation of a pretty exciting book. After watching the first movie I blazed through the books, and the last certainly wowed me. Now the first part of the movies based on Mockingjay is at the cinema. Yes, it's another victim of the two-parter final instalment epidemic that's taking Hollywood by storm, but I had faith that this would still be pretty exciting. By the way, if you haven't seen the first two, don't read this, although I'm sure that goes without saying.
Katniss has survived her second Hunger Games, albeit after an explosive ending (literally). She now finds herself residing in District 13, a place thought to be destroyed by the Capitol. The president of District 13 (Alma Coin) informs Katniss that her actions have sparked the beginnings of revolution, with members of other districts starting to rise up. With Katniss taking on the role of the Mockingjay, Coin hopes to unite the districts and take down the Capitol once and for all. But it's not such an easy choice for Katniss. With President Snow seemingly watching her every move, and with loved ones that could still be targeted, will she be able to lead a revolution?
Mockingjay is quite a departure from the first two instalments of The Hunger Games series, most notably because it doesn't actually feature a Hunger Games. This was certainly a good thing in my eyes, as I remember letting out an exasperated sigh at the idea being recycled for Catching Fire (although it was pulled off extremely well in the end). From reading the book, I know that Mockinjay is a very worthy finale to the trilogy, but splitting it into two parts doesn't bode too well for it onscreen. With so many new elements and characters to introduce, the first half of the book is something of a slow burner, and this is reflected in the movie adaptation. Still, they've managed to squeeze some pretty good action scenes out of it, especially one that wasn't explored with much detail in the book, as the narrative is seen solely through Katniss' eyes. When explosions and gunfire aren't taking up screen time, we are treated with a lot of war room planning, and Katniss alternating between anger and sorrow, and while it does get a little boring after a while, there's enough here to break it all up a bit.
One of the main things that saves Mockingjay Part 1 from being boring is the performances. Lawrence is on top form, moving from appallingly acted propaganda star to impassioned freedom fighter with relative ease. She certainly cements herself in the position as the very best choice to portray the lead. The supporting characters are wonderfully cast as well, from the late, great Phillip Seymour Hoffman to newly cast Julianne Moore, and even a small but very able turn from Natalie Dormer. Considering the script isn't overly engaging or full of action, the dialogue between the characters was enough to keep me interested until the somewhat abrupt end.
Aside from the acting, the visuals can't be faulted either. The settings are extremely apt, from the dark and dingy District 13 to the sprawling Capitol and vast forests surrounding the districts, everything fits in well with the feel of the movie, and the action scenes are perfectly shot to give just the right amount of suspense.
Mockingjay Part 1 is by no means perfect. It's a bit boring, but it's saved by some great performances and a little bit of liberty taken with the source material. I could say that Mockingjay would have benefitted from being shot as one movie, but I'm not sure that would be the case. Part 1 serves to get most of the set up out of the way, and while it's certainly not as exciting as the first two instalments, it definitely kept me entertained. Roll on next year, the final movie looks set to be a blast.
My rating: 4/5