The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (2014) Review

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Peter Craig and Danny Strong wrote the screenplay here, the third of four Hunger Games films, this time directed by Francis Lawrence (I am Legend) who is returning after Catching Fire (2013) to turn down the volume and focus more on the political side of the story.

Now, I’ll begin by saying that I am a fan of this franchise. I know the arguments and the comparisons with films such as Battle Royale, and while I see obvious similarities (especially between BR and the first two films in The Hunger Games franchise), I also see vast differences. I am familiar with the books, and find that there is much more than initially meets the eye when it comes to this story, something that has kept me coming back, as I will do again at the end of 2015 when Mockingjay Part 2 is released, the final entry into the series.

In Mockingjay Part 1 we return to the side of Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) who, after the climax of Catching Fire, finds herself in the once-thought destroyed District 13. Here, under the leadership of President Coin (Julianne Moore), Katniss is urged to become the Mockingjay, a symbol of rebellion against The Capitol. War is threatening to break out between districts and The Capitol, and the tension builds as President Snow begins to use Peta (Josh Hutcherson) as a chess piece in his sadistic political games, and Katniss must find a way to save her friends and offer a strong rebellious face for people to get behind.

The action and balls-out fighting of the previous two titles takes a backseat with this entry into the series, with the focus being placed around the war-room tables, the war-torn districts and the war-hungry characters who intend to fight for what they believe. I really liked the way the film dialled back the action in order to focus on the heart of the fight, the reasons behind why there is such a terrible things happening, and the nature of the characters that we’ve spend the prior films focusing on only a little bit. Jennifer Lawrence is the soul of this franchise, a great actress who brings a realistic emotion to her character that, in other and less able hands, might make the whole film feel hollow, but here it feels strong and intense and exciting.

Being placed in the middle of the districts is also a nice change of pace. We don’t spend much time in The Capitol, but rather amidst the poor and hungry and neglected people who show the suffering caused by President Snow and his regime. We also get to spend a lot more time with characters who previously were only shown in small bursts. We see the sisterhood develop between Katniss and Primrose (Willow Shields), we see Gale step out of the shadows and show his hunger for justice and we see other sides to characters such as Effie (Elizabeth Banks), Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and others, plus a new camera crew are introduced who follow and support Katniss on her journey as the Mockingjay. It feels like a completely new film from the others, which I thought was brilliant. I didn’t want to see another Hunger Games arena battle, so the fact that we got an entirely different view of the story and the struggle appealed to me greatly.

With a dark and down-trodden look from director Lawrence, who does a grand job, and more excellent score work that fits well with the tone of the film, Mockingjay Part 1 goes a step further in solidifying The Hunger Games franchise as one of the best book-to-film series’ ever made. High quality performances, especially from Lawrence, also go a long way in shoving the proverbial middle finger into the faces of people who insist on writing these films off as nothing more than Y/A Action Drivel. They are much more than that, and you are missing out if you refuse to give them your time. I, for one, can’t wait for the final entry at the end of the year.

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