The beginning of The Hunger Games Mockingjay – Part 1 finds Katniss crouched, hiding in a hospital gown, desperately whispering reminders of who she is and how she got here. Rescued from the arena by the rebels in District 13 at the end of the last film, Katniss is a mentally fragile and still reeling from the betrayal of Peeta having been left in the Capitol’s clutches. However, President Coin of District 13 needs Katniss to become the Mockingjay, a symbol for the rest of the districts to rally behind and overthrow the Capitol. Caught between the Capitol, 13, and her own uncertain emotions, Katniss has to decide how much she’ll allow herself to be manipulated and what she must stand for.
This film faced several challenges right away. The novel that serves as the source material for the movie is easily the weakest of Collins’ trilogy, particularly the first half. Fans and pundits alike have also been doubtful from the beginning if this book could actually stand being divided into two films. Many speculated that the decision to split the book in two was purely financial. Despite these difficulties, Mockingjay – Part 1 is a solid, engrossing movie that actually manages to build on its source material rather than stretch it past the breaking point. The movie skips the plodding, repetitive passages that slow down the novel and dives straight into the action, focusing on Katniss’ choices. Although the adults surrounding her are constantly trying to manipulate her to get what they want, Katniss finds the way to protect herself and her loved ones while becoming the Mockingjay.
A strong cast also helps the movie significantly. Although the actual writing in Mockingjay – Part 1 isn’t always strong, the Oscar-worthy cast makes even the weakest lines believable. It’s particularly bittersweet seeing Phillip Seymour Hoffman onscreen, taking the rather cut-and-dry role of Haymitch and adding in layers of subtlety. Julianne Moore is a wonderful addition as the steely President Coin, and Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks bring energy to every scene they’re in. However, Jennifer Lawrence remains the most captivating performer in the film. Lawrence is utterly believable as she takes us from shaken grief at the sight of her firebombed district to fiery intensity after shooting down a Capitol bomber in District 8. Katniss is the single most engrossing thing about the movie – who can care about a love triangle while watching this girl become the symbol of a rebellion?
The entire Hunger Games film franchise has done very well adding material that wasn’t explicitly included in the books, and Mockingjay – Part 1 is no exception. In the books, we’re only left with vague reports about the fighting occurring in other districts. The film shows us, and is a much stronger story for it. Two of the strongest scenes show attacks on the Capitol authorities, particularly the attack on a hydroelectric plant by the workers there. The scene plays directly off a propaganda piece of Katniss singing “The Hanging Tree”, which then inspires the act of rebellion.
The focus on propaganda and its interplay with the actual fighting makes this film both the most mature and unsettling film in the series so far. To catch her most spontaneous and inspiring moments, Katniss is sent out to the other districts and followed by a film crew, who then work with Haymitch to piece together “propos” to inspire the fight against the Capitol and fan the fires of rebellion into all-out war. Of course, the Capitol still has Peeta and uses torture and mind-altering poisons to try and discredit the rebellion. Katniss also begins to fear for Peeta and what her actions as the Mockingjay mean for his safety. The film’s attention to the way that both sides manipulate the masses into doing what they want and the horrific real world consequences this can have give Mockingjay – Part 1 an emotional gravity that the previous films never reached. The real enemy may be the Capitol, but the costs of war are devastating for either side – especially when the differences between the Capitol and the rebels of 13 are becoming less obvious.
Mockingjay – Part 1’s unintentional real world parallels also give the film an unsettling jolt. With all the unrest in both the United States and the rest of the world, it’s impossible not to draw comparisons while watching the film. The anger, loss, and courage suddenly become that much more significant while watching. Mockingjay – Part 1 may be the most politically subversive film aimed squarely at teenagers.
For fans of the series, Mockingjay – Part 1 is a solid addition that moves the franchise forward. Although the film does occasionally feel like a set-up for what’s sure to be an explosive Part 2, it’s a complete movie in its own right and offers the filmmakers a chance to explore the full story of the world its set in. Jennifer Lawrence continues to shine at the center of an all-star cast, making this movie more than worth seeing in theaters.