Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

Mockingjay - Part 1 gives us a visually dexterous look at how to wage a propaganda war, and sets the political stage for the final film

Some are saying it’s the best film of the Hunger Games series so far, others are saying it’s the worst – either way, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 certainly has a very different feel from films one and two. Each movie has its own distinct atmosphere, but without the glossy Capitol parties or the central focus on the arena, Mockingjay takes on a much colder tone and a stripped back aesthetic.

Having been airlifted out of the arena by the rebels at the end of Catching Fire, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and her surviving District 12 buddies are now hunkered down in District 13, a massive underground bunker where the residents have remained hidden, gradually working to bring down the Capitol.

Mockingjay is the most obviously political of the series to date. In the first two films we saw Katniss and the other tributes form calculated public personas and strategies in order to have a greater chance of winning the games; now we see those techniques put to use in a real live propaganda war between the Capitol and District 13. Each side floods the Districts with ‘propos’ (short films intended to incite, inspire, or demoralise) featuring their most effective weapon against the other team – for the rebels, Katniss, and for the Capitol, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson).

What’s really intriguing about this whole set up is seeing the rebels use the Capitol’s own techniques against them, turning their broadcasts into weapons which cleverly subvert and undermine the enemy, while also inciting their potential allies (the other Districts) into rebellion. Unfortunately the Capitol has been at this game a lot longer than the rebels, and they give as good as they get, with the sinister President Snow (Donald Sutherland) twisting every move Katniss makes back against her.

A serious amount of world-building has gone into creating Panem, making the film’s visuals always intriguing, and occasionally stunning. This time round some of the best action scenes come just after Katniss’ propos have been aired, and we are shown scenes of unrest and rebellion in districts we haven’t had the chance to head into before. In Johanna Mason’s (Jena Malone) District 7, a group of lumberjacks pull off a visually brilliant coup against the Peacekeepers involving scurrying speedily up into the trees, while in District 5 the citizens march to blow up a hydroelectric dam while singing an eerie folk song sung by Katniss during a propo.

The chink in the armour of this series has always been the love triangle. The romantic tension between Katniss/Gale and Katniss/Peeta rarely surfaces in Part 1, and when it does it seems very secondary to everything else that’s going on; in fact, it borders on being completely unnecessary. The main focus of The Hunger Games is oppression, revolution, and use of media/propaganda. While the super slow-burning love triangle still feels organic rather than tacked on, it is certainly not the strongest point of these films, and judging by the muted romance we’re seeing in Mockingjay, it seems the filmmakers have cottoned on to this.

The most intriguing relationship in this film is undoubtedly occurring between Katniss and President Coin (Julianne Moore), stern and capable figurehead of District 13. Katniss might be the Mockingjay, but Coin is very definitely in control, and probably has her own power plays to make. People keep telling Katniss to remember who the real enemy is, but it seems to be getting harder and harder to tell friend from foe.

Mockingjay – Part 1 has dealt rather well with being the tricky third film in a four film series, and also with being only the first half of the final novel in Suzanne Collins’ trilogy. However, the viewer is still left with the slightly odd feeling that the entire film has just been one long set-up for the next one in the queue. Once both parts of Mockingjay have hit the DVD stands, it’s unlikely that Part 1 will ever be watched without being immediately followed up by Part 2; it’s not a film that can stand without its sequel.

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