I have a complicated history with The Hunger Games series. I haven't read the books, with my introduction to the series being the first film, and I hated that film. I found it to be incredibly derivative, poorly directed and many of the characters were completely forgettable and I had no intention of carrying on with the series. Then, after reading so many positive reviews, I decided to give the series another chance with Catching Fire and my opinion of the series completely reversed. Every single problem I had with The Hunger Games was fixed in Catching Fire, it was well directed, the ideas it introduced flowed a lot better with the story and the new characters introduced were incredibly entertaining. Now with Mockingjay Part 1, the series has continued its upward trend in quality, creating my favourite one yet.
Following on from the destruction of District 12 and Katniss being rescued from the Hunger Games, she has arrived in District 13 and has been asked to become the symbol of the revolution. After getting a guarantee that Peeta will be rescued from the Capitol at the earliest moment, Katniss agrees, with the main use of Katniss being in propaganda films for District 13. After the initial attempts go horrifically wrong due to Katniss being a terrible actress, District 13 decides that it would be best to send her into the field to shoot the films. At the same time, they find out that Peeta is alive and conducting interviews with the Capitol to prevent the revolution that Katniss is encouraging. This is all part of the main theme of the film, that of the role of the media in revolutions and warfare. Throughout the whole film, the main issue for the characters in District 13 is how to sell the revolution, with it being more an exercise in marketing. All of this is designed to create parallels between District 13 and the Capitol in the way they both use the media for their own means. This gives the film a much greater sense of political intrigue than the previous two, which is aided by Danny Strong (whose previous experience has been with political dramas) who has helped craft a brilliant script for this film. One of the things I was worried about before watching was the decision to make two films out of the final book, even in the best cases the first one can feel like a bit of a drag going up to the second one. This does seem to be the case here as well though, whilst I was really intrigued by what was happening it did go on a bit too long and the ending, as brilliant a cliffhanger as it was, should have been cut down a bit. There was a perfect point for the credits and they completely missed it.
The acting meanwhile continues to be as strong as ever. Jennifer Lawrence is excellent as Katniss, showing how the events of the last 2 films just broke her, whilst also showing a great deal of strength and resolve in trying to find Peeta and going against the Capitol. The scenes where she sees the damage the Capitol has done are brilliantly acted, showing her complete despair and she also gets some really funny moments, in particular when she tries to act for the propaganda films. Josh Hutcherson meanwhile is great as Peeta, very subtly showing the fear Peeta has over what the Capitol has put him through, aided by the costume design which makes his ties look like knives under his throat, and his bit at the end is perfectly played. Liam Hemsworth as Gale meanwhile is still the weak link in the main cast, he's not bad, he just feels a bit bland in comparison to how compelling Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson are. Phillip Seymour Hoffman also does great work as Plutarch, showing his manipulative nature and how he can convince people to do anything for him, showing how much talent has been lost with Hoffman's untimely passing. There are also good performances from Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson, who provide a lot of the comic relief to the film and Julianne Moore as President Coin, who shows a lot of power and charisma, whilst also hinting at something darker that will come into play in the next film. There are a few members of the cast who don't really get that much to do. I wanted to see a lot more of Natalie Dormer as Cresida, although the scenes we do get are really well done and Dormer is excellent in the part. Jeffrey Wright, Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci and Sam Claflin also don't get that much to do, although Sutherland is still enjoyably over the top as Snow. The biggest waste to me is Claflin, Finnick was one of the best characters introduced in Catching Fire and here he's shoved aside, even in his most important scene, where he relays the backstory for Snow, it's just an afterthough to another scene happening at the same time, even though this scene should be one of the major moments of the film.
On a technical level the film is also really good. Whilst the design for the Districts, mainly District 13, does feel a bit bland, it works in the overall context of the film, the same being true for the production design. The propaganda films themselves are really well made, and I really liked the touch of having the font used at the end of each propaganda film being the same font used in the marketing of the series. On an action level the series has never been better. The previous films, especially the first one, struggled with the action scenes, here everything is clear, well shot, well directed and it all flows into the story brilliantly. They even get shaky cam right in this film.
Overall, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is my personal favourite of the series so far. The acting is excellent, the direction by Francis Lawrence is brilliant and the script tackles a lot of really important, relevant, interesting themes regarding the use of the media in times of war. I was originally someone who hated this series, now I can't wait to see Mockingjay Part 2.
My Rating: 4.5/5