mockingjay_pt_1_2Year: 2014
Director: Francis Lawrence
Writer(s): Peter Craig, Danny Strong – adapted from Suzanne Collins’ novel
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: PG-13
Digital, Color, 123 mins

Synopsis: After destroying the games, Katniss finds refuge in the underground of District 13. There, she meets President Coin who convinces her to be the symbol of rebellion, while the stage is set for the final revolution. 

The games are over. In The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. 1, the series leaves behind the template of its predecessors and goes dark. The best science fiction has always been born out of societal turmoil, and this latest installment is no different. Seen through the lens of everything going on in the world right now, the latest film is an eerie, incendiary cry of dissension and media satire, proving that art is still one of the strongest weapons we have in this day and age. On a narrative level, the film capitalizes in full with the seeds cast from the original films to drive the screws in deep for our heroes, plunging them past the point of no return in a battle for control and freedom from the vicious Capitol. Jennifer Lawrence and the film’s excellent cast have never been better, and director Francis Lawrence directs the film with conviction to make sure that the first half of this final installment matters.

The film picks up with Katniss pretty much shell-shocked in the underground rebel facility of District 13. Though she’s been reunited with her mother and sister, all is not well since the plot to save her from the Quarter Quell. In particular, Joanna and Peeta have been left behind (and thought dead), while Finnick wishes for death. D13’s Alma Coin and Plutarch Heavensbee, the minds behind her rescue are determined to put her to use right away, wanting to use her symbolic status as the Mockingjay to give their rebellion a voice against the the vicious President Snow. It’s soon revealed though, that Peeta is in fact alive, and now the Capitol’s pawn against Katniss’ voice of rebellion, pitting the two in a media war for the hearts and free minds of who might oppose the Capitol’s tyranny. With resources dwindling and everything to lose, the stage is set for the final act of revolution.

In many ways, the film feels like a very gritty war film, with two sides fighting to the death, not just physically but psychologically. What’s really impressive is how the film doesn’t hold any punches in relation to the humanity that’s threatened to be lost from the underdogs of D13. Both the Capitol and the rebellion are forced into their most desperate acts of survival, leading to more timely imagery (mass executions) and violent upheavals which ring serious parallels with everything that’s happening now. And yet, through it all, the film focuses on singular character struggles to ground the larger, epic backdrop. The series has always been about Katniss finding her own voice and the motivation to act on her own accord, and that finally happens to an extent here, with obvious ramifications that will have a great effect on the series’ conclusion. But really, all the characters are pretty great. Everyone has something to lose and a reason to fight, with all of our favorite characters getting a chance in the spotlight or an honorable mention. It all comes down to the idea that every revolution sparks with a single voice and ends with fire – a concept that showcases the duality of the entire series’ premise and how layered this story really is.

mockingjay_pt_1_3Visually, this is the most sci-fi of the entire series, with director Francis Lawrence bringing out the cold, sterile architecture of the D13’s underground bunker to evoke not only the community’s desperate position but also the trapped psyche of our heroes. There’s a real 70s vibe here with the costumes and production design, but not just facsimile or straight copies, a true modernization that makes it all feel fresh again. There are also a few really good action scenes, but they all serve the story and aren’t forced into the plot. I’ve always loved the design of these films, and this one is the most beautifully menacing of the entire series, making call outs to the absurdist Capitol’s lavish lifestyle while focusing on the rubble and militaristic lifestyle of the rebellion.

If there’s one thing that’s apparent again, it’s how brilliantly casted this series is. The entire ensemble is at the top of their game, making us feel the stakes and every victory/loss. Heading the entire thing up is Jennifer Lawrence, who is frankly never bad and really makes us care for the entire thing. Her charm takes what could’ve been a flat character and elevates it into someone who feels real and truly tortured. She’s best through a series of really intimate human moments throughout the film, especially a show stealing number which allows her to sing a pivotal song. Lawrence is very spark of humanity the film is centered on and I’m convinced that no one else could’ve pulled this off. I really came to like Gale a lot more in this film, and it’s smart how the script really underplays the Katniss/Peeta/Gale triangle. Without ruining things, he takes action and Liam Hemsworth finally gets to put his stoicism to good use. Peeta’s role takes somewhat of a back seat, but his appearances are more meaningful, being seen mostly through transmissions, and Josh Hutcherson is exactly what’s needed of him. The late Philip Seymour Hoffman and Julianna Moore as Plutarch and President Coin, respectively, are fabulous as veteran leaders of D13. The gravitas between them gives the film some weight and they’re incredible together as leaders you trust and don’t have to second guess. Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch and Elizabeth Banks’ Effie make appearances in different forms, each time reminding me of why they’re two of my personal faves. Lastly, it’s a testament to Sam Claflin that I wanted more Finnick, but he’s used smartly here, and I’m sure will be utilized fully in the next chapter.

Despite the film genuinely being just one half of a story, it’s engrossing from start to stop. All of the series’ complex themes finally get to breath with deeper exploration, and all of the characters are brought into focus and ready for one last, final go. It’s been pleasant to see the series really form into one of the best and incendiary modern franchises out there, brought to life with meaning and some of the most emotional, human moments yet. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. 1 is everything that blockbuster filmmaking should be – compelling, smart and full of urgency.

Crome Rating: 4.5/5