If you haven't yet seen The Hunger Games: Catching Fire then it's probably wise not to read my review of this as it'll spoil that film, however I doubt you'll care if you haven't got around to watching Catching Fire yet. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 continues the story of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), our heroine of the first two films. She barely escaped the arena with her life and she's now in hiding in District 13, which was previously thought to be destroyed. The only problem is that her act of defiance from the end of the last film has sparked a revolution, a revolution in which she's looked up to as the leader. This revolution has the possibility of bringing down President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and of all the capital.
I'm going to give a little backstory into my thoughts on this franchise, both the books and the film adaptations. The first film/book, The Hunger Games, I really enjoy. It was, for the most part at least, original and brought with it a lot of political messages. The second film/book, Catching Fire, I liked even more. It got everything right about the first one and improved it even further. When it comes to the Mockingjay book, I haven't heard too many stories of people being head over heels about it, myself included. I find it to be dull and the events taking place are uninteresting, despite many attempts at moving the plot into directions the other two didn't go in. So when I found out that Mockingjay would become two films, which I'm not sure why I was surprised at as it seems everything is nowadays, I wasn't pleased. I'm still not pleased really. I've got to wait a whole year to watch the film's conclusion, which just sucks.
Mockingjay Part 1, as all Part 1s do, has its fair share of pacing and storytelling problems. If there was anyone who was hoping this wouldn't be the case, I'm just going to ask them why? Mockingjay Part 1 is essentially a set up for Part 2, which should be expected. When you look at the first two films you'll notice that the first hour is build up for the second hour and then the second hour is full on, intense and constantly riveting. This film is a two hour version of the first hour of one of those films. It's just build up with very little payoff. Thank goodness that I still found a lot of enjoyment in the first hour of both Catching Fire and The Hunger Games because it allowed me to find enjoyment here.
Repetitive in nature, but exciting in execution, Mockingjay Part 1 seems to fix the problems of the book, most of which are caused by a lack of excitement. The film makes the many many speeches engaging and thorough, all without overstaying their welcome and turning into what the book was. It cuts the story down to the bare minimum, but then stretches out these much needed scenes and pieces of dialogue to suit the runtime. Sure, I could complain about how Mockingjay could've just been one film or The Hobbit should've stayed as two rather than three, but I'm not going to. It's not going to happen and there's nothing I can do to change that.
Director Francis Lawrence, who's apparently still not related to J-Law, proves to us that he's still the right man for the job. When it came to the first Hunger Games, a lot of people had problems with the style of filmmaking it had, or lack of. Catching Fire brought with it a new director, a director who vowed not to use shaky cam. And in Mockingjay Part 1 he's done it again, coming in forceful and giving off some powerful direction. Yes, there's two small moments of shaky cam, but the same could be said about Catching Fire so there's not really a lot to complain about.
This film's other Lawrence, Jennifer, returns with a once again haunting performance. At the start of this film we see that her character is distraught and broken. She's not the same person she was at the start of the first film, and that's even said to her on multiple occasions in this. Jennifer Lawrence gives yet other performance that'll blow you away, as it did with me. I'm yet to see her give a bad performance and I'd be beyond happy if it remains that way for the rest of her career. I'm calling it now, Jennifer Lawrence has the possibility of being the next Meryl Streep. Nobody kill me please.
That being said, the film's aware that she's the star and so most of the other characters become sidelined for a considerable period of time. Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) is one of my favourite characters from this franchise, if not my absolute favourite. Unfortunately, he doesn't have an awful lot to do in this film, and the same can be said about Elizabeth Bank's Effie and Sam Claffin's Finnick. The only real character who's given more screen time than they previously had is Gale (Liam Hemsworth), so I guess there's that.
As I expected it to, the end of the film leaves us impatient for the finale. This film, like I previously mentioned, is just a bunch of set up. This set up consisting of propaganda, speeches and more propaganda. It's light on action, but that's okay with me. That's what we have Part 2 for. The stakes are always there, but they're never really fully utilised until the end, take away the scenes in District 8. Just as we're starting to get a feel for the darker turn of events and my heart was racing at a million miles an hour, we cut to black. Thankfully we cut back again, but this only returns for a minute or two before... yep, you guessed it, another cut to black. I know the events that are to take place as I've read the book, but come one! You just couldn't help yourself could you Francis? That's a joke, of course.
To sum up, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 comes with your typical Part 1 problems, particularly with the pacing and the storytelling, but it's still handled well enough and is lead by haunting performances so these problems won't seem that relevant come November next year.
3 1/2 Stars