There’s no unnecessary action filler or forced suspense, this film stands quite nicely alone as a separate movie with a humongous political undercurrent coarsing through it. Of course it is mostly pre amble material to set the stage for what will hopefully be the big climax of it all, but it never feels boring. I went in knowing it would be a first parter, that would likely present the beginning of the major revolution and I hoped it would succeed in strong character development in the absence of spectacle and I can confirm it does.
Picking up not that far after the events of ‘Catching Fire’, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself in the underground District 13. Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and District president Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) want to advertise the fight within Katniss to keep the riots across the districts going and ultimately take down President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and the Capitol. Katniss meets new rebels on the path to raise hope and save Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson).
It’s a very different Katniss in some regards. The character progression and focus is pretty effective for all figures involved to tell the truth. Miss Everdeen is a more somber broken girl than she’s ever been, her appearance in the Quarter Quell has effected her deeply and her bond with Peeta is clearly the big character push of the movie. I think this film does a good job with highlighting the reluctant hero status of Katniss and through rubbled district visits and propaganda shoots, we firmly see the way this mockingjay is born and fuelled. Peeta’s character may take sidelines in physical presence, but the film is never subtle on making it clear his presence is felt elsewhere and later on he gets a great whack of powerful character change thanks to his time in the Capitol. Thankfully Plutarch gets more to do and under his now much clearer good guy status, he thrives as a propaganda master, his job has changed dramatically but he makes this one his own as much as head gamemaker.
The new characters are a welcome fresh addition and Alma Coin is a cool opposite in presidential terms, her leadership shown as feisty rebel leader and unifier compared to the sneaky tyrant Snow. Coin also serves as a nice flip side to Katniss, both are leaders with followers, both have ideas but Coin is a more assured role with fight, politics and a huge vision. Then there’s the propaganda crew who film and record sound for Katniss’ drops in other districts. They’re a pretty blank set of characters sadly, they try to give some personalities but in this part at least, they don’t come alive, even led by the media manipulating Cressida, there’s not much substance under her tattooed skin.
Once again James Newton Howard puts together a score that never overpowers the image on screen. It’s even more of a bubbling lurking sense of dread, the rebellion and political themes influencing the music and aiding the build up tension in quite a few moments. The stairwell scene is brilliantly tense, the shocks of sound that burst in on something quite unpleasant Peeta does make it sound like a troubling horror for a few seconds. It’s a film with an obvious thread of uprising drama, smoking rubble, injured civilians and grey uniformed district 13-ers come together in a clear picture of purpose and creation of power.
Francis Lawrence captures most of the film with a generous blend of handicam and then smoother moments, though this time there is more shaky camerawork that works to desired effect of making it feel more real, more uneasy and less stylised and that needs to happen considering the more raw plot this time around. It’s a very watchable film, even if it’s quite a basic set up for next year’s finale, thanks to some much needed light relief in Haymitch and Effie, suspense of Capitol breakdowns and character study in the case of Katniss fluctuating in her role as mockingjay.
Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic. I could easily stop there but I guess I should expand. She’s a powerful and dominating actress with a talent of slipping into raspy anger, streams of tears or quirky awkward humour whenever needed. Lawrence acting an acting moment in front of what is that district’s own green screen is a great pause in the drama and gives time for comedy to shine as Plutarch, Effie and Haymitch despair at Katniss’ shocking delivery in a propaganda video shoot. Philip Seymour Hoffman has gladly more to do and makes Plutarch more interesting than his character might otherwise be. The last film he completed work on and that does paint a level of vulnerable sadness over his performance which works actually. Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks are on form as per usual and deliver the right dose of funny to serious to keep their characters two of the best in the series. Josh Hutcherson has little to do, more than Jena Malone but still not a lot, yet he really breaks out the mould of pretty dull whiny sidekick at one significant moment. A growing cast but all play their part even if some are obvious uninteresting parts compared to the likes of others.
There is quite a lot of time when lulls slightly, Katniss and her repeated viewings to districts is like the tiresome whistle-stop victory tour in the previous film, a key character detail of Snow’s is lost in the exploration of the COD-like recon mission and on the whole this film does feel nothing more than a set up, no spectacle or dazzle isn’t a bad thing but it leaves you wanting more and Part 1 is a stop that needs to be made even if you know not much will happen during it.
Effective in character and subtext and even more successful in building the anticipation of what will go down in Part 2, the same time next year. A smoky shadowy teen rebellion drama that becomes a rather cool political thriller.