Eyes were rolled the world over when it was announced that the makers of the Hunger Games franchise were splitting the last book of the trilogy into two parts. It was a move not without precedent of course, with Harry Potter and Twilight doing the same thing, to varying levels of success. Hell, Sir Peter ever managed to make that tiny Hobbit book into three epic movies (when, really, one would have been more than enough). But of course the assumption – not without merit – is that they are just in it to make more cash. Many critics have criticised Mockingjay for this, and lamented the ‘talkyness’ and lack of action. Just cut to the chase, they say. But, I am going to go out on a limb and disagree with said critics.
I should admit up front that Mockingjay was my favourite of the three books – putting me in a minority to start out with. But I loved the way that it really gave the trilogy a ‘meaning’ – getting readers to think about the realities and impact of war and rebellion. It isn’t just us watching kids fight to the death in an arena and going ‘oh that’s terrible’ while secretly enjoying it. Mockingjay gets us to front into the reality of what an actual rebellion would be like: the stage management, the propaganda, the strategising and yes, the violence. So yes, I will admit that Mockingjay Part 1 is more strategy and planning than glamour and killing, but I think it is all the better for it.
Jennifer Lawrence is again the stand out performer here, giving a much needed emotional anchor to the rebellion. New addition Julianne Moore – as leader of the rebellion President Coin – is as always fantastic, bringing a serious and slightly ominous tone to her role. The late Philip Seymour Hoffman gets more of a role here, underscoring what a massive loss he is to Hollywood. Elizabeth Banks’ Effie is a fish out of water in this new world outside the Capitol, and she plays it to great effect, with her and the disappointingly underutilised Haymitch providing much needed light relief to proceedings (by the way, in a Hunger Games ‘shove, shag or marry’ scenario, I would definitely – to the astonishment of most – marry Haymitch. Because, you know, it’s Woody Harrelson). Fans of the younger (and less sexy apparently) Hemsworth brother will be pleased to see Gale having a bigger role here, while Peeta is less frequently sighted while still playing a crucial role. Interesting to see quite a few new additions here as well – with many familiar TV faces popping up, like that girl from Game of Thrones (Natalie Dormer as a propaganda film director), that guy from House of Cards (Mahershala Ali as President Coin’s military man) and that woman from Homeland (Sarita Choudry as President Snow’s right hand woman).
At the end of the day, Mockingjay does indeed feel a little like the foreplay before the real deal, but I would argue it is much needed. You need to understand the motivations of the rebels and get a feeling for what they are up against before they all start to storm the castle. There was action enough here to keep those with short attention spans engaged, and enough allegory and discussion to keep those with more cerebral tastes happy. So, while it may not be an ‘I must watch this movie again right now’ thrill ride, it is a worthy addition to the Hunger Games franchise. Four orange M&Ms from me.