The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part One. Directed by Francis Lawrence. Starring Jennifer Lawrence. Rating: 6 (out of 10)
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part One is a film about propaganda and the power of good marketing. It's also that the first thing viewers will think about as they leave the theatre.
What's with this trend of halving a trilogy's ending into two separate movies, regardless if it stretches the plotline too thin and dulls down the writer's original story? Twilight and Harry Potter fell victim to it, now Suzanne Collins' prose is on the rack.
This is definitely a "bridge" film to the end of the franchise. If you've somehow skipped the first two films you'd do well to play catch-up before you see this one. Not that you would be in the dark as far as the narrative goes, but you might be a little bored. Claustrophobic, too: much of the film takes place in the darkness of an underground city, with all the drab greys and sepias that go along with it.
After destroying the Quarter Quell hunger games with one very wellaimed arrow, our heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is hiding from her nemesis President Snow (Donald Sutherland) in the mammoth underground colony that is District 13. Media expert Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) and President Coin (Julianne Moore, sporting Meryl Streep's The Giver hairstyle) are urging Katniss to be the lightning rod for the revolution that has been bubbling in the districts. Katniss, however, is too traumatized by her most recent survival challenge and by the loss of Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) to be much good to anyone.
It takes a visit to her old homeland to snap Katniss into action. Childhood friend and sometimekissing-partner Gael (Liam Hemsworth) shows her what remains of District 12; still-smouldering ruins. She agrees to be the Mockingjay, the mascot for the revolution, and to do a series of propaganda videos that will go viral in all of Panem. Katniss proves to be a method actor: she just can't make the promo spots work in front of a green screen; our Mockingjay needs to be plonked in the middle of the fight to muster a credible call to war.
But first, wardrobe. There's some great comic relief from Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket, who finds herself below ground with the plebs in District 13 and about as far from the glitz of the Capitol as a girl could get. "I'm condemned to this place of jumpsuits," she moans. Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), Katniss' old ally from the arena, proves to be her own personal Q, crafting her a new bow as well as arrows that can bring down Capitol aircraft.
For a time it's a bit like that Tom Cruise movie where he dies and repeats his day over and over. Katniss emerges from underground, shoots a promo, cries a little, repeat. Unable to heed the "love the one you're with" mantra, Katniss pines for the man she's not currently with, Peeta, who is being held against his will in the Capitol and coerced into speaking out against Katniss.
But the promos are working and people in all districts are rising up against the Capitol. "Fire is catching and if we burn, you burn with us!" is Katniss' warning to President Snow. These scenes of rebellion are too brief to have much impact (a longer lumberjack scene, please) and the bombing, albeit exciting, can't sustain us through an entire movie.
Director Francis Lawrence (tired of the "no relation" suffix, I'm sure) is working with some interesting themes about the nature of propaganda and ratings-conscious politicizing, while televised executions and the deliberate targeting of civilians cuts too close to reality. But ultimately Part One will go down as the film you sat through while you waited for the more exciting main event, the conclusion, due out this time next year.