The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was such a strong addition to the franchise. It set the bar very high, and it also helped that the second installment was also the strongest book in the series by Suzanne Collins. So all in all, it had a lot going for it. Now enter The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I into the ring and one has to wonder if the movie will hold up well, especially since the third, and last, book is the least popular of the three. I’m happy to say that the third installment, one of a two part finale, holds up very well on its own, given the transitional nature of its existence.
Mockingjay Part I follows closely behind the final events of the last film. District 12 has been destroyed, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), Johanna (Jena Malone), and several others have been kidnapped by President Snow (Donald Sutherland), and Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is laying low in District 13 after being rescued from the Quarter Quell and reluctantly agrees to become the face of the rebellion, with the insistence of Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) and District 13’s own President Coin (Julianne Moore). So everything, including Katniss, is pretty unstable.
The revolution has escalated, with the Capitol on one side using Peeta as their defense, and the rebels fighting behind Katniss and the military power of District 13. Coin and Plutarch, and what can easily be called Katniss’s prep team, are quick to use the “girl on fire” as the face of the rebellion to help ignite fire throughout all the districts against the Capitol and President Snow. She goes from district to district, assuring people that the Capitol is evil and that the only way to win is to fight back, allowing the entire film to serve as a great groundwork setup for the war that is brewing.
The franchise is obviously capitalizing on its popularity, following in the footsteps of the Harry Potter franchise and other books-turned-films. And although Collins’s final book in the series isn’t as long as, say, The Deathly Hallows, director Francis Lawrence and his screenwriters use their time wisely, setting up the groundwork for the final film very well. Essentially, that’s what this film is: a setup. It’s a transitional movie that sets up the proverbial chess pieces before the ultimate finale plays out.
The film stays faithful to the book, while taking creative liberties that create more tension, and increase the points of view of those going on around Katniss rather than just focusing on what’s only going on with her. For example, there’s a scene near the end of the film that gives us some much needed action that shows us what is happening elsewhere, even though Katniss is not directly involved. These creative liberties and other points of view make the film far better than if it just had been in Katniss’s point of view alone.
The cast is still top notch. It’s great to still be able to see the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in his last role and Elizabeth Banks gets to remain in the film as Effie Trinkett, whereas her role is nearly non-existent in the book. New additions to the cast, such as Julianne Moore and Natalie Dormer as Cressida, definitely add to the film even though their characters aren’t quite as fully fleshed out as they should be considering Moore’s more expanded role in the second half of the film. Gale, formerly only relegated to be one side of the attempted love triangle, finally gets more to do here and we see his character more fully realized. He has strong opinions and is itching for a fight with the Capitol, while also being the pillar of strength Katniss leans on in an unstable time.
There are definitely some powerful moments in the film, some very nice additions that make it a good watch. But since the actual Hunger Games are no longer as relevant or play a major part of the film except in passing reference, many moviegoers who may not have read the book may need to adjust to the new direction the film is headed. It’s all preparation, building war propaganda, and focusing its energies on setup, with not much going on otherwise. So there isn’t as much action as there is in the previous two films, but it’s safe to say that all of the action is being saved for Part II.
Mockingjay Part I won’t be for everyone. Fans of the books will be pleased with how faithful it is to the books while still being able to add in changes that only enhance the experience. General audiences might find the lack of overall action and focus on setup to be jarring in comparison to what they’re used to, but the film is able to build up the suspense, move the characters forward and put in motion most everything that will make the impact of Part II feel much more satisfying. A good chess move by Francis Lawrence with a cliffhanger that leaves us in suspense for the next installment.