The book-to-film adaptations of the Hunger Games have been entirely faithful to the series in that each one has been worse than the last. That's not to say that either of Catching Fire or Mockingjay Part 1 is a bad movie, it's just that neither stands up to the gritty suspense and honest emotion of the original. Then, of course, there's the issue of 'Hobbitification'. In Mockingjay Part 1 we find yet another example of a final book being split over multiple films; a plainly commercial shakedown that in recent times rendered both Twilight and Harry Potter's penultimate instalments dull and wildly inferior to the rest of each series.
To this film, though, and Mockingjay Part 1 picks up where Catching Fire left off. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is now recovering in a rebel bunker surrounded by the remnants of 'District 13' — the infamous breakaway district responsible for the insurrection that ultimately led to the establishment of the Hunger Games. Katniss's defiance of President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has inspired sporadic rebellions throughout the country, but they're in danger of dissipating unless she can truly unite the people and spark an out-and-out revolution. Her new role, then, is to become an instrument of propaganda at the hands of Plutarch (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and the exiled President Coin (Julianne Moore).
It all seems straightforward enough, but you have to remember Katniss is a teenager and, as such, seems required to dial the angst up to 11 and establish herself as a petulant little shit in possession of an unbelievable level of naive selfishness. It's put to her in no uncertain terms that if she’s unable to unite the people, the people will die, yet her focus remains squarely on her captured — would-we-call-him-boyfriend? — Peeta Mellark. Never mind the loving, courageous, selfless (and, let's face it, better looking) Gale (Liam Hemsworth) right by her side; for Katniss it's Peeta or bust. Here, then, is the bulk of Mockingjay Part 1: the rebels exploit Katniss, the Capital taunts Katniss and Katniss sulks and cries. Save for one SEAL Team 6-esque raid on the Capital, very little actually happens in this movie. "It’s the worst terror in the world — waiting for something," explains President Coin, and therein lies a stinging rebuke of the entire film.
Again, it’s not necessarily a bad movie, it's just that you have to wade through a lot to uncover the fine performances and sporadic, gripping scenes. Lawrence, as always, does well with the limited material, though of the younger actors it's Hemsworth's understated yet simmering turn that most impresses. Moore's performance is an intriguing one, too, presenting Alma Coin as an uncomfortably uninspiring public speaker who yet proves herself a consummate general when the stakes are raised. In a film largely engaged with a clumsy 'actions vs words' debate, it's a welcome, nuanced portrayal. The star of this film, however, is Elizabeth Banks as the unhappily exiled ex-socialite Effie Trinket. She and Hemsworth both pack enormous depth into their limited screen time, offering a genuine range of emotions.
Its shortcomings notwithstanding, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 will undoubtedly crush at the box office, though it's hard not to feel like you could miss this film entirely and wait for Part II without skipping a beat.