Oh, another Hollywood-churned teen film franchise full of beefcakes and damsels in distress! The new Hunger Games film is just gonna be a re-packaged Potter-esk fantasy-filled nightmare, right? Wrong. Prepare to EAT YOUR JUDGEMENTAL WORDS with Mockingjay – Part 1 and revel in the joys of a female-driven action blockbuster! Number 3 in the series hasn’t just caught fire; it’s fully aflame with the passion of a liberated nation that will carry us through to the very end of this coveted franchise.
The third instalment in The Hunger Games adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ novel picks up where Catching Fire left off – that is, in District 13 of Panem, where an organised rebel group led by President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore, and brilliant) plot to overthrow the dictatorial rule of the Capitol. Their symbol of hope, and who they wish to employ as the face of the cause, is Katniss Everdeen, a.k.a The Mockingjay, twice survivor of the brutal self-sacrificing Hunger Games and all-round people’s heroine. But, as ever, this girl is not easily bought. She’s motivated by a deep loyalty to those she loves, and it is this iron-will of hers that both sides of the fight have to constantly contend with.
It is endlessly refreshing to be faced with such a multi-layered female character as the leading force in an action sci-fi as popular as this, and Katniss, played aptly by the unstoppable force that is Jennifer Lawrence, is as encapsulating as we’ve ever seen her in Mockingjay – Part 1. We seldom see female characters like this on the big screen – action films tend to stick to male-geared perspectives that value physical strength and sideline women as comparably feeble. This is the Marvel-era of cinema, in which we see Avenger movie after Avenger movie, none of which with a female lead (poor ScarJo doesn’t get her own film despite being exceptionally kick-ass), but here there is no question of who’s eyes we are meant to see through. The relationship between Katniss and Hunger-Games-partner-and-sort-of-lover Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) throws this traditional boy-girl dynamic into disarray. He is unable to protect her, and can’t help but crumble in the face of danger, whereas she responds to every situation with strength.
We’ve already seen in Number 1 and 2 of The Hunger Games a resourceful, practical and strong-willed Katniss (all the traditionally male attributes) use her abilities to save multiple lives, including Peeta’s, and do the impossible in Panem, which is challenge the ferocious rule of the elite Capitol. But this time around, the inexperienced country girl of humble origins has evolved into the fully fledged ‘girl on fire’, able to mobilise a nation of slaves by staying true to herself.
Other fiery females to join the party this time round include Moore as the quietly confident, driven President and Cressida, resident director of the Capitol-turned-PR campaigner of the rebel movement, played by Game Of Thrones star Natalie Dormer. With her boldly half-shaven crown and ornate ivy tattoo, Cressida embodies the two sides of the fight, choosing to switch loyalties and ditching her stylized look for the soldier get-up. This instalment sees a very clear, adrenalin-charged movement from passive order to chaotic action.
There are only so many times you can convince a nation of people to send off their children into a death tournament, in the name of remembering a failed revolution in which your ancestors starved to death. Things were bound to get anarchic up in the dystopian surveillance state that is Panem. The opulent, rainbow-like technicolour that characterised the Capitol in the first two instalments has drained to leave a stain of gritty sepia, reflecting a move in the story from commercially controlled order into harsh reality. As the rebel movement spreads, the lurid elite lose their aesthetic grip on Panem. The grey, dull and simple texture of the districts in the first film is called upon like a defiance by the masses to be ignored under layers of synthetic fakery, and in contrast, the oppressors of the Capitol have adopted a crisp monochrome look, epitomized in the repetitive symbol of Senator Snow’s white rose that he uses as an emblem of his fear-inducing power…
Uniquely, The Hunger Games is not just a great big teenager’s wet dream of action and adventure (although there’s plenty of that in the two-plus hours to sink your teeth into). The franchise has been praised for its evocative treatment of celebrity culture and media influence, and Mockingjay – Part 1 gives this theme the space it needed to flourish in all its grim truths. Where does real power lie? Not in brute force, but in your ability to manipulate perception. The power of propaganda is a tool that both sides of the civil war use and value above all else in Panem, proving to us that to become a symbol, you must forgo some of your humanity. The film can be viewed from the perspective of a young girl’s struggle against the influence and manipulation of the powerful media to keep her integrity. Every step Katniss makes towards manipulation and, essentially, the world of politics, is a step away from the nature-loving family girl of District 12. In order to save them, she has to sacrifice part of who she is, and it’s this emotional struggle that we are led to deeply empathise with as an audience. Which is ironically manipulating, in the context of us watching a Hollywood movie.
Self-reflecting, socially criticising, high-energising and complex? This looks to be the adaptation of a best-selling young adult series that we’ve been longing for. Although prone to lag in unnecessary narrative elaborations between the action, what keeps our attention in part 1 of Mockingjay is the uncanny feeling that, in a world so obsessed with image, loyalty is sold to the highest bidder. Who to trust? In the end, we are left in exactly the place that a penultimate film should leave you; clinging to the edge of mystery, gagging to be plunged into a truth that we know will be far from easy to endure.
The Final Word: Fiery Female Fun
(To see the original review that Holly wrote for Screen Relish click here)