Saturday, 15 November 2014


Roadshow Films

Knowing that the third and final book in Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy would be split into two films (just like those popular book-to-film franchises Harry Potter and Twilight before it), it should come as no surprise that Mockingjay Part 1 is all filler, no killer.

Not that hardcore fans of the books and films will be overly disappointed: they're ostensibly getting more bang for their buck, even if we all know it's a case of getting more bucks for the studio behind the franchise rather than doing justice to Collins' story.

Yet one feels churlish for complaining if the off-shoot of such economics means we get more of the heroics of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence). The arrow-shooting backwoods beauty whose refusal to die -- twice now -- has made her a people's champion, both in Panem and the real world, where strong female representation in film -- and female heroines, super or otherwise -- remains sorely lacking.

Extracted by rebel forces during her second tour of duty in the kill-or-be-killed Hunger Games, Katniss now finds herself deep in the bowels of the subterranean facilities of what was once District 13. Bombed off the map by the Capitol, its people, led by President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), have been stock piling weapons and preparing themselves for a war against the ruling class of Panem.

And with Katniss, they may finally have the weapon they need to unite all 12 other districts in an armed uprising against President Snow (Donald Sutherland). But Katniss, despite her skills with a bow and her knack for not dieing is no soldier. Her strength lies in what she represents: a symbol of hope, and it's this symbol which Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) hopes to exploit in a series of propaganda films, aimed at inspiring the downtrodden district-dwellers to take up arms and join the revolution.

So it is, Mockingjay Part 1 is a study of the machinations of war rather than the battles themselves. Both sides use media manipulation to state and sell their cause: the Capitol for stability and the status quo (and by means of Katniss's fellow District 12 competitor, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson)); the rebels for freedom and democracy through the unadorned, open-hearted visage of Katniss.

And neither side is above fudging the facts nor aiming for the soft spot, whether that be the heartstrings or the throat. While Coin prefers hope, Snow knows fear is an even greater motivator. Democrat and Republican, perhaps?

This of course, intentional or not, has parallels with current world events and the ongoing 'war on terror'. Perhaps unintentional, for to apply that framework to Collins' narrative and Francis Lawrence's film (backing up as director after taking the reins on Catching Fire), Katniss and her fellow rebels -- including Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Finnick (Sam Claflin), Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), newcomer Boggs (Mahershala Ali), and Effie (Elizabeth Banks, bringing some much needed mirth to proceedings) -- are the insurgents, the radicals; the ISIS or al-Qaeda to the Capitol's decadent, hedonistic, and soulless West. (And try selling that to middle America.)

Unsurprisingly, not a whole lot happens, action-wise, in Mockingjay Part 1 but to its credit, the film is never dull (though most of what transpires could have conceivably been condensed so that the final installment was one 3-hour film). As it is, it's all build-up with no pay-off; foreplay with only the promise of a future satisfying climax.

That final installment is still 12 months away and will presumably (hopefully) succeed in wholly winning over hearts and minds. For now, Mockingjay Part 1 should appease The Hunger Games fans without necessarily converting anyone to the cause.

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