The Hunger Games: Mockingkjay – Part 1

It’s a tough gig adapting much-loved books for the screen, especially if the one you’re dealing with is generally seen as the weakest in an overwhelmingly popular series. That’s the ground we are on with this, the third of the Hunger Games movies. The third and final book in the trilogy seems to be the least regarded by fans (I haven’t read them myself); and with the now almost inevitable decision having been taken to split the final story into two films, one could argue that the film-makers have made a rod for their own backs.

I really liked both of the first films. They were witty, exciting, disturbing and though treading similar ground managed to deal with sufficiently different narrative and thematic material to suggest to effect a meaningful progression between the two. This third film marks a narrative departure: there’s no central motif of gladiator-style combat-as-entertainment to build central action sequences around. Instead, we’re in the territory where a Katniss-fronted revolution is being plotted whilst Peeta remains behind in the Captiol, apparently manipulated into being a spokesperson for the Big Brother style-regime. Instead of intense action thriller we have what amounts to an intense and involving political thriller, this time taking the politicising of the media into its satirical and thematic spotlight. There’s good action sequences as well, but this isn’t an action movie in the sense of the other two.

That’s where disappointment may kick in for some viewers. It’s a big call for a major franchise like this one to change its tone so drastically mid-stream; I can’t think of another major series of films that makes such an obvious leap. Without emotional investment in the source, I was utterly compelled by it – I remained swept up in the dystopian wold of the film; Jennifer Lawrence’s central performance remains a strong, engaging and layered one; the supporting players are all decent, with a special poignant mention for the characteristically studied depth of Philip Seymour Hoffman.

When the film does need to move into action sequences, it does so very well – the last major such passage being a standout, effectively intercut with dialogue and character. Therein lies these films’ consistent strengths; these are blockbusters aimed at the vaunted young adult market which prove a timeless truth – that if a film (or book, or music, or…) is constructed with enough intelligence and substance, there’s no limiting the market. If this has lost the shock value of the first two films’ central ideas, it has gained space to breathe and worm into the consciousness. We’ll only be able to really judge if splitting the last instalment in two has worked this time next year; for now this may be the least immediately powerful of the three so far, but it’s by no means a dip in the quality of the series.

I rated this film 7/10 on and 3.5/5 on