The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
Director: Francis Lawrence.
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Jeffrey Wright, Donald Sutherland.
DIVING back into the dystopian world of Panem and its arrow-firing heroine Katniss Everdeen continues to be a heady and exhilarating experience.
Three films into the four-film series (book three of the trilogy is being adapted into two movies) and the comparisons to Korean film Battle Royale are far behind us.
No longer focused on its child-versus-child death matches, The Hunger Games spreads its wings in this powerful and political third instalment that not only shifts the focus to the dictatorial machinations that have been simmering in the background, but showcases why these young adult novels have been so highly revered.
They deal with mature themes in an intelligent way that never speaks down to its intended adolescent audience, and if you thought the first two movies were dark, then brace yourselves because this a whole other shade of black.
Mockingjay - Part 1 tells of civil war and the power of propaganda - far more worthy subject matter for inquisitive teenage minds than love triangles involving sparkly vampires - and it doesn't pull any punches in the process. There are executions, massacres, torture, and fields of blackened corpses. This is no walk in the park.
Watching the previous two films is a prerequisite as this one dives straight into where we left off at the end of Catching Fire.
Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), having been whisked away to the supposedly uninhabited District 13, finds herself at the centre of a rebel uprising against the government of President Snow (Sutherland) based in the opulent Capitol City.
Reluctant at first to be used as the symbol of the rebellion, Katniss soon learns what has been going on - about the destruction of her home district, about the government's suppression tactics, and what has happened to her beloved Peeta (Hutcherson) - and realises she can't stand by while the lower classes are crushed beneath the military's boot heel.
- Podcast: The book versus the movie
It's heavy stuff that invokes everything from the American Civil War and socialist iconography to the influence of the modern media and the work of journalists in war zones. Director Francis Lawrence keeps everything moving at a good pace and gives all the key players at least one moment to shine.
His biggest problem is grappling with the film's high level of emotions, which feel way over-the-top at the start of the film because we're coming in cold.
There is no easing your way in on this - Mockingjay - Part 1 throws you headlong into the storm of feelings left behind from Catching Fire and you're expected to keep up. As such, this is for the fans and certainly not the place to start your passion for The Hunger Games.
None of this would work without great actors, which the series has a surplus of. Newcomer Moore is a welcome addition, Banks and Harrelson have reduced roles but chime in nicely, Hemsworth has his biggest part in the series to date, and the film is dedicated to the memory of Hoffman, who is as effortless as he always was.
And at the centre of it all is Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen - the film's beating heart, its moral compass, and its sharpened arrow. When I reviewed Catching Fire I noted that future lists of the greatest movie heroines should read "1. Ripley, 2. Katniss Everdeen ...". I'm seriously considering bumping Everdeen to #1.
As with Catching Fire, Mockingjay - Part 1 finds a weird note to end on, as is always the case of a story part-told. It's a bittersweet and slightly unbalanced finale, but one that tantalises the tastebuds ahead of the big finale due out 12 months from now.