I don’t think I’ve ever jumped into a film series in the middle (nor did I with this one, I’ve seen the other 2 films), but I imagine it might be difficult. Most films that are part of a series dedicate at least a few minutes to catch you up (or a big cold open before filling you in on what you missed). The newest addition to The Hunger Games series presumes that you’ve seen the other 2 films, or read the books, because it launches you right back into the moments after the last minutes of Catching Fire and never really stops to catch you up. During the film, I was thinking about how I was part of a select group of people who understood what was going on – though given the excitement of the audience I saw it with, the group was pretty big.
Continuing the narrative from the first two films, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is now in District 13, a region that was rumoured not to exist, and has been asked by Plutarch Heavensbee (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) and President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) to represent the rebellion as “The Mockingjay”. While the odds seemed to be ever in her favor, she went through more than the average person could handle – the emotional and physical torture of having been through two Hunger Games – and it shows. She’s lost the touchstones that kept her sane. District 12 has been bombed, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is still a prisoner of the Capitol, and watching him speak against the rebellion on TV with Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) takes its toll on her.
Thankfully, Katniss’ sister, Prim (Willow Shields), has grown up enough to advise her big sister to make some demands – rescuing and pardoning Peeta, saving the other tributes, and doing it her way – prior to agreeing to be President Coin’s symbol. Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) also returns with his biting truth-telling half-sober wit to help Katniss find her inner strength again. Another returning character, who offers some of the only levity in a film based around high stakes action, is Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), stripped of her wigs and Capitol makeup and costumes (and eyebrows it seems). District 13’s regimented society, including the gray jumpsuits, cramps Effie’s style quite a bit. Watching her get some of herself back by helping Katniss become The Mockingjay is wonderful, and a great elaboration from the book.
Overall, I really liked the newest edition to this terrific series. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 feels a little more wooden than Catching Fire, but as the first film without a Hunger Game in it, there was a lot to set up for the final push. Director Francis Lawrence incorporates a lot of discussion about why the rebellion is happening, and what else might be done about it, into the film. Once it becomes part of the greater whole of the series, its story will feel smoother and more fitting with the rest – much like Harry Potter 7.1 felt before the series was complete. Mockingjay – Part 1 ends in equally dramatic fashion, setting up a great conflict that must be resolved in the finale.
If they had let me walk out and pay for Part II on the same night, they could have charged me whatever they liked. There just so much tension that needed to be released. But alas, we’ll have to wait for Thanksgiving next year for that.