The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is a grim film. So much so that I couldn't help but think of how oppressive and desolate it was in comparison to something like The Empire Strikes Back. The barren white wastes of Hoth in that film aren't all that far removed (galactic location aside) from the sheer muddled browns and grays of the atrocities wrought on various districts by the military forces of the Capitol. One scene, in particular, paints a grotesque portrait of just how awful things have gotten in Pan-Am. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) gets boots on the ground in her home, District 12, to see what's left. There are thousands of bodies left in the wake of the bombings ordered by President Snow. The sheer weight of these scenes is staggering and the anger of the Everdeen righteous indeed.
Franchis Lawrence, who helmed the second film Catching Fire, does his best to establish a single drum-beat for this film. The Capitol is monstrous and it is time for the people to rise up. We are shown, time after time, just how far Pan-Am's brutal leader, President Snow (Donald Sutherland), will go to quell the uprising in his nation. Whether it is District 12 or the bombed-out remnants of District 8 and a hospital full of wounded it the message remains the same. It does, however, suffer from the same sort of problems a bridge film always does. It is stretched out to dramatize every moment, elongate the franchise further and sell tickets. The acting this time around has more room to breathe and the story more time to unfold if only to be wrenchingly stopped before the credits roll.
Katniss, this time around, is far more vulnerable. The last Quarter Quell left her nearly broken, mentally and physically, and desperately needing to know what happened to Peeta. District 13, headed by President Coin (Julianne Moore) and her severe demeanor, wants to make use of the Victor. She is to be a symbol of the rebellion. A catalyst to bring about the riotous uprising that has been growing since the initial Quarte Quell she participated in. Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has since joined up with the rebels, coaching the fractured Katniss on just how to be a seditious icon.
They find quickly that coaching, primping and preening a figurehead of the cause doesn't work as planned. They, instead, get her on the ground to show (with camera crew in tow) all the assembled masses just how bad it is out there. This leads to some genuinely affecting moments involving Katniss and, in particular, Gale (Liam Hemsworth). His recounting the escape from District 12, while a bit long-winded, served the purpose of the film's message handily.
The amount of action in this first part of the final chapter is lacking in comparison to the first two films. There are no Quarter Quell game to contend with here. There are a LOT of heavy-handed speeches and plenty of allegory to current-day events though the film's scribes (Peter Craig and Danny Strong) are coy in not directly alluding to them. The political jabs they're wanting to make aren't so well done as just obvious. Fans of the series will, no doubt, delight in just how fiery Katniss is and just how much of a bastard President Snow can be. If anything the biggest complaint could probably be directed at the romance angle.
The Everdeen character is so strong, so fierce and such a presence on-screen that the series has always suffered in portraying the love story aspect of these books. Their very solid adaptations aside but it really can't be said that the relationships between Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), Gale and Katniss are actually engaging. They come as feeling a bit stale. Hutcherson has faired better in that respect compared to Hemsworth. Liam, in particular, might be a handsome dude but able to keep up with Lawrence's prowess he simply can't do.
The film's climax is quite intense but Katniss sits on the sidelines during it. That might be in keeping with the the events of the book and, yes, this is just Part 1 but that felt rather meh. The last scene definitely packs a punch but it never quite recovers from the stumble of the end.