If the power of a franchise is measurable by its ability to sustain a quality blip before a commanding finale sends audiences into a frenzy of appreciation, Mockingjay (Part II) will be something to behold. Because frankly, Mockingjay (Part I) really isn’t.
We join Katniss Everdeen in the depths of District 13’s totalitarian catacombs where President Alma Coin’s (Moore) campaign to topple the Capitol and President Snow (Sutherland) depends upon turning Katniss into a Mockingjay: a medial Joan of Arc figurehead capable of rallying forces in rebellion. She agrees to the plan, with caveats, and Coin’s team supplemented by rebellion mind-gamer Plutarch Heavensbee (PSH), plus Gale (Hemsworth) and Hatymitch (Harrelson) kicks into action. Meanwhile Peeta (Hutcherson) is being held in the Capitol and submitted to a form of brainwashing.
So after the visceral battle of Catching Fire comes … boardroom strategy. The plan developed by Heavensbee requires acting skills but being a straightforward kinda gal, Katniss can’t pull off the rhetoric in front of the camera so Coin sends her and the camera team to scenes of literal devastation in District 7 and works with her live reaction to what she finds there. The material is inspirational and the ranks of the rebellious begin to swell.
Whilst the propaganda and medial manipulation subtext is interesting, its transition to the screen doesn’t add much tension to the show-time versus show-down dialectics that dominated parts I & II of the trilogy. Not only is Katniss again emotionally on hold, vacillating between loyalty to a newly treacherous Peeta and standup mate Gale: the whole plot is in abeyance as it anticipates the final curtain. And the result, lacking its own confliction drive, is well crafted but feels derivative. Spartacus has shed her cloak to become a knock-off version of Tartovsky’s Stalker negotiating greyish, production-by-number-designed rubble zones in the service of others whose true motives have yet to be revealed. Almost by necessity, the performances, whilst solid throughout, are also on intermission. Sometimes, the process of becoming is enough to sustain narrative pace. But this is a stepping-stone in a rushing river. Ticklish but hardly fully immersive.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I | Directed by Francis Lawrence (USA 2014) with Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore. Starts Nov 20.