The three films of the lucrative Hunger Games franchise can be understood through colour. If the original Hunger Games was the earthy browns of a woodland arena, Gary Ross’ raw indie sensibility direction and Jennifer Lawrence’s dye-job, and it’s slicker, shinier sequel Catching Fire was bathed in cool blues to foreshadow that film’s watery death-games, then Mockingjay Part 1 is grey.
Grey is the colour of District 13, the underground militant society where Katniss (Lawrence) and the majority of the surviving characters must hide following a sabotaged 75th hunger games. It is the colour of the rubble in the bombed Districts Katniss visits to film propaganda videos as the Mockingjay – the living symbol of the rebellion. And, most pertinently, grey is the colour of this film’s atmosphere, mood and tone.
That’s not to say Mockingjay Part 1 is a dull affair. Far from it. A number of genuinely tense set-pieces punctuate the film’s occasional languor, most notably a numbingly silent finale reminiscent of Zero Dark Thirty. It’s just that the film is exactly what it claims to be: a first part. Director Francis Lawrence, who also helmed the previous instalment, takes a long time to build up to very little, crafting an experience more episodic than cinematic in structure.
What Mockingjay Part 1 banks on is having an audience by now so invested in the series’ world and characters that they no longer require the structural gimmick of the actual Hunger Games themselves to remain on-board. Luckily for the franchise, it’s a gamble that pays off. When we see Katniss’ ally and love interest Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) pitted against her as the Capitol’s pawn in the propaganda war at the heart of the film, our emotions are tethered to hers one-hundred percent. Is he being tortured? Brainwashed? And has Katniss realised much too late exactly how much she cares about him?
It helps that the performances are still as glorious as ever. Established pros Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman (to whom the film is dedicated) all convince that they’re in it for more than their pay-cheques, whilst elsewhere Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer – always a treat to watch – pops up with half her hair shaved off as propaganda filmmaker Cressida. Special mention must also go to Elizabeth Banks and Josh Hutcherson, who both give their best and most complicated performances of the series to date.
In the central role, Jennifer Lawrence remains such a goddess that it’s easy to forget she was once branded too old, too blonde and too fat to play the District 12 Tribute. Lawrence is Katniss Everdeen, and this franchise is her continuing victory. Long live the Mockingjay.