In the underground District 13, Katniss Everdeen has to decide whether or not to become the symbol of a revolution against the Capitol while worrying bout Peeta, who is being held hostage there.
Francis Lawrence, 2014
During the rescue plan at the end of the 75th Hunger Games, lovebirds Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) were separated. While Peeta was left behind and taken to the Capitol, Katniss was taken to District 13, along with fellow victor Finnick Odair (Sam Claflin). When she’s recovered from her physical injuries, if not the emotional scars, Katniss is asked by District 13’s President, Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), to take on the mantle of Mockingjay and become the symbol of the rebellion. Katniss is torn. She wants to protect her family and Peeta, but the atrocities being committed by President Snow (Donald Sutherland) can’t be ignored. He puts Peeta on TV to combat Katniss’s popularity, using him against her and the increasingly successful revolution.
There’s something genuinely brilliant about the way the Hunger Games series of books has been brought to the screen. There is a level of attention to detail that is commendable, and the casting is excellent. The filmmakers behind the series bring Panem to life with care and aplomb. Mockingjay is a tough book to tackle, the messiest (and worst) of the series. In a rare case of the movie being better than the book, screenwriters Peter Craig and Danny Strong (yes, Jonathan from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Emmy winning writer) have narrowed the focus on to Katniss’s decision to be the Mockingjay while worrying about Peeta in the Capitol. Unfortunately, the key problem with the book carries through to the movie: Katniss, rather than being in the fray, is frequently fray-adjacent. She has very little agency, a theme that runs through the books but creates storytelling problems when your hero is out of the action.
The strong performances continue to shine in Mockingjay, anchored by Jennifer Lawrence in the lead, who continues to bring Katniss to multi-faceted life. The decision to bring back Elizabeth Banks was a wise one, despite Effie not being in the book – she’s delightful, bringing humour and a point of view on the Capitol that isn’t available through any other character. Josh Hutcherson nails Peeta’s transformation as the Capitol changes him. There’s strong support from the always-solid late Philip Seymour Hoffman as propagandist Plutarch Heavensbee, Julianne Moore as the enigmatic Coin, Sam Claflin as the traumatised former victor Finnick, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Willow Shields…the ensemble runs smoothly, creating a host of likeable characters. The movie runs long, with a mostly even pace and a couple of slower spots, and it’s intense as hell. However, kudos to the Hunger Games filmmakers, who continue to make the best-adapted films currently being made.