Film review: Mockingjay: Part 1 @ Odeon, Leicester Square

Mesmerising the masses in Leicester Square last night, it’s hard to believe Jennifer Lawrence began as that young, serious girl in Winter’s Bone.

From the moment she arrived, the Oscar-winning actress skipped around the red carpet engaging with her army of fans and signing for everyone (and I mean everyone).

Why all this fuss on a rainy Monday night? This was of course the world premiere of Mockingjay: Part 1, the first half of what is sure to be a blistering finale to box office goliath the Hunger Games trilogy.

The last time we saw District 12’s courageous tributes Katniss had just finished blowing up the arena for the Third Quarter Quell of the Hunger Games.

This was only to discover that her fellow contestants were actually part of a wider scheme to install her as ‘leader of the uprising’.

The first half of Mockingjay continues straight off the back of this discovery in a grim military-type facility which turns out to be District 13.

While the people of Panem were empowered by her act of defiance, President Snow was less than impressed.

In typical evil dictator-style he expresses this by obliterating the hometown of our reluctant heroes hence the green jumpsuits and rather drab new lodgings.

This grey new district is led by one of franchise’s newest arrivals, Julianne Moore.

Silver-haired and ready for battle she teams up with Heavensbee (played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) to persuade Katniss that she is the one to unite the districts against the Capitol.

After a few visits to war-torn districts it’s game on for the Mockingjay trailed by a newly-formed camera crew charged with making propos (that’s propaganda films to you and me).

Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell of Game of Thrones) steps into the fray as bossy director Cressida, making TV gold from Katniss’s tendency for strong reactions.

Despite issuing the call to arms Katniss isn’t happy with the way Peeta has been left languishing in the Capitol along with fellow captive Johanna played by Jena Malone.

This comes to a head when following a bombing raid, President Snow leaves Katniss a message she can’t ignore.

Cue a dead-of-the-night rescue mission and the opening of a whole new can of worms.

There is a definite sense that Mockingjay: Part 1 serves to set up a huge final showdown and it is very much just half of a bigger picture.

Also, in line with Suzanne Collins’s original writing, the characters are forced to mature with the situation more serious than it has ever been before.

We see yet another side to Katniss who, scarred by the atrocities of the games, just wants all her loved ones to be safe.

But in places it is a bit thin on further insight into her emotional state putting the nature of her relationships with Peeta and Gale very much in question.

There are no arena scenes or X-Factor-esque make-overs, the whole of Panem is the new battleground and there is absolutely nowhere to hide.

Those expecting the glossy surroundings of past outings should think again.

Some might be disappointed by this, but by resisting the temptation to be formulaic; this latest instalment has broken new ground, making something more akin to a war film while maintaining the trilogy’s trademark high-tempo action.

New recruits Mahershala Ali (House of Cards), Wes Chatham and the aforementioned Dormer and Moore fit in incredibly smoothly while the less featured Gale (Liam Hemsworth) finally gets the outing he deserves.

Elizabeth Banks’s character, Effie, has avoided the back-burner in this movie by being merged with another character who in the books, features for the first time in Mockingjay.

Although devotees of the novels might be none too chuffed about this it does mean a welcome return for Banks and a smattering of comedy amid all the doom and gloom (particularly when she refers to herself as a ‘political refugee’).

There is a different flavour to this latest from Francis Lawrence and the Hunger Games clan but when viewed as part of a wider undertaking it makes for a gripping opening half.

With one more outing left, fans will be crossing their fingers for a strong finish but one thing’s for sure – J-Law just doesn’t stop delivering.

The film is out on general release from November 20.

Image and video courtesy of Lionsgate via YouTube, with thanks

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