That’s an ugly set of punctuation marks.
Some years ago film reviewers liked to poke fun at movie titles so overlong they needed their own clauses. Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones was one notable offender. It’s a ‘who will blink first’ naming convention that reflects the dominance of movie franchises over original titles. The Hunger Games is the latest movie franchise to be a part of this trend, so dominant we should probably be grateful the titular prefix was not inserted before every line of dialogue.
The comparison with that first blockbuster franchise that dominated the 1980s (so much so that President Reagan sweetened the pill of an orbital missile defence system by associating it with cute furry Ewoks) is inevitable.
Mockingjay is the darkest entry in the series yet. Hero Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is doubting herself, her rebellion against the dictatorship of President Snow (an unsettling Donald Sutherland) and even her capacity to fight.
Given that Mockingjay has broken the novel by Suzanne Collins into two films, director Francis Lawrence has made the interesting choice to push the action to the other half.
Part 1 instead concentrates not only on rebuilding Katniss as a character following her traumatic experience in the second film Catching Fire, but how a revolution is sold to a tired and frightened underclass.
Instead of the battlefield violence of warfare, with the exception of scenes of isolated uprisings against Snow’s fascistic forces, Mockingjay concentrates on the use of propaganda by both sides. The title of the movie is the role Katniss is being moulded to take on by her new mentor Plutarch (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a Mockingjay who can unite the Districts. She is purposely dropped into warzones, accompanied by guerrilla film-maker Cressida (Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer) so that Katniss’ reactions to the atrocities committed can be captured on film and transmitted to the public at large.
Snow’s agents in the Capitol respond by releasing footage of Katniss’ lover Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) condemning her actions and the rebellion at large.
The camp and pageantry of the previous films, represented by Stanley Tucci’s colourful Caesar Flickerman, is entirely gone, with that character now reduced to an off-screen interlocutor of Peeta.
The battle for the hearts and minds of the people subjected by Snow takes place over airwaves, even as relentless bombing campaigns and executions target rebel strongholds offscreen. This is a chilling cinematic vision of the reality of warfare, with propaganda as deadly a weapon as a gun.
That said, elements of the film drag slightly. A thrilling-in-itself sequence involving panicked civilians being crushed while fleeing underground to avoid carpet bombing is spoiled when Katniss discovers her little sister has vanished in search of a cat. Such twee moments risk spoiling the surprising political allegory of Mockingjay. Overall though, this is a thrilling and intelligent piece of franchise film-making, something of a rarity since the days of Star Wars.