‘Hunger Games: Mockingjay’ Is Even Darker Than Expected

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 is finally hitting theaters this weekend and it looks like moviegoers should expect it to be much edgier than either of the franchise’s previous installments. Director Francis Lawrence had previously hinted that the first film in the two-part ending would take a significantly darker turn — and according to the reviews now rolling in, he stuck to his word.

Fans of the original trilogy from Suzanne Collins won’t be surprised to hear of the movie’s ominous tone, given the final book’s gloomy subject matter. While the entire Hunger Games premise isn’t exactly uplifting, Mockingjay is arguably the bleakest of the three novels, with Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) left an emotional disaster after two grueling rounds in the violent Games. As she struggles to deal with the destruction of her home, District 12, and Peeta’s (Josh Hutcherson) capture, rebellion enforcers and the leader of her new district, President Coin (Julianne Moore), pressure her to become the face of the movement against Capitol leadership.

With Mockingjay getting cut into two individual films, it means we’ll get to see different stages of Katniss’s anguish, from her sobbing, nightmare-plagued nights to her eventual turn into anger and subsequently, action. Part 1 finds the heroine angry at everything and everybody: herself, the Capitol, District 13. Her rage is only fueled by the revolution going around her, especially since she’s unwillingly at the center of it all. That’s all grim enough on its own, but the director has only increased the story’s grit factor, using the looming threat of war as a brooding backdrop for the forthcoming installment.

The bleaker story is matched by a darker location, as pointed out by reviewers. Whereas the two previous films primarily took part in the Games’ arenas, this film moves the central location of the story to District 13, an underground bunker long thought abandoned (which we caught a brief glimpse of in the film’s initial teaser). Instead of using CGI, Francis Lawrence reportedly decided to shoot in real locations, like old empty factories and underground parking lots. “Gone are the glitz and the glamour of the Capitol. District 13 is gray, subterranean territory,” the New York Post describes of the new setting.

While Mockingjay – Part 1 marks the beginnings of a long-simmering war in the story, its focus on Katniss’s transition from tribute to leader of a rebellion also means this is the least action-packed installment of the franchise — although the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Liam Hemsworth’s Gale is still there, albeit more subtly, since her and Peeta are separated. Luckily, the film has a more-than-capable star in Jennifer Lawrence, who’s already getting rave reviews for her engrossing and emotional performance. As Vulture reports, “[Jennifer] Lawrence’s instincts are so smart that she never goes even a shade overboard.”

Fans can also expect exceptional turns from returning cast members Donald Sutherland (as President Snow) and Phillip Seymour Hoffman (who reprised his role as Plutarch Heavensbee before his death earlier this year). Thankfully, director Francis Lawrence chose not to add to Hoffman’s quiet performance, choosing to rewrite the actor’s incomplete scenes instead of using CGI to recreate him. “I’m not about to fabricate a digital performance for one of the world’s best actors,” the director explained of his decision, per The Huffington Post.

Other returning cast members like Elizabeth Banks’s Effie Trinket allow for some comedic relief in the otherwise harsh film. Though Effie barely makes an appearance in the original book, her part was enhanced for the movie, in which the glamour-obsessed character is — to her dismay — also relocated to the desolate District 13.

While Mockingjay may be the most adult of all the Hunger Games movies, it’s lifted by continued exceptional performances from its A-list ensemble cast, and this installment only reinforces the franchise’s place as one of the most well-reviewed contemporary young adult series to hit the big screen. Plus, it’s clear that the movie’s gloomy premise isn’t deterring fans from seeing it in any way. The penultimate Hunger Games movie is predicted to gross over a whopping $150 million in its opening weekend.

Mockingjay – Part 1 officially hits theaters on November 21.

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