Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
PLOT: Fresh from her rescue from the latest deadly edition of “The Hunger Games” Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself the face of District 13’s armed resistance to President Snow’s (Donald Sutherland) reign. With the help of former games designer Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) – president of District 13 – Katniss must navigate her new role and struggle with the fact that her loved ones are now in constant danger.
REVIEW: After CATCHING FIRE, it looked like THE HUNGER GAMES franchise was on a roll. While the material is a little thin, one can’t deny that the series is elevated by Jennifer Lawrence, who emerged between the first two films as an Oscar-winning actress, and one of the brightest new stars of her generation. She anchored the movies and gave them a weight they wouldn’t have had otherwise. Sadly, even Lawrence is unable to save MOCKINGJAY PART 1, which suffers from a typical problem that affects young adult franchises. In splitting up the final volume of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy to eke out an extra film – which was done with HARRY POTTER, TWILIGHT and arguably THE HOBBIT (with one book becoming three films) – there’s very little substance to this installment. It feels like a two-hour prelude to next year’s finale, and a very boring one at that.
It’s a real shame as while maybe not quite on the level of something like HARRY POTTER, THE HUNGER GAMES series made for a pretty decent saga. MOCKINGJAY PART 1 absolutely saps the franchise of any sense of urgency, with everything dragged out to a ludicrous degree. It’s just so damn slow. Pretty much the entire film is devoted to planning the District 13 rebellion, with almost no action to speak of and absolutely no chance – save for one brief moment – for Lawrence to be the action heroine everyone loved so much from the other films. Rather, she spends the entire film moping over Peeta (who’s become a hated traitor due to his use as propaganda by Snow) and brooding over the human toll of the war. There’s absolutely no action, and any sense of fun or adventure that the other films had is completely absent.
As a result, Lawrence’s Katniss has been absolutely defanged, with her never once getting the chance to do anything even slightly cool. Imagine they made a Marvel movie where Iron Man, Thor, or Captain America doesn’t get any action scenes and spends the entire film moping over how much of a dick the bad guy is being. Or if they made a James Bond outing where most of the movie was M and Q talking about Bond, with us cutting to him sipping the occasional martini and preparing for a mission we never see him go on. That’s pretty much what they’ve done here. If MOCKINGJAY had been one film, this wouldn’t have been a problem as presumably Katniss gets active in the conclusion. One its own, PART 1 of MOCKINGJAY is a real bore, and even the usually reliable Lawrence doesn’t seem to be as engaged as she usually is, not that you can blame her.
The only good thing about the way MOCKINGJAY was split up is that Julianne Moore and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman get a lot of screen time, but these two heavyweight actors don’t really fit into the universe the same way Lawrence and company do. Her co-stars are largely sidelined, with Josh Hutcherson barely in it, and Woody Harrelson only having a few quick scenes. The two breakout stars form CATCHING FIRE, Sam Claflin and Jena Malone are also mostly absent. Only Liam Hemsworth benefits from more screen time, although his character is as bland as he was in the other movies. This is Lawrence’s show and it’s unbelievable that she wasn’t given more to do.
Die-hard fans of the books will probably defend this by saying that all my critiques are just examples of the filmmakers being faithful. To me, this is a problem. What works on the page doesn’t necessarily work on screen, and if everyone was dead-set on turning MOCKINGJAY into two films, they should have at least made sure they had enough material to merit the split. There’s very little about MOCKINGJAY PART 1 to recommend, as everything is by-the-numbers, from the direction by Francis Lawrence, to the sometimes listless performances. Nobody seems excited by what they’re doing here, and the movie doesn’t have any memorable imagery or set-pieces to boot. What a shame, as up to now this was a fun series of films. Hopefully MOCKINGJAY PART 2 will make up for this, but one can’t help but think that what it takes them 125 minutes to do here could have been done in about a forty minutes of screen time if MOCKINGJAY had been one (good) movie.
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