Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth and Julianne Moore
Directed By: Francis Lawrence
Running Time: 123 minutes
Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars
The final piece of a series is no longer a bloated epic detailing the final time we’ll see our heroes, but now cut in half, with the first part generally being the weaker of the two. That makes it easier to scrutiny because of how much of an obvious cash grab it is by the Hollywood executives hoping to squeeze out those last remaining pennies before finding their next franchise to milk. “Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part – 1” isn’t about to break that stereotype, but it comes pretty close.
For a movie that seems to be advertised as an explosive and heart pounding action flick, it’s surprisingly thoughtful. “Mockingjay – Part 1” picks up moments after the events of “Catching Fire”. Katniss (Lawrence) is still nursing some mental scars and having to come to terms with the fact that District 12 no longer exists. It’s nothing but rubble and piles of charred bodies. The visuals of blackened skeletons is enough to paint a horrific picture and further imply the brutal extent the Capitol will go to strengthen it’s iron fist grip over the districts.
Katniss is taking refuge underground in District 13, long believed to have suffered the same fate that has recently befallen District 12. There she meets a military society headed by President Alma Coin (Moore). This is the first introduction of President Alma in the series and while it’s easy to trust the person supplying food and supplies, there’s something ominous about a character who never seems to view Katniss more than a puppet for political manipulation. On the other end, Peeta (Hutcherson) is being used to discredit the defiance that grows in the districts.
Katniss and Peeta are clearly being used as propaganda. While Katniss is used to inspire hope to those fighting, through her fiery eyes of anger and bitter words of revenge, it appears that Peeta is nervously regurgitating lines, but we never see or fully know what purpose the Capital is using him for. “Mockingjay” focuses more on President Alma’s use of Katniss to beat the drums of rebellion in the hopes of getting ubiquitous support for their uprising against the Capital. Luckily this disinformation chess match is interrupted by scenes of retaliation around Panem and a third act covert mission to rescue Peeta.
The theme doesn’t say anything new, but it’s refreshing to see a movie, that’s been coined as “young adult”, use such a mature idea in a very presentable and easy to understand fashion. It’s not difficult to see the positive and ill effects of spin that two warring factions can create. Personally, I was expecting CGI explosions and Jennifer Lawrence whipping her hair all about while firing off multiple arrows like Hawkeye in “The Avengers”, but for what we’re given, it is proficient with it’s message and it simply wets our appetites for an explosive finale come next year.
The big problem with the first part of this oversized first course of Mockingjay is that it feels too much like a prologue to something a lot more monumental. There’s a lot of moving pieces, but a lot of downtime that involves staring, sitting and inconsequential dialogue. The obvious payoff for our two hours of time won’t happen until Part 2, but it’d be nice to have some kind of reward for our investment into the lives of these characters. It doesn’t help that Jennifer Lawrence, who’s shown such a wide range of emotions throughout this series, is a bit limited to angry reactions and fear.
Regardless, if it wasn’t for Lawrence’s commanding presence, this movie wouldn’t have the drive and Katniss wouldn’t radiate bravery. All the regulars are back for this movie, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks and the stupendously talented Philip Seymour Hoffman. Without this cast, this movie would have fizzled out like “Percy Jackson” or “The Mortal Instruments”. It’ll be easier to reflect on “Part 1” once the series completes next year. We’ll know if it’s a good enough primer for the grand ending we’re all expecting. For now though, it’s simply an appetizer to keep us content until the main course arrives.